Now that I have some free time before heading back to work, I have all kinds of free time to read. I have a list of books I would like to read, and even a few books checked out from the library that I should be reading (like the book for my next Book Club meeting). Yet, I found myself picking up a book I had read before. Yes, I reread (again) The Outlander this week by Diana Gabaldon. And right now, I even started reading the second book, Dragonfly in Amber,again.
Perhaps after almost of a week of being around my favourite people (my family), I wasn’t quite ready to start something new. I still needed some time with the familiar. Apparently this feeling didn’t extend only to books. Tonight, I found myself watching, again, the film Outlander. I love watching movies and reading books with overly perfect heroes, hence why I enjoy the book series and the film so much. That idea of an outlander, of being from away, and then pitching to save the day is something that I admire and like hearing about. There is something about the goodness of humanity in those who are willing to sacrifice and fight alongside strangers. Yet, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
The idea of a hero walking in to save the day is classic! Just think of every Western ever written. Or, Harry Potter. There are countless stories of men and women showing up to save the day for others. One of the best stories I have ever read was during my English Lit undergrad: Beowulf. Beowulf is the ultimate hero! He comes into the area, kills Grendel and Grendel’s mother, saves the day, becomes king, defends his people, and dies slaying a dragon. It doesn’t get better! So as I was watching Outlander with James Caviezel I couldn’t help but make the connection to Beowulf. And, searching Outlander online revealed that the writers were indeed basing their story on that of Beowulf.
I of course read the Seamus Heaney version of Beowulf (as if there was a better translation!) and after 10 years, I can still vividly remember parts of the story and I also remember the joy I got from reading the story. I tried to convince everyone around me that they needed to read this epic poem. Roommates, friends, family members, and especially by brother who loves war stories. I don’t think I was successful, but that joy and excitement was reawakened watching Outlander again tonight.
In the movie, a Moorwen (a dragon-like creature) is brought to earth unknowingly with Kainan as Kainan’s ship lands in Norway in 709 A.D. Just like Grendel in Beowulf, the Moorwen destroys villages in Outlander. I love the description of Grendel and his motivation:
“In off the moors, down through the mist bands / God-cursed Grendel came greedily loping. / The bane of the race of men roamed forth, / hunting for a prey in the high hall. . . . his glee was demonic, / picturing the mayhem: before morning / he would rip life from limb and devour them, / feed on their flesh; but his fate that night / was due to change, his days of ravening had come to an end” (pg 49).
The film makes a nod to the epic poem when Kainan realizes that if they are to defeat the Moorwen, they need better weapons: “When they joined the struggle / there was something they could not have known at the time, / that no blade on earth, nor blacksmith’s art / could ever damage their demon opponent” (pg 53).
One of my favourite parts of the film is when Kainan tries to convince some of the village’s warriors to climb down into the well with him, as it seems that the Moorwen is attacking from the well. Again, I can’t help but relate this episode to what Beowulf goes through. The scene of Beowulf fighting underwater is my favourite fight scene in all of the poem: “Without more ado, he dived into the heaving / depths of the lake. It was the best part of a day / before he could see the solid bottom” (104). It is true that the well does lead to the nest of the Moorwen and Kainan and his new friends are able to defeat the Moorwens and save the day, much like Beowulf’s success under water.
We don’t know the exact ending of the story of Kainan, but if the story is anything like Beowulf, we can guess. In Beowulf, “the wide kingdom / reverted to Beowulf. He ruled it well / for fifty winters, grew old and wise / as warden of the land / until one began / to dominate the dark, a dragon on the prowl” (151). In Outlander, we see Kainan become king and his wife, the daughter of the past king that Kainan saves from the Moorwens, believes that Kainan is a god who has chosen to stay with the people. A sacrifice for the good of others from a brave heart. So, I can assume that if we were to follow Kainan to his death, he would die similar to Beowulf: “Beowulf dealt [the dragon] a deadly wound . . . for the king, / this would be the last of his many labours / and triumphs in the world” (183). By dying in killing a dragon to save the people around him, again, Beowulf is a hero by habit!
One of the things I love most about Beowulf is that within the story, they tell the story. Within the actual events happening, the villagers retell the glorious victories of old, and of Beowulf. Beowulf becomes a legend in his own time and they tell his story for all to hear. So, why do I love rereading and re-watching these stories of heroes? It must have something to do with the satisfaction of seeing good triumph. Of seeing hard work rewarded. Of seeing immediate results of work completed. Of choosing to do something for others, even if it is dangerous. I think right now, we need heroes. We need reminders, both in print and in film, that humans are capable of saving the day. And that sometimes, it’s ok to let others in to fight our battles for us.
“A hero is somebody who understands the responsibility that comes with freedom.” (Bob Dylan)
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)