Reply To: Writing for money alone?

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@Karthmin, Monsters and Critics, in its very shortest form, is against people reading too much into works or trying too hard to interpret them or saying what the authour must really have meant — so things like turning Beowulf into a political or religious allegory, or valuing it as an historical document mainly, forgetting in all cases that it’s a good story and that alone is justification for its worth.

This is probably the most well-known part of that essay, and you might have seen it quoted somewhere before:

“Nearly all the censure, and most of the praise, that has been bestowed on The Beowulf has been
due either to the belief that it was something that it was not—for example, primitive, pagan,
Teutonic, an allegory (political or mythical), or most often, an epic; or to disappointment at the
discovery that it was itself and not something that the scholar would have liked better—for
example, a heathen heroic lay, a history of Sweden, a manual of Germanic antiquities, or a Nordic
Summa Theologica.
I would express the whole industry in yet another allegory. A man inherited a field in which was
an accumulation of old stone, part of an older hall. Of the old stone some had already been used in
building the house in which he actually lived, not far from the old house of his fathers. Of the rest
he took some and built a tower. But his friends coming perceived at once (without troubling to
climb the steps) that these stones had formerly belonged to a more ancient building. So they pushed
the tower over, with no little labour, in order to look for hidden carvings and inscriptions, or to
discover whence the man’s distant forefathers had obtained their building material. Some suspecting
a deposit of coal under the soil began to dig for it, and forgot even the stones. They all said: ‘This
tower is most interesting.’ But they also said (after pushing it over): ‘What a muddle it is in!’ And
even the man’s own descendants, who might have been expected to consider what he had been
about, were heard to murmur: ‘He is such an odd fellow! Imagine his using these old stones just to
build a nonsensical tower! Why did not he restore the old house? He had no sense of proportion.’
But from the top of that tower the man had been able to look out upon the sea.”

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