"All of our best and oldest legends recognize that time passes and that people grow old and die. The legend of Robin Hood would not be complete without the final blind arrow shot to determine the site of his grave. The Norse legends would lose much of their power were it not for the knowledge of an eventual Ragnarok, as would the story of Davy Crockett without the existence of an Alamo." (1)
- and Beowolf, fifty years older, was fatally wounded when he killed a dragon.
A myth does not have the happy ending of a fairy tale or a romantic novel. Imaginative in content but realistic in meaning, it addresses both life and death. Poul Anderson shows well the passage of time when retelling the Norse myth of Hadding in War Of The Gods (New York, 1999):
nearing fifty, Hadding remains straight and broad-shouldered, retains most of his teeth and does not yet seem old although, of course, there are signs of age;
his queen dies in childbirth;
his children grow and have children;
his adult daughter plots against him - like the King of Ys' daughter in the Andersons' tetralogy;
after killing an enemy in single combat, he thinks, " 'Yes...I am old...I wanted one last victory that was wholly mine, as a man among men...' " (p. 258);
when he counsels that it is better to build and trade than to burn and take, men remark, "...how the wild young rover had become the mild old grandfather. But some said, 'It's as though he's bidding us farewell.' " (p. 275)
Maturity can bring wisdom. Hadding had fought to gain his kingdom, had fought to build a peaceful realm, had fought to maintain it... However, he counsels his warlike son that peace and work strengthen the Danes:
" '...I have striven to uphold the law...men should turn to it before they turn to the sword...I'd be foolish to tell men they cannot fight abroad when they stand to gain thereby. But, Frodi, the king's care should always first and foremost be for the kingdom.'" (p. 263)
Life has been lived; lessons learned.
Hadding: I have done what I could. All things end.
Eirik: Memory dies not, the memory of what a man did in his life.
They "...speak of bygone times...all their years..." (p. 291)
(1) Moore, Alan, "The Mark of the Batman: An Introduction" IN Miller, Frank, The Dark Knight Returns, London, 1986.