From Films to after Comics, 1,000 Years Beowulf the Beowulf Monster-Slayer Still Speaks to Us about Men; Welsh Academic Researches Epic Hero's Impact in the Modern World

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Byline: Robin Turner

HE WAS the Anglo-Saxon hero so tough he pulled a monster's arm off.

But now Beowulf is being closely examined by a Welsh academic investigating notions of masculinity in the modern world.

Dr Catherine Clarke, a specialist in medieval culture at Swansea University's department of English has been given a grant to explore representations of masculinity in modern re-workings of the Beowulf story.

In particular she has been looking at the 2007 film Beowulf starring Ray Winstone, Angelina Jolie and Port Talbot-born Sir Anthony Hopkins.

And she has also travelled to Indiana University's Library in the USA to study the 1970s DC Comics series Beowulf the Dragon Slayer.

The Old English epic poem Beowulf - the oldest surviving epic in British literature - is widely held as one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature.

The tale of the fearless Beowulf, hero of Geatland - modern Sweden - sheds some light on a murky Dark Ages Britain.

Although the epic was written and recited in Britain, Beowulf is about characters in Scandinavia - Danish and Swedish warriors who battle fabulous monsters as well as each other.

It was because the early Anglo-Saxons who settled in modern-day England were the descendants of Germanic and Scandinavian tribes that invaded Britain beginning in the 5th century.

Dr Clarke said: "Central to the poem is the heroic ideal of masculinity immortalised through the figure of Beowulf, an image perpetuated through the Beowulf DC comic book series and other re-workings of the tale."

Dr Clarke teaches an undergraduate module entitled Transforming Beowulf in the 20th century as part of the English BA scheme at Swansea University.

Dr Clarke said: "The DC Beowulf comics present a deeply divided and conflicted idea of masculinity.

"This version of the Beowulf narrative presents a hyper-masculine hero and a homosocial world of physical competition and prowess.

"The advertisements within the comics aimed at a younger male audience reinforce the masculine culture of the comic strips, featuring body-building, karate, and air guns.

"However, the advertisements aimed at adult male readers within the comics, and explicitly at GIs and army veterans, promote opportunities to train as accountants, draftsmen, or in the fields of hotel management or secretarial work. …