Once upon a time, Hrothgar was a pretty badass king. Being Danish, he knew how to throw down when the occasion called for it. This wasn’t modern Denmark, that country rarely heard from in the European conglomeration, but the land of big Viking bastards who would slay dragons and generally make a bad day for everyone they crossed.
Now Hrothgar lived in a hall named Heorot, which is ‘hall of the hart’. It’s a name with two meanings, though both of them spoke to the prowess of their great king. First, Hrothgar was a man known for his animalistic passions and insatiable appetites. And second … well, let’s just say that the hall guard is now much more on alert that random forest animals didn’t wander into the hall when the King ordered the mead to flow freely.
Needless to say, despite all the old timey-ness, Heorot was a pretty fly place.
Sooner or later that kind of excess draws some attention, of course. If you’re just a serf kicking back in your hovel, the guards will kick down your door. If you’re some middle of the road middle-management bastard, the King himself might step in to make sure you aren’t having too much fun. But when you’re King of the land, there typically isn’t anybody who can tell you ‘enough is enough.’
Which is where Beowulf comes in.
Now, I see that you’re thinking ‘What about Grendel? Big messed up monster come killing people, that’s gotta be a problem, right?’
Sure, it might be, if it was a big monster running around ripping people apart these days. We can’t abide that shit. We have problems when our fast food order isn’t right. You think people today could deal with Grendel? They’d shit their pants and curl up and die of fright.
But back in the day, these Danes were pretty hardcore. Mythological motherfuckers were coming out of every crevice and shadow and hole to spoil the party. No, monsters like Grendel were about as common as armor chafing. Yeah, it sucked, but it came with the territory.
But you see, the Danes were taking their sweet time getting around to dealing with Grendel. Hard to get motivated when you’ve got a party hall and an unlimited supply of drink and wenches to go with it, am I right or am I right? But poor old Hrothgar, happy on his throne, forgot the cardinal rule of the ancient rule—no matter what kind of badass army you command, somewhere is a place more cold and more desolate where a more badass hero with a bigger sword and a bigger dick is just waiting to fuck up your shit.
Seriously, check your epic tales. Right up there with plucky sidekicks and tragic endings on the cliche scale.
So Beowulf was this viciously gleeful bastard who had made a name for himself going around the world and taking on all sorts of mythic beasts and abominations for the fame and ladies that came with such glory. He was also a Geat. Which was an early name for ‘hella Swedish.’ He sailed a ship full of type A macho frat boy assholes who came to kill things and claim credit.
Of course, Hrothgar had known Beowulf’s father Ecgtheow way back when when Ecgtheow had been a pretty cool guy. But sometimes the apple falls pretty far from the tree, y’know? And while Hrothgar remembered fondly the times he and Ecgtheow had chilled in front of the fire, Beowulf barged right in and demanded the hospitality that his father had been shown.
Now Hrothgar was a pretty stand up guy. And it wasn’t like Beowulf had just driven across town and crashed at his pad. Sending him back would be a weeks-long affair. So he rolled out the red carpet and put down bedding for Beowulf’s men and offered them all the things he had to share.
Beowulf partook of as much of this as he could, but then turned around and told Hrothgar that he was here to slay his monster for him. Now, hundreds of years have passed and it’s hard to relate, but that’s like telling another person you’ll scratch their ass for them or spank their kids or sleep with their wife. It’s an imposition.
A damn frustrating imposition too, because you can’t just say ‘oh, no, don’t kill the murderous monster, I rather like him.’ If you haven’t had the time to get around to killing him yourself yet, suddenly the Hero is here to steal all the glory and leaves you looking like the asshole. Hrothgar knew that Beowulf had him by the short and curlies, so he agreed.
Beowulf and his men took control of Heorot and finally trapped Grendel. Beowulf, that grandstanding ass, fought Grendel hand to hand, without clothing, when Grendel surprised them one night. Let me tell you, it’s bad enough to have some foreigner showing up to slay your monsters, but when he can do it bare ass naked and come out of it just fine, it really busts your balls.
Beowulf even did him one further by going out and fucking up Grendel’s mother, too. Two monsters for the price of one. In one visit, Beowulf had totally shaken up the power base of Hrothgar. And yeah, maybe Hrothgar wasn’t the best monster slayer around, but he was a good King and he kept his people as chill as you can keep a group of beefed up Danish warrior types.
Beowulf took the credit and some cash and split. Because Beowulf never stayed around when the dust had settled and the blood was drying on the wall. That guy had Shit. To. Do. So Hrothgar paid him and wished him well, secretly bummed out and ready to hit the mead harder.
Because that’s what happens when Beowulf passes through. He just sucks out all the glory of life, and leaves you a broken King sitting in a hall another man conquered. You’re just Hrothgar, the guy who paid Beowulf to kill his monsters. They don’t call the epic Hrothgar, The Baddest Motherfucker in Denmark, do they? Noooooo.
The moral of this story? Fight your own monsters, even if you’d rather drink your mead. And tell those heroes who would do it for you just where they can step off and go the hell back to Sweden.