I’m teaching British Literature I, a course that runs from the early Middle Ages (as in, Anglo-Saxon England) to the early 1700s, before the wave of revolutions that shook long-held monarchies on the continent but after the monarchy was restored in England (ironically enough).
Right now, we’ll be finishing up Beowulf and will start Sir Gawain and the Green Knight next week. And, after three annual pilgrimages ::say it in Chaucer-accent; it’s funner that way:: to the medieval conference in Kalamazoo, MI, and hanging out with medievalists who like the Sharp and Pointy of medieval history, I’ve become aware of the arms and armour side of these texts that I heretofore was utterly blind when I was a simple literature bookworm.
I also find myself referencing The Lord of the Rings a lot, especially The Two Towers, and especially the Rohirrim. How else to explain the importance of a meadhall and a cupbearer except pointing to King Theodan’s hall and Eowyn’s role during the feasting, post Helm’s Deep?
What’s interesting to me is the female characters in Beowulf: the Scyld-Dane Queen Wealhtheow (and her foil, the Frisian Queen Hildeburh), Grendel’s mother, the Geat Queen Hyd (and her foil, the Angle Queen Modthryth), the Scyld-Dane Princess Freawaru, and the unnamed Geat woman who mourns at Beowulf’s pyre. Perhaps because of Tolkein’s and Peter Jackson’s visions in LOTR, like Arwen, Galadriel, and Eowyn, women are rare and so when they appear, they are *significant*.
And I just finished reading Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and compared to somebody like, say, Queen Wealhtheow or Grendel’s mother, Guinevere or the Lady of the Green Girdle seem lacking, somehow. Too coy, too soft, I guess.