Facing the Monsters

I began writing these columns as a way to talk about Beowulf, but other monsters, large and small, began making guest appearances. It seems that monsters did not die out with Grendel or Beowulf’s dragon. There are many, and we are at war with them daily.

Consider for example, the Iraq War, a hydra-headed monster daunting the brightest and best.

Then there’s the NRA and the gun lobby. Gun violence is in the news daily, but the monster frightens away any potential heroes.

Or think about illegal immigrants. Wouldn’t you think that the President and leadership of Congress acting together could deal with that monster? They are trying again but the odds seem against them.

What about nuclear weapons? If Russia no longer threatens to use theirs, North Korea builds more and Iran threatens to follow suit. An article in the current New Yorker tells us how easy it would be for terrorists to get the appropriate material and make their own.

Global warming? The environment? Fundamentalism in various flavors?

I suppose that growing up during the Great Depression and World War II made me familiar with monsters early on, but also gave rise to the idea that monsters can be dealt with. Those two were cut down, but of course others took their place. We seem to need monsters out there to keep us interested in life. No wonder every civilization has its own legendary monsters. We need to hear that ancient heroes conquered ancient monsters to help keep our own in perspective and give us hope.

So go back and reread Beowulf when the headlines get too discouraging. And read or reread Beyond Beowulf as well. The monsters in Beowulf are conquered by a super-hero. None of us can hope to tear Grendel’s arm off with our bare hands as Beowulf did. But Wiglaf, in Beyond Beowulf, is cut to a more human scale and yet confronts the trolls and reduces them to a puddle.

Sometimes it merely requires facing up to the monsters to see them melt away. Would that more of our leaders knew that! Would that more of the rest of us did as well!

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