Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon: 'Beowulf' as Metaphor

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon: 'Beowulf' as Metaphor

Article excerpt

Alvin A. Lee, Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon: 'Beowulf' as Metaphor (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998). xi + 280 pp. ISBN 0-8020-4378-X. L37.50

Many themes in this book will be familiar to readers of Alvin A. Lee's earlier work, particularly The Guest-Hall of Eden (1972), `Old English poetry, medieval exegesis, and modern criticism' (1975), and, missing from the bibliography (the documentation throughout is dishearteningly sparse), `Gold-Hall and Earth-Dragon: Beowulf and "first-phase" language', English Studies in Canada, 19 (1993), 201-8. Beowulf is primarily a romance since its `protagonist is superior ... in degree to other human beings and their environment' (p. 14); its polysemous quality can be understood through 'a correlation of patristic exegetical perspectives with twentieth-century critical ones' (p. 146); and it `is in an important sense "pre-medieval", engaged directly in a language of myth and metaphor' (p. 95). Lee derives these and other ideas from the writings of Northrop Frye and, to a lesser extent, Walter J. Ong- Paul Ricoeur, mentioned in the introduction (p. 4), does not reappear. Interspersed in these discussions are many close readings of particular passages - so many, indeed, and with such overlap that one wishes for a line index. Even those sympathetic to Lee's basic assumptions will find much that is problematic.

Romance, from the start a very wide category (see p. 19), proves too narrow: it and Beowulf in particular `reach into and combine with' Frye's other modes (p. 49). Indeed Lee attempts to exclude from Beowulf only the ironic mode since to recognize it would entail emphasizing `the increasingly ironic vision of human existence in part II of the poem, where wars, feuds, treacheries, usurpation, accidental death, ruined halls, rusted treasure, trapped victims, broken vows, cowardice, and general disintegration build to a climax of destruction and death' (p. …

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