May 6, 2013

Grendel was a Tyrannosaurus Rex, claims the world’s coolest literary critic


“Com on wanre niht scriðan sceadugenga.”

The signal internet-driven joy of recent decades—other than the Hamster Dance (never forget)—is in discovering previously unsuspected veins of enthusiasm and rage into which some portion of humanity has been sinking their time.

This week’s magnificently rich seam: Bookforum points us to an article by Eve Siebert for the Skeptical Inquirer critiquing in lengthy detail a series of publications advancing the belief that Beowulf, one of the foundational works of the English language, is in fact based in truth. Which truth specifically? I am very, very glad you asked. It seems there are books out there—yes, more than one—arguing that the poem’s hero is a descendent of Moses, and that the man was fighting dinosaurs.

That in and of itself is wonderful. I mean, it goes without saying that it is wrong, and maybe even maliciously so considering that this is being taught to children as truth, but it is wrong in the most awesome way imaginable.

The awesomeness of this is threefold.

First, there is a gentleman, Bill Cooper, a trustee of the Creation Science Movement, whose book After the Flood: The Early Post-Flood History of Europe Traced Back to Noah in which, according to Siebert, “tales of dragons and sea monsters provide evidence that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time and that Earth is therefore much younger than scientists will admit.” Also according to Cooper’s book, the poem preserves “not just the physical descriptions of some of the monsters that Beowulf encountered, but even the names under which certain species of the animals were known to the Saxons and Danes.”

This guy is superbly awesome. I bet strangers feel compelled to high five him on the street. Picture this with me now: in his world, a pre-Saxon hero, descendent of Moses, at some point spent time lopping the limbs off of dinosaurs with some sort of bronze-age weapon.

There’s more: Cooper and the authors who cite his work—don’t forget, people have read this book, mulled it over, and agreed with this man—are not satisfied that Beowulf fought just any old dinosaurs. He cites specific ones, based on their descriptions in the poem. The dragon? A pteranodon. Grendel? A Tyrannosaurus Rex or a similar species.  The soundtrack to Cooper’s life must, must be constant wailing guitar solos. A man responsible for ideas this awesome deserves nothing less.

The third awesome thing? The think that’s been making me grin all day? Siebert, rather than simply saying, as would most of us, “well heck, that’s insane; oh well I wonder what’s in the fridge” has put significant effort into debunking the idea that Beowulf killed a pteranodon with a sword.

“Unsurprisingly, Cooper identifies the dragon as a pterosaur. More specifically, he believes the use of the term widfloga (far-flyer, ll. 2346, 2830) “would have distinguished this particular species of flying reptile from another similar species which was capable of making only short flights” (152). He therefore concludes that it is a pteranodon, despite the fact that pteranodon remains have been found exclusively in North Amer­ica. In addition, the word pteranodon means a winged, toothless creature, while the dragon in Beowulf definitely has teeth.”

I don’t mean to mock Seibert. The piece is well written and damning. I just mean to say that if anyone out there is questioning the importance of literature in education, I think both Cooper and Seibert could be held up as very persuasive, and dangerously awesome examples.


Dustin Kurtz is the marketing manager of Melville House, and a former bookseller.