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Mike Falzone

ENG 2310

Should Beowulf Have Fought the Dragon?

All stories have a hero and a villain. For Beowulf, it is the dragon; the ultimate villain for
an epic hero. Beowulfs fight with the dragon took place in the third act of the text. It was during
this fight that he met his ultimate fate, and was abandoned by his men, all save for one, Wiglaf,
who ultimately become his successor to the throne. However, one question remains - should
Beowulf have fought the dragon?
By the time Beowulf set upon the course to slay the dragon, he has already achieved all
that his warrior lifestyle could afford him. As a young man, he gained fortune and glory for the
deaths of Grendel and his mother. Before going after the dragon, he established peace in the
realms by ending the feuds of the neighboring tribes and settled into kingship. Now, as king,
Beowulf spoke, made a formal boast for the last time: "I risked my life often when I was young.
Now I am old, but as king of the people I shall pursue this fight for the glory of winning, if the
evil one will only abandon his earth-fort and face me in the open" (2510-15). Beowulf has
nothing left to prove to his kin or countrymen. He has one last task to accomplish before
transcending the mortal to become epic.
Just as Beowulf is destined to die, so too is the dragon destined to be slain. The treasure
had been won, bought and paid for by Beowulfs death. Both had reached the end of the road,
through the life they had lent (2842-2845). One might surmise that, in more than one way,
Beowulf and the dragon were identical. Both were the apex predators of their respective areas.

Both engendered unmitigated fear and respect in the hearts of men. Both were greedy in their
youth Beowulf for fame, the dragon for gold and sought only to protect those things in their
twilight years. In this epic, there was simply no other way for the dragon to die; it had to be slain
by Beowulf. His men lacked the resolve and ability to complete the task. If Beowulf had not
slain the dragon, it surely would have been the death of the Geats.
Finally, Beowulf was one of the last great pagan heroes. His death was necessary to
further the cause of Christianity. The furious heat of the pyre would assail him. His soul fled
from his breast to its destined place among the steadfast ones (2818-2820). Nowhere in the text
does it say Beowulf was destined to join the angels in heaven. Instead, he was given the funeral
rites of his forefathers and goes to meet them in their afterlife. It could therefore be argued that
the dragon represented pagan beliefs and mythology and Beowulf slaying the dragon ushered the
beginnings of Christian faith as the primary religion of the peoples inhabiting England.
Should Beowulf have fought the dragon? Simply put, yes. Beowulf was a relic of an age
long past by the time the text was written. Throughout history, it was been proven that the easiest
way to convert a people to a new faith is to steal their heroes and ideals and merge them into the
tenants of that faith. The Christians were not the only peoples to do this. The Romans stole
numerous deities from the people they conquered and eventually even incorporated Christianity
into their faith. Beowulf had to face the dragon and die for Christianity to rise among the peoples
of England.