‘Beowulf’ is the oldest surviving and longest epic poem written in Old English, having 3,182 lines of alliterative verse. It appears as one of the items on an authentic manuscript kept at the British Library. Its author is unknown, as is its date but it is estimated at anywhere between 650 and 1010.
Beowulf travels from Sweden to help the Danes vanquish a demon who became angry at hearing their religious beliefs. Not only did the brave, incredibly strong Beowulf kill the demon, but did the same to his grief-stricken, avenging demon mother. To cut a long story short, Beowulf spends fifty years as a good king, then suffers a fatal neck-bite from a dragon whom he slays to protect his cowardly people.
This superhero tale was brought to Britain by the invading Saxons and its plot has become embedded into English literature in various forms. For instance, the English patron saint, George, fought and killed a dragon and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is said to have been greatly influenced by his in-depth study of ‘Beowulf’.
(Image of ‘Beowulf’ manuscript: Ken Eckert at Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0)