ENGL 103 B13: Monsters in “Beowulf”, J.R.R. Tolkien


Monsters have been a ubiquitous presence in ENGL 103 B13 literature and mythology, serving as metaphors for humanity’s deepest fears and as symbols of the unknown. In this comprehensive analysis, we will explore the portrayal of monsters in three distinct contexts: the epic poem “Beowulf,” the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, and the cinematic adaptations by Peter Jackson. By examining how these ENGL 103 B13 narratives represent and reinterpret monstrous figures, we can gain a deeper understanding of the cultural, historical, and artistic evolution of the concept of the monster.

I. “Beowulf” – The Archetypal Monster Slayer

“Beowulf,” an Old English epic poem of unknown authorship, is one of the earliest examples of English literature. It centers around the eponymous hero, Beowulf, and his battles against a series of monstrous adversaries, most notably Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. The poem reflects the values and fears of the Anglo-Saxon society in which it was composed.

Grendel – The Alien Other

Grendel, the first adversary in “Beowulf,” embodies the concept of the Other. He is a creature of darkness and chaos, living on the fringes of society, and considered a menace to the Danish community. Grendel represents the fear of the unknown, the outsider, and the uncontrollable. His monstrous nature is emphasized by his physical deformities and his lack of connection to human society. Beowulf’s battle with Grendel serves as a metaphorical struggle against the forces of chaos threatening to overrun order and civilization.

Grendel’s Mother – The Ambiguous Feminine

Grendel’s mother is a more enigmatic figure. She is both a mother seeking revenge for her son’s death and a formidable adversary in her own right. She represents the ambiguity of feminine power and the unpredictability of maternal instincts. The confrontation with Grendel’s mother underscores the theme of intergenerational conflict and the cyclical nature of violence.

The Dragon – The Final Test

The dragon in “Beowulf” symbolizes death and the inevitable end of life. It is a guardian of a hoard, representing the greed and avarice that can lead to destruction. Beowulf’s confrontation with the dragon is a confrontation with mortality itself, where his heroic journey concludes with his own death. The dragon is a reminder of the fragility of human existence and the transitory nature of glory.

II. J.R.R. Tolkien – Mythology and Monstrosity in Middle-earth

J.R.R. Tolkien, a philologist and author, is renowned for his creation of Middle-earth, a rich and expansive fantasy world. In Tolkien’s works, monsters take on various forms and serve multifaceted roles within a complex mythology.

Gollum – The Tragic Monster

Gollum, originally a hobbit named Sméagol, is one of Tolkien’s most memorable characters. His transformation into a wretched, deformed creature is a result of his obsession with the One Ring. Gollum is a complex monster; he elicits both disgust and pity from the reader. His descent into monstrosity explores themes of addiction and the corrupting influence of power. Gollum’s character is a poignant study of the battle between good and evil within an individual’s soul.

Orcs – Instruments of Evil

Orcs, the foot soldiers of Sauron, are a recurring monstrous presence in Tolkien’s legendarium. They are portrayed as brutal, dehumanized creatures, embodying the malevolent aspects of industrialization and war. Orcs serve as a symbol of the dehumanizing effects of totalitarianism and the destructive potential of blind obedience to a malevolent authority.

Smaug – The Avaricious Dragon

Smaug, the dragon guarding the Lonely Mountain in “The Hobbit,” epitomizes the destructive power of greed. His hoarding of treasure and the fear he instills in the people of Lake-town parallel the dragon in “Beowulf.” Smaug symbolizes the corrupting influence of wealth and the perils of unchecked avarice. Bilbo’s confrontation with Smaug exemplifies the tension between cunning and brute force when facing monstrous adversaries.

III. Peter Jackson – Visualizing Monstrosity in “The Lord of the Rings” Films

Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” bring Tolkien’s monsters to life through stunning visuals and groundbreaking special effects. These adaptations offer a new dimension to our understanding of monstrous creatures.

Visual Spectacle – The Balrog and the Nazgûl

The Balrog, a fiery demon from the depths of Moria, and the Nazgûl, the Ringwraiths, are brought to life in the films with breathtaking realism. These creatures embody the terror of the unknown and the indomitable power of darkness. Jackson’s portrayal of the Balrog, in particular, showcases the fusion of epic storytelling with cutting-edge visual effects, enhancing the monster’s impact on the audience.

Gollum – A Masterclass in CGI

Jackson’s interpretation of Gollum in the films combines motion capture technology with exceptional voice acting by Andy Serkis. This rendition humanizes Gollum in a way that highlights his inner struggle and the tragic dimensions of his character. The film adaptation brings a greater depth to the character of Gollum, making him a more relatable and multi-dimensional monster.

Battle Scenes – The Clash of Armies

The epic battles in the film adaptations, such as the Battle of Helm’s Deep and the Battle of the Pelennor Fields, introduce hordes of monstrous adversaries, including the Uruk-hai and the Mumakil. These battles amplify the threat posed by the forces of evil, emphasizing the overwhelming power of darkness and the heroism required to confront it.


The concept of the monster has evolved over time, reflecting cultural, societal, and artistic changes. “Beowulf,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, and Peter Jackson’s film adaptations provide a lens through which to explore this evolution. From Grendel’s existential fear of the unknown in “Beowulf” to Gollum’s internal struggle in Tolkien’s mythology to the visual spectacle of monsters in Peter Jackson’s films, we see how each context contributes to the rich tapestry of monstrous representations in literature and media.

These ENGL 103 B13 narratives not only entertain and terrify but also offer profound insights into the human condition. Monsters, whether ancient or modern, are a mirror through which we confront our fears, desires, and moral quandaries. They challenge our preconceptions and invite us to explore the boundaries of our understanding. Ultimately, monsters serve as a timeless and indispensable aspect of storytelling, reminding us that, in our darkest moments, heroism and hope can still shine through.

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