The concept of heroism is one of which that can be somewhat difficult to explain through literature due to the popularity of the “pop fiction” heroes that illuminate the spotlight today. Heroes like Beowulf are often looked as mediocre when compared to the crime fighting characters known as Batman and Superman. Roger B. Rollin attempts to distinguish the difference and importance of literary heroes in his article, “Beowulf to Batman: The Epic Hero and Pop Culture. ” Beowulf, the epic hero of the Anglo-Saxons, is depicted to be a true hero in the article.
Rollins explains the five types of heroes, why people and cultures have heroes, and how movie heroes affect the view of heroism. Rollins states from the very beginning that there are five types of heroes in the literature. Beowulf is described to be the “type two” hero, “If superior in degree to other men and to his environment, the hero is the typical hero of romance, whose actions are marvelous but who is himself identifies as a human being. The hero of romance moves in a world in which the ordinary laws of nature are slightly suspended” (Rollins, 435).
This description is translated to mean that Beowulf is the strongest of his men who surpasses the realities of the physical world while still being human himself. As Beowulf embarked into the depths of the dark lake to face Grendel’s mother it was “for hours he sank through the waves” (line 572). Though the hero suspends the physical limitations of a human being, this does not mean that Beowulf has no error. In his final battle against the fire dragon, Beowulf acknowledges that he will die, an act of pure defeat when a hero is the subject of attention.
Beowulf realizes that “His weapon/ Had failed him, deserted him, now when he needed it/ Most, that excellent sword” (lines 734-36) and that his life was “a journey/ Into darkness that all men must make, as death/ ends their few brief hours on earth” (lines 739-41). Beowulf, being a type two hero according to Rollins, “is more human than superhuman” (435). This hero is more attainable for readers themselves, knowing that the powers and virtues the hero possesses are possible to achieve, but not to the extent of the hero himself.
By being the classic romantic hero, Beowulf is able to suspend the general limitations of human beings yet still identify himself as a human, fully susceptible to flaws and mistakes. People and their cultures look up to heroes, but not the heroes like those in literature. No, the role models for the world’s culture today are those that include Batman, Superman, and Spiderman. During the time in which Beowulf was written, the people of that time looked up to these warriors as the ideal man.
However, since times have changed, today’s culture looks to discover heroes who are ideal in the present society. Like the Anglo-Saxons, society today realizes that they will never live up to the heroism of their heroic role models, but enjoy the entertainment the stories bring. Since Beowulf was passed down orally, embellishments were expected, as they are today; Rollins explains that, “we know, deep down in our hearts, that Batman will not be turned into a shish kabob by ‘The Joker’…. e are aware that such victories do not always occur in reality, there is a part of us which very much wants them to occur” (432). The world’s culture forces people to strive for the better of heroism, fully knowing that it will not become a reality. The fact that people today want their own chance for heroism shows that, in a sense, they are all attempting to become a unique “Beowulf” themselves. The popularity of movie heroes often distorts the image of heroism.
Looking at Anglo-Saxon literature, it is obvious that a hero would be a man who is skilled in hunting, fishing, and almost the exact twin of the king. In pop culture, though, a hero is depicted as a strong, crime-fighting, custom-dressed man who lives a double life. For example, Superman. Kent Clark is an ordinary man, but transforms to the seemingly perfect, Superman when disaster strikes. According to Rollins, Superman “is absolute in his power, his glory, and his goodness” (435). In the movies, heroes are put above the rest of civilization, making them seemingly untouchable.
The movies make it that a hero is not someone like a police officer, but just the person who swoops in and saves the day. On the other hand, in ancient literature, like Beowulf, the hero is a well respected man in the community who is elected to save the kingdom. When compared to movies, the hero from literature does not have the glitz, glam, and fame as a “Hollywood-ized hero. ” The heroes in movies are heroes, but have more of a superficiality face rather than the heroic ideal characteristic as those from the Anglo-Saxon time period.
From Beowulf to Batman, heroism is expressed for all time periods to relate. Beowulf was a hero for exemplifying the heroic ideal of his time and similarly, Batman is a hero for fighting crime, a characteristic that is makes his heroism credible. Heroes are relevant in all literature and pop culture; distinguishing the difference is what challenges the learner. WIth careful inspection, it is obvious to understand that there is no one type of hero, but a multitude of heroes that are showcased through literature and Hollywood alike.
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