A Little Perspective From Tom Church

A lot of people play The Elder Scrolls now that Skyrim’s been released. It is a fantastic series, probably best described as the Lord Of The Rings of video games because of its depth and intrinsic lore. It has such an original and compelling fantasy basis that even Call of Duty and other FPS dorks choose to play it sometimes, and that’s saying something. In a sense, playing these games is like reading a book, without actually reading it.

And that feeling comes partially from the fact that these games emulate popular and classical fiction. It’s true that these kinds of things are referenced often; The Hobbit by Tolkien has the same premise as Beowulf because both lead up to the slaying of a dragon. In the 70’s and 80’s, metal bands thought it was totally hardcore to reference dark literature like The Necronomicon and other Lovecraftian creations because it meant that… well, I don’t even think they really know what it meant. Honestly I don’t like bands like that.

But The Elder Scrolls series is relevant to a broader population, arguably, because it’s not every guy these days that likes hardcore death-post sex technotica metalblast dreamvibe sassafras massacre hellscream valkyrie music. But there are a lot of gamers who play Skyrim.

Just google “Elder Scrolls References” and see what you find, honestly. There are millions. They’re often denoted as “easter eggs” and are arranged in order of which book or legend they’re referencing. There are references to LOTR, King Arthur, the Headless Horseman, etc.

But I recently read Beowulf because I found it at a book store for one dollar. I was very thoroughly astounded at how many references I found without even really trying very hard. Skyrim is chock full of them. In fact, it’s safe to say that the entire virtual realm of Skyrim is based off Scandinavia. I’ll remind you that there is a Nordic race in the game, which is basically human, but with special perks and abilities. They are not necessarily better than any of the other eight races, but they have a 50% resistance to frost and cold, and also a battle-cry that makes enemies flee for thirty seconds. It’s kind of fitting, honestly.

As I read and annotated Beowulf, I noted the use of titles: earls, mainly, and thanes as well. Earls are the English translation of the Scandinavian term jarl, which is used extensively in Skyrim. Thane is a term to describe someone of moderate nobility, in between the class of normal citizen and distinguished jarl. You become thane of several cities if you play the game properly and thoroughly.

Also, the main antagonists of Beowulf are mirrored, more or less, in The Elder Scrolls series, starting with Morrowind, or game 3 of 5. The Uderfrykte is a strange troll that you encounter in Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim, and which you may kill all three times–it doesn’t seem to affect its appearance in later games at all. The Uderfrykte it seen as Grendel because of a nearby dead man’s journal, which describes his encounters with the Uderfrykte. It also speaks of a Uderfrykte Matron monster which you may find and kill–this is a mirror image of Grendel’s mother.

Also, the final antagonistic creature that Beowulf faces down is the dragon. Dragons are the major and highly difficult enemies found in Skyrim, the “boss battles” that sometimes come randomly. It is apparent that the dragons have been saved as creatures up until this game because the realm of Skyrim is obviously Nordic. It is almost as if the character plays in the time period of which Beowulf is set in, except with certain add-ons like magic and strange creatures, etc.

The presence of mead in Skyrim is prevalent, however its use is kind of absurd. If you drink too much of it, you gain little and lose a lot, because it decreases your strength and ultimately makes you kind of shitty for a while. Mead is kind of useless; I’ve never known anyone to trust in its effects while playing, and I’m assuming the only reason it’s really found is because the culture of the Scandinavians included it so heavily both in life and literature. The great mead-hall Heorot in Beowulf is proof of that.

In the story, Beowulf goes to fight for the king of the Danes, Hrothgar. This is used in Skyrim as the name of not a person, but a place; perhaps the place was named after the person, who supposedly really lived and may or may not exist in The Elder Scrolls. In Skyrim you climb a mountain to reach High Hrothgar, which is an enormous building meant for prayer and ritual. It is inhabited by old wise men. Honestly I don’t get the reference, really, but it’s kind of cool to see the name crop up again. Hrothgar was a sad guy in Beowulf because Grendel was killing all of his men. Eventually he sat alone in his mead-hall because no one visited him anymore, and it stayed that way for twelve years. Beowulf really helped him out by slaying the monsters for him.

My last reference, for this is kind of long and I could go for much longer, is one that I am proud for having found: at the beginning of Beowulf, it talks about the death of Scyld Scefing, or in English “Shield Sheafing,” who was the first of the line of Danish people. It says that he walked the “whale-road” to his death. This is seen in Skyrim as the road you walk on your way to kill dragon boss Alduin, for you walk a road up to the Hall of Valor (representative of Valhalla, or a sort of Norse heaven) that is lined with the rib cages of massive whales.

That’s it for me. If you are interested in any more references, be my guest and look them all up. There are some very good dialogue and physical references to some very relatable works of art and myth to be found in these game.

aestheism, not atheism.



Comments on: "Beowulf And Skyrim Parallels" (10)

  1. I thought the same thing, Thom. Great minds think alike a guess.

  2. Hell yeah dude!

  3. Really enjoyed reading!

  4. Thanks so much!

  5. Also, No One Seems To Notice This, But One Of The Greybeards Is Named ‘Wulfgar’ Which Is One Of The Characters In Beowulf.

  6. In Beowulf they also have a group of people called the Greybeards similar to those in Skyrim.

  7. I think of Skyrim more as a sequel to Beowulf then a retelling. the dragons were dead for a long time, and then they came back, but maybe their first extinction was actually due to beowulf? perhaps High Hrothgar was named after the danish king once he died. This is all just a theory with little evidence, but whatever.

  8. There’s also the similarity between Unferth (Beowulf) and Wuunferth the Unliving (Windhelm, Skyrim).

  9. GeneralJelly said:

    Personally, I believe that High Hrothgar isn’t referenced to the person, rather the throne he sits on. In Skyrim, high hrothgar is a place of worship, knowledge, and power. The throne of Hrothgar in Beowulf is a parallel to that, being “untouchable” because of its’ intimate connection to God, i.e. Gods knowledge, power, and worshippers. I do agree with everything else you have said. Well done sir.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: