“Monsters and the Other: Beowulf, Tolkien, Jackson, and Behn”


Monsters have always played a significant role in literature and culture, serving as metaphors for the unknown, the other, and the fears that plague society. This exploration of the theme of monsters in literature, specifically through the lens of ENGL 103 B01, delves into some of the most iconic texts and adaptations that examine this theme. Beowulf, J.R.R. Tolkien’s works, Peter Jackson’s cinematic interpretations, and Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko” all provide distinct perspectives on how monsters are used to address issues of identity, the other, and the human condition. This essay will explore these texts and their depictions of monsters and the other, shedding light on how these narratives not only reflect the fears of their respective eras but also contribute to ongoing discussions about what it means to be human.

Beowulf: Defining the Other

Beowulf, an Old English epic poem, introduces us to one of the most iconic monsters in literary history: Grendel. The poem explores the concept of the Other by depicting Grendel as a creature fundamentally different from humanity. Grendel is not merely a physical threat; he is a symbol of the unknown and the unassimilable.

Grendel embodies the fear of the Other in multiple ways. He is a descendant of Cain, forever marked as an outcast and a symbol of evil. His physical appearance is grotesque, and his actions are monstrous. The poem highlights the fear and mistrust that arise when confronted with a creature who is alien, not only in terms of culture but also in terms of his very nature.

Beowulf, as the hero, stands in stark contrast to Grendel. He represents the idealized version of humanity, embodying the values of courage, strength, and nobility. Grendel’s existence, on the other hand, serves to reinforce the boundaries of human identity, defining what it means to be human by contrasting it with the monstrous Other.

However, Beowulf also confronts the limitations of this binary perspective. As the story progresses, Grendel’s mother is introduced, further complicating the notion of the Other. She is not a clear-cut villain but a mother seeking revenge for her son’s death, evoking empathy and complicating the simplistic division between good and evil.

Tolkien’s Otherworld: Monsters as Allegory

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, as depicted in “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” is a rich tapestry of diverse races, cultures, and creatures. Within this complex world, monsters serve as allegorical representations of the Other, exploring themes of power, corruption, and the consequences of unchecked ambition.

The character of Gollum is a prime example of how Tolkien uses the concept of the Other. Gollum, once a Hobbit named Sméagol, is transformed into a twisted, corrupted being after possessing the One Ring for centuries. His dual identity embodies the struggle between the human (or Hobbit) and the monstrous. Gollum’s character emphasizes the vulnerability of humanity in the face of temptation and the corrosive influence of power.

Tolkien’s orcs, on the other hand, represent a more straightforward depiction of the Other. They are monstrous beings, twisted by dark powers into an evil and aggressive race. The orcs’ unrelenting hostility makes them the ultimate Other in Middle-earth, serving as the embodiment of malevolence and a threat to all that is good.

However, Tolkien’s works also challenge the notion of the Other by showcasing characters like Aragorn. Through Aragorn’s character, Tolkien underscores the potential for unity and cooperation among different peoples. The narrative emphasizes the importance of transcending differences and working together to combat a common enemy.

Jackson’s Cinematic Adaptations: The Visual Spectacle of Otherness

Peter Jackson’s film adaptations of Tolkien’s works bring a visual dimension to the concept of the Other. The portrayal of monsters and other races in these films takes the idea of the Other to new heights.

The films explore the relationship between the human characters and the Other in a more visceral way. The monstrous orcs and the enigmatic Gollum come to life on the screen, evoking both fear and empathy in the audience. Jackson’s visual representations of the Other allow viewers to engage with the theme on a deeper emotional level.

Jackson’s adaptations also emphasize the moral complexity of the Other. While orcs are portrayed as monstrous, some characters, like Saruman and Denethor, who are human. This blurring of the line between human and monster underscores the idea that evil and the Other can exist within humanity itself.

Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko”: The Colonial Other

Aphra Behn’s “Oroonoko” presents a different perspective on the theme of the Other. In this novella, the Other is not a supernatural creature but a human being, Oroonoko, who is portrayed as the noble and tragic outsider in a colonial context.

Oroonoko is a prince from West Africa who is captured and enslaved in the English colony of Surinam. Behn’s narrative challenges the prevailing Eurocentric view of the time by presenting Oroonoko as a character of great dignity and nobility. He is the Other not because of any inherent monstrosity but because of his foreignness and his position as a subject of colonization. Behn’s portrayal of Oroonoko raises questions about the nature of the Other and challenges the colonial powers’ assumptions


The theme of monsters and the Other is a powerful and enduring one in literature and culture. Beowulf, Tolkien’s works, Jackson’s adaptations, and Behn’s “Oroonoko” each offer unique perspectives on this theme. They explore the boundaries of human identity, the consequences of unchecked power, the blurring of lines between human and monster.

These texts and adaptations not only reflect the fears and anxieties of their respective eras but also continue to resonate with contemporary audiences. They challenge us to confront our own biases and preconceptions about the Other. Monsters, in all their forms, serve as mirrors that reflect our deepest fears and, in doing so, shed light on our shared humanity.

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