The epic Beowulf showed many mythological elements in it.
Beowulf is filled with references to Norse gods, mythical monsters, weapons with magical powers, and races of giants.
In it, Tolkien speaks against critics who play down the monsters in the poem, namely Grendel, Grendel's mother, and the dragon, in favour of using Beowulf solely as a source for Anglo-Saxon history.
Tolkien argues that rather than being merely extraneous, these elements are key to the narrative and should be the focus of study.
He builds a tower with some of it, but when people find the stones are older than the tower, they pull it down "to look for hidden carvings and inscriptions". Tolkien notes that Ker's opinion had been a powerful influence in favour of a paradoxical contrast between the poem's supposed defect in speaking of monsters, and (in Tolkien's words) its agreed "dignity, loftiness in converse, and well-wrought finish".
Tolkien cites other critics, such as Raymond Wilson Chambers and Ritchie Girvan, who objected to the poem's "wilderness of dragons" and its unworthy choice of theme.For example, Odin was the chief god-god of war, death and also wisdom.In Beowulf, the whole epic was centered on fixing a problem.Tolkien is therefore very interested in the contact of Northern and Christian thought in the poem, where the scriptural Cain is linked to eotenas (giants) and ylfe (elves), not through confusion but "an indication of the precise point at which an imagination, pondering old and new, was kindled".The poet takes an old plot (a marauding monster troubling the Scylding court) paints a vivid picture of the old days, for instance using the Old Testament image of the shepherd patriarchs of Israel in the folces hyrde (people's shepherd) of the Danes.Tolkien argues that the original poem has almost been lost under the weight of the scholarship on it; that Beowulf must be seen as a poem, not just as a historical document; and that the quality of its verse and its structure give it a powerful effect.He rebuts suggestions that the poem is an epic or exciting narrative, likening it instead to a strong masonry structure built of blocks that fit together.In doing so he drew attention to the previously neglected literary qualities of the poem and argued that it should be studied as a work of art, not just as a historical document. Drout; these offer some insight into the development of Tolkien's thinking on the poem, especially his much-quoted metaphor of the material of the poem as a tower.and that most of the praise and censure of the poem was due to beliefs that it was "something that it was not – for example, primitive, pagan, Teutonic, an allegory (political or mythical), or most often, an epic;" Tolkien gives an allegory of a man who inherits a field full of stone from an old hall. Ker thought of Beowulf, namely that "there is nothing much in the story", and that "the great beauty, the real value, of Beowulf is in its dignity of style".He points out that the poem's theme is a serious one, mortality, and that the poem is in two parts: the first on Beowulf as a young man, defeating Grendel and his mother; the second on Beowulf in old age, going to his death fighting the dragon.The work has been praised by critics including the poet and Beowulf translator Seamus Heaney. Drout called it the most important article ever written about the poem.