Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Beorn

I was reading Gesta Herwardi, or The Deeds of Hereward the Wake, last night when the name of Beorn appeared on the page. Since I just mentioned him in my last post, it was interesting to be handed a reason for Tolkien choosing Beorn as the name of the shapeshifter.
After being banished by his father, Hereward went north to Northumberland and spent Christmas watching people wrestle bears for fun. He decided to test his strength against the biggest, baddest bear there. "This was the offspring of a famous Norwegian bear which had the head and feet of a man and human intelligence, which understood the speech of men and was cunning in battle. Its father, so the stories and legends told, was said to have raped a girl in the woods and through her to have engendered Beorn, King of Norway."(M. Swanton trans.)
All the bees are easily explained. 'Beo' is Anglo-Saxon for 'bee'.
It is a curious little tale and is probably taken from the same story that this Norwegian legend was taken from. Whether Tolkien chose the name for the story in Gesta Herewardi or the Norwegian story, I do not know. Either one is likely.

8 comments:

Kristin said...

I wonder what the significance of "bee" is? Bees were symbols of immortality and wisdom, if that has anything to do with it.

anachronist said...

Maybe they used bees just because bears are so fond of honey...
If that bear was so intelligent why did he have to rape that girl?

The Red Witch said...

It is amazing what you can find on Wikipedia. The bee was the symbol of the Merovingian kings for that immortality and resurrection. They were also valued for their community and diligence in work. Apollo's gift of prophecy is supposed to have been given to him by three bee maidens. Merope is supposed to have meant 'honey faced'. hmmmmm. Rowling slipped up there.
The rape story is too incredible. I am sure the bear would rather have eaten her for dinner.

Tracy said...

Talking of J.K.Rowling and bees, the name Dumbledore is another name for bumblebee.

Be interesting to see how that chapter with Beorn is filmed in the Hobbit movie, if/when they get round to making it.

The Red Witch said...

I was sure that Tolkien wrote a poem that includes dumbledores as bees but I can't remember where I found that poem.
I am not likely to see a movie made about the Hobbit so it won't matter to me.

anachronist said...

I would like to thank you for that site with different legends, Norvegian or otherwise. An excellent source!

The Red Witch said...

You are welcome! There are some great sites out there. They can be a little hard to find among the dross, so they must be bookmarked when chanced upon.

Tracy said...

I am not likely to see a movie made about the Hobbit so it won't matter to me.
Well, I know you disliked Peter Jackson's LoTR movies, so that's not surprising, my dear :).

On second thoughts, since they missed out Tom Bombadil in those ones, I imagine Beorn will also be completely ignored in The Hobbit, if they actually get round to making the movie before the actor playing Bilbo Baggins reaches his eleventy-first birthday, that is.