Site icon ELA Brave and True by Marilyn Yung

When Christian Bale becomes Beowulf

Here’s another way to infuse relevance into Beowulf

At left: Christian Bale | Martin Kraft / CC BY-SA (; At right: Photo: Jonathan Farber at Unsplash.

When you extend your Beowulf unit into a mini-unit on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, three things will happen:

1) You’ll build excitement to read an Anglo-Saxon poem so old we don’t even know exactly when it was written or by whom.

2) You’ll open students’ eyes to the universal pattern of story-telling à la Joseph Campbell’s monomyth.

3) You’ll have a ton of fun.

My seniors recently finished reading and studying Beowulf. Last week, they plotted the events and characters of our Burton Raffel translation onto Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey template and made quick Google Slide Presentations that arranged their favorite story or movie onto the same template.

I made this bulletin board in early September to prime imaginations and get kids wondering about the excitement Beowulf has to offer.

My students created presentations on C.S. Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, The Lord of the Rings, The Heat, The Hunger Games, Beautiful Creatures, and even Smokey and the Bandit!

This week, we will be finishing up those presentations, and watching 3:10 to Yuma, a 2007 western starring Christian Bale and Russell Crowe.

As we watch the movie, we’ll pause occasionally to discuss as characters and events of the movie fall into place on the Hero’s Journey pattern.

Beowulf is a lot to slog through, so I think it’s fitting (especially during this chaotic fall) to reward ourselves with an excellent film that illustrates the ubiquitous Hero’s Journey.

Christian Bale and Russell Crowe in 3:10 to Yuma

If you haven’t seen 3:10 to Yuma, you should. The two-hour film was directed by James Mangold and received two Oscar nominations for sound mixing and musical score. (Make arrangements for permission slips, according to your school policy.

But the story is where it’s at.

Bale plays Dan Evans, the hero of the story. According to IMDB, Evans is “a small-time rancher who agrees to a captured outlaw (Ben Wade, played by Crowe), who’s awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma.” All the Hero’s Journey elements are in this movie. You’ll find the following:

You get the picture. There’s even a talisman and an unexpected mentor.

Campbell’s Special World in 3:10 to Yuma shows itself as the deserts of southern Arizona. | Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Side Note: 3:10 to Yuma is rated “R” for violence and two to three instances of profanity, so make arrangements for permission slips, according to your school’s policy.

Anyway, if this year’s viewing of 3:10 to Yuma is anything like last year’s, we’ll again get into a discussion of the mentor character, how truly loyal Evans’ allies were, and exactly where the supernatural aid comes into play.

It’s a fun connection to make!

Last year, I also had students listen to an episode of The Hero’s Journey podcast for a scene-by-scene discussion of 3:10 to Yuma as it conforms to Campbell’s pattern.

Listen to The Hero’s Journey Podcast on Spotify and other popular platforms.

One caveat: I haven’t developed a good way to utilize lengthy podcasts (this one is 1-1/2 hours long) in my classroom. Perhaps it’s a better activity for kids to do on their own. However, if you have some good ideas, please leave a comment!

Regardless, The Hero’s Journey Podcast is super fun! The hosts, Jeff Garvin and Dan Zarzana, banter back and forth and break down all the important parts of the film. Their podcast includes many more popular films (Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Shining, Nightmare Before Christmas, Total Recall, Princess Bride, etc.) treated to the Hero’s Journey analysis, so check it out. It’s a good way to tie more literary connections into movies your students will already be familiar with.

Follow the Hero’s Journey through Spiderman, the movie.

So there you have it, pardner: one more way to infuse relevance into your Beowulf unit.

To find these “Beowulf relevance” posts again, search the Beowulf category on this site or click the Pinterest button at the top of this post and follow.

Also, let me know how you build excitement for Beowulf. I’m always interested in finding out what you all are doing!

And, by the way, Geoffrey Chaucer is coming up soon, so become a follower to read my upcoming posts about my first pilgrimage teaching The Canterbury Tales!

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Treasured Object Poems

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