Monday, April 13, 2015

Beowulf: Warrior and King

This essay was written in response to the following prompt: "Over the course of the poem, Beowulf transitions from a powerful warrior to a wise leader. His transition demonstrates that a differing set of values governs these two roles. In this society, what makes a warrior a good warrior and what makes a king a good king? Contrast these two roles, and analyze how Beowulf exemplifies a good warrior and then later a good king."

The epic of Beowulf begins with the Germanic hero exhibiting bravery, endurance, and selflessness, necessary ingredients for a warrior who will defeat one monster after another. But once Beowulf becomes king, instead of losing these traits through disuse, he only increases in them. In fact, if the king had become a cautious warrior as time went on, he may have survived this tale; but as we see in the end, his valor leads to his honorable death. The changes that Beowulf undergoes are positive rather than negative, for with his experience as warrior and king come wisdom and leadership.

A mysterious but imposing figure is Beowulf when he enters the story. He presents himself as a problem solver, an answer to the trials that the Danes have undergone. It is hard not to see him as a savior archetype, especially in light of his willingness to die in battle against Grendel, saying “if death must take me … no further for me need'st food prepare!” (11). It is clear that Beowulf puts duty before pleasure and safety, his skill alone demands that he use it to right wrongs. He is so devoted to valor that he is chagrined by the cowardly actions of Unferth, who is told that he is “the bane of thy brethren dear, thy closest kin, whence curse of hell awaits thee, well as thy wit may serve!” (14-15). Beowulf puts his soul before his life, thinking it better to die in battle, fulfilling his duty, than to run from conflict and damn himself.

The role of warrior is further exemplified by Beowulf’s treatment of authority. After his underwater victory over Grendel’s mother, he brings back the spoils of the monster and presents them to the Danish king: “Lo, now, this sea-booty … we've lustily brought thee, sign of glory; thou seest it here” (40). The reward which he could have kept as his own, he gives up in honor of his host. When the same king suffered the death of his friend, Beowulf encourages him to take heart and let him bring justice to the killer, telling him that “it beseems us better friends to avenge than fruitlessly mourn them.” (33). This demonstrates that the warrior values action and vengeance over remaining in a state of grieving.

The monster Grendel is described as a creature of murky origin, “his father they knew not, nor any brood that was born to him of treacherous spirits” (33). The indecisiveness of his nature and the bizarreness of his behavior easily make him a metaphorical figure of evil itself; demonic, hideous, and merciless. Beowulf, then, becomes the slayer of this evil, the vanquisher of demons and darkness. The warrior can now be seen as a cure for all ills, one who puts all things right fearlessly and flawlessly.

Beowulf, soon to become a king himself, begins to show the signs of it. The Danish king Hrothgar tells him “Firmly thou shalt all maintain, mighty strength with mood of wisdom” (41). Beowulf is becoming, not just a monster hunter, but a leader of men, a father figure. In the same breath, Hrothgar warns him against the corruption that so often comes with power, foreseeing that his power would soon extend to rulership. Hrothgar tells him of another, less wise king: “Though him the Maker with might endowed, delights of power, and uplifted high above all men … he endured all joyless strain of struggle and stress of woe ... Here find thy lesson! Of virtue advise thee!” (41). He spells out the makings of a good king: gentleness, generosity, and peace.

Later, Beowulf exercises his wisdom when he mentions the situation of an arranged marriage that he had witnessed in the land of the Danes. He tells his own king that these intermarriages rarely work when they have bad blood behind them, saying that “seldom ever when men are slain, does the murder-spear sink but briefest while, though the bride be fair!” (48). Years pass, and Beowulf becomes king. As he grows in age, he grows in experience and endurance. Fifty years of hard times and tragedy have made him hard as steel in a way that simply being the adventurer and warrior didn't (57-60). Though hardship has been plentiful in his life, Beowulf prides himself on remaining a just king; in his dying speech he says “I cared for mine own; feuds I sought not, nor falsely swore ever on oath” (65). Beowulf has done his best, and died a hero because of it.

“A good king he!” (57) says the narrator of the poem, and this Beowulf is. He is beloved by all for both his heroism, and his wisdom. Upon his death, he is greatly mourned, and all agree that their nation is doomed to fall apart without his hand to guide it. The loyalty he inspired among his people is represented in Wiglaf, the one soldier to stay and fight with him until his death, of whom it is said “the soul of one with care was cumbered. Kinship true can never be marred in a noble mind!” (61). This king is one who inspires true courage in the hearts of good men.

We have seen the transformation of a brave warrior to a wise king, a change which builds upon itself instead of being a handicap. As a king, Beowulf has all the strength and valor he had in his younger years, but has wisdom and experience that he never had before. Though his warrior spirit eventually leads him to his death, he would go down in legend as the greatest warrior-king that ever lived.

This paper was written for my Fall 2014 Western Civilization college class. Editing and formatting liberties were taken to present this essay. All references are from this translation of the text.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Why Is "Shut Up and Dance" Popular?

Summer has come early in my little corner of Steubenville; a long and tiresome winter has made us all want to skip through Spring and jump to the good stuff. Amid the limitless energy and trendiness of the quasi-hipster FUS drama department, it seems there is one song on everyone’s lips: Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon. Released last fall, this earworm is bound to be a Summer hit of 2015. Since I’m in the (for me) rare position of being around people who know where it’s at, I have the privilege of witnessing a bit of pop-culture history in the making, seeing what may well be an upcoming legend in the days before it becomes mainstream.

Image taken from the comment section of the official "Shut Up and Dance" music video.

This phenomenon has got me thinking about what makes a song popular, particularly this one. Sure, it has an infectious power-pop melody, a hilariously fun chorus, and, of course, it’s about love. But is that all there is to the song? My powers of overanalysis don’t think so (If you haven’t heard the song, and you’re the kind of person who likes to experience art before any criticism of it, I encourage you to scroll down and listen to it now).

The first thing to notice is the effective songwriting which does well in describing the innocent euphoria of falling in love. But this isn't any love, it's sweeping, epic, sexy love at first sight. When the protagonist of the song encounters the woman in question on the dance floor, there is a helpless internal reaction in both of them, one which causes them to see the other as the most important person in the room.

We were victims of the night,
The chemical, physical, kryptonite
Helpless to the bass and the fading light

For those who have a romantic connection to someone, whatever form it may take, it is easy to put yourself and whoever is in your heart directly into this song. The characters are acting out exactly what you long for: an effortless and purposeful connection.

Taking this theme further, the song makes clear that this isn't just an isolated instance of passion, a thrill that will eventually die down and pass, but something permanent.

This woman is my destiny
I knew we were born to be together

These lyrics are just what we want to say about our own love with confidence. Everyone dreams of someone they were destined to be with, someone whose existence completes their own. This is where the song hits you, right in the fundamental desire for eternal love.

These lofty ideas may seem out-of-place against the pop rock context of the song, but this is exactly what makes the song, and many songs like it, so powerful. The song is set on a dance floor, an environment that is easy to refer to derisively and disparagingly. It's an environment that has several connotations, one being that of the "cool party life": the fun, energetic, highly-sexed arena of youth and music. Also, that of the love-struck; falling in love on the dance floor is not a new idea by any means. This environment is obviously one that carries a cultural significance; this is a place where people want to meet "the other." By setting this love story in this environment, and linking it to an eternal value (which countless songs fail to do), Shut Up and Dance is affirming our desire, telling us that true love is attainable exactly where we seek it out.

The song includes imagery that suggests that this woman is the romantic ideal of the speaker, an archetype he has recognized for years before. He can tell that this woman fulfills a desire in him that he has felt for his whole life.

A backless dress and some beat up sneaks
My discothèque Juliet teenage dream

While we all may or may not find a romantic partner, I think these themes can be applied to a more infinite point of view. The desire for love that we all feel can be traced back to the desire for God, and we partially satisfy this desire in our encounters with Christ. These encounters aren't simply abstract, spiritual incidents, but incarnate interactions with other people; we meet Christ "on the dance floor" so to speak. If it was only possible to encounter Christ through intense sessions of isolated meditation, it would be a dry faith indeed, but we are given the gift of Christ in every person, in every event we participate in. Consider the words of the chorus:

"Oh, don’t you dare look back
Just keep your eyes on me."
I said, "You're holding back,"
She said, "Shut up and dance with me!"

They seem very forceful for coming from a stranger at a club, don't they? It's because they aren't from a stranger; these words come from someone who knows you, who loves you. They are so appealing because on some level we recognize that we either have met, or want to meet this amazing reality in someone, indeed, in everyone we know. The words are telling us to forget about impressions and artifice and to celebrate the point-of-view-transforming joy that Christ reveals in all things. Deep down, we all want to look past appearances and see the Truth that lies underneath.

So what do you think? Are these resonances the root of the song's appeal, or do people just like saying "Shut up and dance with me!"?

Note: Details of lyrics are rendered as accurately as possible given the limitations of the consensus-hating internet. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

From the Sketchbook #1

Here's a sneak peek at a serial I'm working on actualizing. This is concept art of some secondary characters who will end up being something like 1930's gangsters. I've been working on this image off and on for over sixteen months, and I've just now decided that I like the look of it. Leave a comment and tell me what you think. Would you watch a show with these characters? View on Tumblr.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Doctor Who Series 9 Wish List

I have 101 very important things I could be doing right now. Instead, I’m going to blog about Doctor Who.

Possible spoilers ensue.

This season, I want the TARDIS to be really, really crowded. I want the kind of family relationship that, in New Who, has really only been touched upon in series 1 (Nine/Rose/Mickey/Jack) and series 6 (Eleven/Amy/Rory/River). Thus, I propose a new TARDIS family.

Peter Capaldi as The Twelfth Doctor - I feel like Twelve hasn't gotten completely comfortable in his own skin, and that needs to happen in this season. And the best way to make that happen, I think, is to have him be surrounded by people he cares about. As well as trying to regulate his relationships with his friends, the Doctor needs to really buckle down on his search for Gallifrey. This is what he needs to do to finally have some semblance of peace of mind.

Alex Kingston as River Song - River is a brilliant character, and I know many people would like to see her come back to meet the similarly aged and grumpily charming new Doctor. The problem seems to be that we know exactly where she begins and ends; her story is bookended almost completely within the Eleventh Doctor’s run, and to delve into the stories in between would seem out of place and anticlimactic. That’s why I think the Doctor needs to do what he’s never dared to do before: bring River out of the library. I know this might seem to undermine tension that came before, but Moffat will find a way à la The Day of the Doctor. Here’s my rationalization. Due to Twelve’s recent muddy relationships with both Clara and Missy, he’s longing for a female presence in his life who he knows he can both trust, and who won’t be sexually threatening to him. A post-library River (perhaps even one whose consciousness has been placed in a lifelike robotic replica of herself) will be both ready to give herself to the Doctor completely, and will be mature enough to give his more sexually innocent incarnation space to breathe. She will be the heart of the TARDIS family, the person who the Doctor wants by his side when he finds Gallifrey.

Michelle Gomez as Missy - It is assumed that the Master escaped from Gallifrey itself, thus Missy should know its true location regardless her lie in Death in Heaven. The Doctor could reasonably ally himself with her, either through force or bargaining, and get her to lead him home. Missy would be the rogue of the family, never trusted, but kept around because she is simply the best option they have. She would also add an incredibly interesting element, since she could very well be both scornful of the idea of the Doctor having a family, while at the same time desperately wanting to be included in it.

Georgia Moffett as Jenny - The Doctor’s artificially created daughter, and one of the few Time Lord-ish beings left outside of Gallifrey, she could very well cross paths with her father after catching word that she may have a home to go to. After well over four seasons with no word from her, it’s about time that her presumably individual adventures come to an end, and there seems to be no better time than now, when what it means to be a Time Lord in this world is in question. She would add some much-needed innocence to this so far rather old and jaded family, being a relatively young person (I’m assuming the in-universe time since she last saw the Doctor would roughly relate to real-world time, or about seven years).

Craig Ferguson as The Human Scottish Bumbler - Not only a huge Doctor Who fan, but a long-time friend of Peter Capaldi, Ferguson is the missing piece of my series 9 wish list. He would be the particular friend that Twelve gets to bond with, someone who he can feel similar to, while at the same time still feel superior to. The Doctor always likes to have a human of Earth along with him, and it's very possible that he'd dip from Scotland both to find someone who shares his accent (aside from Missy), and to feel connected with his old friend Amy. Ferguson would add a fantastic sense of verbal and physical comedy to the family, he could play like a wittier, more vulgar Rory Williams.

Though I doubt many if any of these will be a part of the permanent upcoming TARDIS team, I hope all of them are eventually touched on, if not in this series, then at least in the next. I would just like some new (or relatively new) faces, and several of them, to pull this show out of threats of monotony. And think how fantastic it would be to see four or five names (and faces?!) flying through the time vortex during the title sequence!

Now a few words about Clara and Danny.

Clara may or may not be exiting in the Christmas special, and honestly I kind of hope she does. I like her character, but if she stays on for another series, she’ll have been the companion for longer than Rose, and as long as Amy, which just doesn't seem right. Her story seems to be at the point of reaching a satisfying conclusion (either in happiness with Danny, or her own death), and just the thought of another dozen episodes with her is extremely tiresome. In addition, I want a brand new character to come in soon for the Twelfth Doctor in particular to bond to, instead of being stuck with Eleven’s leftovers (Twelve and Clara’s superior chemistry notwithstanding). Unfortunately for people who think like me, Clara’s inclusion in series 9 seems inevitable. Whether or not she would fit well with the family I've laid out is up for discussion.

As for Danny’s potential as a companion, while I would like to see it, I’m ultimately against it. Even supposing that Danny a) will return from the afterlife in the Christmas special or beyond, and b) could ever be persuaded to travel with the Doctor after all the trouble the latter has gotten the former and former's girlfriend into, I feel like his story pattern would too closely match Rory’s (i.e. introduced in his first season as a recurring character and the long-suffering rightful lover of the girl caught between him and the Doctor, and then brought on as a regular in his second season with diminished romantic ambiguity) to be of much interest.

So that’s my over-long opinion. Thoughts?

Monday, November 10, 2014

Milanese Metal

This is a drawing I made upon request to promote the Gioventù Studentesca of Steubenville Opening Day this year. The idea behind it comes from the Cathedral of Milan exhibit which was displayed at the event, as well as the musical nature of the gathering. Design for the cathedral was loosely based on the Cathedral of Milan. View on Tumblr.

If you really want to help me out, you can order this image on a whole bunch of different clothing items and more right here.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Psychiatric Help

My latest piece! DC/Peanuts crossover. Let me know what you'd like to see me draw. View on Tumblr.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What's a Raccoon?

I was asked to draw Rocket Raccoon from the much-loved Guardians of the Galaxy movie. This is what I came up with. I'd be glad to take requests; my drawing skills need exercise. View on Tumblr.