British Connections / Romance and Rebellion Honors/ AP/DC
September 8, 1998
GRENDEL vs. BEOWULF
Both in the novel Grendel, and the poem Beowulf, there are substantial differences between characters, and how they are depicted in each of the writings. The interpretation of a hero is always created and altered by the society in which the hero resides. For example, Saddam Hussein may be perceived as a monster in America but in his motherland, Iraq, he is a champion. In both writings, Grendel and Beowulf share distinct similarities in description in their individual literature, yet each character is portrayed differently in the same writing.
In Beowulf, one of Beowulf’s largest and most noticeable qualities is his strength. We never really see a test of Beowulf’s strength in Grendel until he has his final battle with a creature. The following description of Beowulf’s appearance reinforces his powerful representation.
“Here. Nor have I ever seen,
Out of all the men on earth, one greater
Than has come with you; no commoner carries
Such weapons, unless his appearance, and his beauty, are both lies.” (162 – 165)
Beowulf possessed the heroic quality of bravery, as well. Again, in Grendel, we only read of Beowulf’s recollections of his conquests. As a result, the reader is never given the opportunity to actually read about his perilous conquests, which would in turn, give the reader a vivid idea of how fiercely he would defy his opponents. In contrast, Beowulf’s audacity is displayed well in his self-titles poem, as there is great detail made by the author when describing his treacherous battles, such as slaying Grendel’s mother. Evidently, the novel Grendel leaves the reader liking, nor disliking Beowulf’s character. In the poem, however, we are inferred to admire the Geat. The different of the hero concept between the two writings is clear: our own culture and time set leads to the altered hero. Beowulf is described minimally in Grendel, whereas in the epic poem Beowulf, he is shown with a greater sense of verbal valor. In Gardner’s Grendel, however, he is depicted as a cruel, narcissistic man. For example, Beowulf was described as a deranged and mean individual. “He’s crazy. I understand him all right, make no mistake. Understand his lunatic theory of matter and mind, the chilly intellect, the hot imagination, blocks and builder, reality as stress.” (Gardner 151). In Grendel, Beowulf does not possess the same heroic face we see in the poem, Beowulf.
Grendel on the other hand, is asymmetrical to Beowulf in behavior in Grendel. Throughout the novel, this monster seems to be baffled as to whether he wants to view life as his existentialistic dragon mentor, or the ignorantly optimistic humans on which he feeds. At times, he is captivated by the romantic songs of the Shaper, and feels no desire to kill, while with others he thrives on the “knowledge” of the dragon, and goes on bloody rampages. Whereas in the poem Beowulf, he is depicted utterly as a monster with no soul or conscience whatsoever. At one point during Grendel’s insecure state, the dragon tells him something that changes his outlook on life, and gives him a new feeling of self-worth. Having Gardner write this novel in the 1st person is a true treat. We get into the mind of the beast and feel his pain, as well as his pleasure. Grendel appears to be a reflection of man, where the dark side of man is shown through a creature that keeps itself hidden in the forest.
He is a creature ruled by the “Id”, the side of man tucked away in the sub-conscience mind. Ruled by appetite and impulse, and given to sudden craziness Grendel was full of inchoate yearnings and an endearing skepticism about the bombastic heroics of the drunken Danes. He watches everything, hidden behind cowsheds or in a tree. He is smitten with the beauty of the king’s young queen as well. (Yet he has no sexual urge when invading the royal bed chamber, as he is appalled by her nakedness). Grendel tells us of his attempts at friendship; of his captivity in his mythical role; of his disdain for his roots, as seen in the quote describing is affinity for his mother. “When I sleep, she presses close to me, half buries me under her thistly fur and fat. Dool-Dool,” she moans. She drools and weeps. “Warrovish,” she whimpers, and tears at herself. Hanks of fur come away in her claws. I see gray hide.” (Gardner 107) Whereas in Beowulf, Grendel is merely a savagely beast full of animosity, with
no redeeming qualities.”Out from the marsh, from the foot of misty hills and bogs, bearing God’s hatred, Grendel came, hoping to kill.” (285 – 287)
Although we have always been subjected two-dimensional monsters that are stereotyped as killing without conscience, surviving on animalistic urges or not at all portrayed with the slightest of human traits. Gardner’s Grendel is a monster with humanistic qualities. Thus, Gardner’s depiction of Grendel is highly contrary to that in
In both Grendel and Beowulf, both characters share distinct similarities in description in their individual literature, yet each character is portrayed differently in the same writing. Although Gardner’s novel Grendel is a modern adaptation of the epic poem Beowulf, the parallelism between them both ends with the description of the characters and their role in the story.
Gardner John. Grendel. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.
Unknown (translated by Burton Raffel), Beowulf, 700 [?].