On Friday, October 3 at 3:30 PM, we will host a reading of Tolkien’s “The Homecoming of Beorhnoth, Beorhthelm’s Son.”
Tolkien’s play was inspired by the Old English poem “The Battle of Maldon,” imagining what might have taken place after the battle. “The Battle of Maldon” was, in turn, inspired by a real battle between the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons that took place in the year 991. Short version: the Anglo-Saxons lost. Badly.
In the poem, the Anglo-Saxons lose because their captain, Beorhnoth, allows the Vikings to cross the narrow causeway to the mainland unmolested. This is a bad strategic move, because the Anglo-Saxons could have picked them off one or two at a time as they crossed. The Vikings appeal to his vanity and possibly a sense of chivalry, claiming that it’s not a fine fight.
Some scholars argue that the poem is about behaving with chivalry even when that means a bad strategic choice. Tolkien, however, thought that the poem presents Beorhnoth’s decision as foolhardy but his warriors’ resolution to stay and fight even after his death as honorable.