The tale of Beowulf is one of constant transformation. Great warriors and leaders are turned into cowering peons. Faithful Christians convert to devil worship. Devout followers flee at the sight of trouble. Many people’s morals change quickly and drastically at the sight of change. Personal turmoil abounds with changing values brought about by changing times. People can remain content as long as nothing challenges them, however at the mere sight of change personal chaos abounds.
One case of how change causes people to forsake their values happens when Grendal makes his first appearance at Herot. “Then Hrothgar, taking the throne, led/ The Danes to such glory that comrades and kinsmen/ Swore by his sword, and young men swelled.” (64-67) Hrothgar was a mighty leader of the Danes, but at the sight of a different foe, a change, Hrothgar turned tail and ran. He did not once try to face Grendal (although his attempt would have been insignificant), but would rather let his people live in terror. The Hrothgar describe before the arrival of Grendal was a completely different person, mentally, than the Hrothgar that was terrorized by the monster. He knew only one type of enemy, humans, and once that changed he lost all his leadership power. A true man of values would have kept them no matter what change takes place.
Fate does not play a role in Hrothgar’s actions. He is caught up in pride about all his achievements that makes him vulnerable to being caught by change. He becomes too comfortable in his station that he narrows his comfort zone to such a level that any amount of change will throw his off tremendously. Everything that happens is by his own doings.
Hrothgar is a perfect example of how people cannot mentally fight evil. Without the constant attack of evil, one will not be able to deal with it when it comes up. Beowulf is constantly battling evil, which makes him more able to battle it when it is encountered. Hrothgar was not exposed to evil, so when it reared its ugly head his only reaction was to flee. If someone lives in a perfect society and leaves, they will not be able to deal with the evil they find because they have never had to deal with it before. Good cannot combat evil if it has never known evil.
The only way to resolve Hrothgar’s situation is to bring in someone who has known evil and faced it well, is not prideful, and can adapt to change well. In the tale that is exactly how the problem is solved. Beowulf comes and battles Grendal. He represents everything Hrothgar is not. But Hrothgar was not the only one whose values change when Grendal comes.
“The best and most noble of Hrothgar’s council” abandoned their Christian values in attempt to combat change. “They sacrificed to the old stone gods,/ Made heathen vows, hoping for Hell’s/ Support, the Devil’s guidance in driving/ Their affliction off.” (175-178) The nobles, who were Christians, saw change and did not know how to deal with it, so they fell back into their pagan ways. They were trying to combat evil with evil; their Christian values were all but lost. This can tell us something big about the culture at the time, they were comfortable in their old ways. In this case at the sight of change they abandon everything that was good. This means that evil begets evil. Goodness is only needed when times are favorable, and evilness is needed when times are tough. This way of thinking will lead to even tougher times. If evil begets evil, then the begot evil will also beget evil, which will be a never-ending chain of evil. The only way to battle the evil is to stand for good, which is exactly what Beowulf does. He does not put his trust in the Devil, but God. But some put all their trust in man, which makes them vulnerable to destruction if the man fails.
Beowulf was a mighty man who has proven his strength in battle. So his followers think of him as an immortal type of figure. When they see that even an immortal such as Beowulf