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Where Firefly and Beowulf intersect

Wednesday 13 June 2012, by Webmaster

The beloved, canceled space western Firefly and the Old English epic poem Beowulf both mention reavers. Were the TV writers taking literature classes when they wrote this episode?

A couple of days ago I was reading some lines from Beowulf in an advance review copy of Vex Hex Smash Smooch by Constance Hale, when I smashed into the word "reaver":

on the misty moors; nobody knows
where these reavers from hell roam on their errands.

"Reavers" jumped out at me because the only time I remember hearing that word is in Firefly. Much like in Beowulf, reavers in Firefly are terrifying monsters.

I rushed over to my Oxford English Dictionary browser window and discovered that "reaver" is an ancient word, and it’s not unique to Beowulf. It’s found in multiple Old English texts and has been in steady use ever since to describe monsters, raiders, and pirates. "To reave" is also a verb to describe plundering, raiding, and stealing.

So Firefly probably wasn’t directly taking words from Beowulf. It was just a word I didn’t know. But it’s still a fun connection between old and new entertainment, so I thought I’d share it with you.

As an aside, I also found an interesting site called Firefly and Western Literature with a post titled "Civilization and Savagery" speculating that the reavers in Firefly take the place of the Indians you’d see in an old American western.