My thoughts on The Hobbit vs Beowulf

Reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo Lyre

If you haven’t guessed already, I love the poem Beowulf. During that England/Ireland trip, I was very excited to see Sutton Hoo. Even several of you folks from England are asking, “What on earth is Sutton Hoo?” In short, it is a viking burial ship which dates back to the culture that brought us Beowulf.

On the ship, they found an instrument believed to be a lyre that the scop might have played while singing such epic poems. Fortunately, I happened to see the Sutton Hoo exhibit at the British Museum in London first because that was where the remnants of the instrument were displayed at the time.

Sutton Hoo Lyre fragments

So what does all that have to do with The Hobbit?

Well, since you’ve already dipped your toe into Lake Nerd by reading thus far, perhaps you like to wade out a bit farther with me? I promise it will be fun! 😀

Tolkien also enjoyed Beowulf and would begin his lectures on the poem with a dramatic recitation of the opening lines in Old English. (Oh! to have been in that room at that time!) For anyone who has read both The Hobbit and Beowulf, you can see how Bilbo Baggins is Beowulf.

To compare (spoiler alert for both Beowulf and The Hobbit):

We’ll start with Beowulf. In the poem, King Hrothgar’s men are being attacked by Grendel, who essentially is a violent, cantankerous neighbor who doesn’t like Hrothgar’s parties. He chases them all out of the mead-hall and for 12 years terrorizes the people.

“As [Hrothgar’s] woes became known widely and well,

Sad songs were sung by the sons of men” (Beowulf, lines 129 &130)

Songs! Hmm… I wonder who heard them? You guessed it! Beowulf, an outsider, comes to defeat this Grendel guy who couldn’t be pierced by any of the blades of Hrothgar’s men.

But Beowulf is different. He is a wrestler!

After watching Grendel eat one of his own soldiers, Beowulf gives Grendel… a handshake? Well, his grip breaks Grendel’s fingers and rips off his arm. So much for attempting friendship.

Anyway, Grendel slinks off to his lair and dies of his wounds. Yay Beowulf!

Now for The Hobbit. We’ve got Thorin (Hrothgar) whose people were driven out of their mountain (mead-hall) by the dragon Smaug (Grendel). I know, I know. Beowulf has a treasure hoarding dragon/worm creature too. There are a lot of blending of symbols in The Hobbit. I’m simply going over my favorites. Then, there is Bilbo (Beowulf). He too is an outsider who does not use weapons.

But Bilbo is different. He is a burglar!

Much like Beowulf has a natural strength to defeat Grendel when no one else could, Bilbo has the natural ability of stealth. This not only helps them to defeat Smaug, but many other foes along their journey.

But what inspires Bilbo to help the dwarves? Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1:

“They came back…with Thorin’s harp wrapped in a green cloth. It was a beautiful golden harp, and when Thorin struck it the music began all at once, so sudden and sweet that Bilbo forgot everything else, and was swept away into dark lands under strange moons, far over The Water and very far from his hobbit-hole under The Hill.”

What was that? Was that music? A harp even? Whether Bilbo likes it or not, he has already started his journey with the dwarves when he first heard the song describing their sad history.

*deep breath* Okay I should probably stop now because I’m entering the realm of what really inspires me, but may bore you guys. 😉 Maybe soon I’ll post my thoughts on the new Hobbit movie 😀

Have you read either of these works? Have they inspired you in any way? Have you ever seen Sutton Hoo?

Glutened Goals update: (a letter)

Dear Rocks In My Belly,

I get it. I’m not supposed to injest gluten of any size. It was a complete accident and happened a month ago. Please stop punishing me! It makes it very difficult to get anything done.

Thank you,

Hasn’t Written Much Of Anything



Filed under Books I Love, Harp

7 responses to “My thoughts on The Hobbit vs Beowulf

  1. Meg Mims

    From what I’ve heard of Tolkien’s lectures, his students complained how they’d fall asleep! LOLOL.. pretty boring, I guess. I like the idea of comparing Beowulf and The Hobbit, but don’t forget that Tolkien strayed by having his hero get help in slaying the dragon — Bilbo told the thrush about Smaug’s underbelly, who in turn told Bard… the same with Frodo — he didn’t defeat Sauron. No more spoilers from me, though! LOL I wish I could have seen Sutton Hoo… no time when I was in London loooong ago.

    • lol, yeah that’s what I’d read about his lectures too. But apparently, he did well with his Beowulf series. I guess he was simply more passionate about that. I understand what you mean about the thrush and Bard, but at the end of Beowulf, he had help from Wiglaf too. 😀 I think Smaug sort of embodied Grendel and the worm/dragon.

  2. Hi! Saw your entry on the WANA page, and had to comment. I love that Tolkien is inspired by music. I love that in the Silmarillion (which I have not read all the way through, yet) that the world is created through music. Music inspires me so much, I even developed a villain based on the fact that she listens to Mozart’s Lachrymosa. And I think it’s awesome.

    • Thanks Heather 😀 I love when music takes a stronger roll in literature too. It doesn’t seem to be as strong a connection in our society as it use to be. Hopefully writers like us can help change that! 😉 Good luck with developing your villain, that sound fantastic!

  3. Kim

    I am a big fan of Tolkien and Beowulf and love your connection between Beowulf and Bilbo. I’ve never seen that before. One difference, though, is that Beowulf sought out Hrothgar, but Bilbo was the one sought after by the dwarves. I also love it that in the Silmarillion the world was created through music. The creation story is lovely. Well, until Melkor comes in with his discord. If you read LOTR out loud, you can experience the melody of Tolkien’s writing. Some of the scenes are quite beautiful musically.

    • Thanks Kim! Yep, Bilbo certainly was not the adventure seeking warrior that Beowulf was, lol. Though he was a reluctant one all the same. I’m sad to say, that I’ve yet to read the Silmarillion, believe it or not! By the time I came across it, I was just starting motherhood, and well… I do have a copy and am looking forward to reading it. Probably this fall when my eldest starts kindergarten. 😉

  4. Pingback: How Not To Be Below Average | Shea McIntosh Ford - Author of Open-Minded Fiction

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