A Comparison of the Grendel of Beowulf and Gardner's Grendel

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A Comparison of the Grendel of Beowulf and Gardner's Grendel


      The novel Grendel by John Gardner portrays a significantly

different picture of Grendel than the epic poem Beowulf paints. Grendel is

a non-human being who posses human qualities. In either story it is not

specified what type of being Grendel is, nor does it tell of what exactly

Grendel looks like. The only idea the reader has of the sight of Grendel is

the small hints either author gives. We know he stands on two feet as

humans do, we know he is covered in hair, and we know he is monstrous.


      Although there are many significant differences between the two

stories there is one idea that stands out the most when I read Grendel.

That idea is in the poem Beowulf, Grendel is portrayed a large animalistic

beast. This gives the reader the feeling that Grendel is solely driven by

his animal instincts and does not posses the same thought processes as

humans do. For example the line "the monster stepped on the bright paved

floor, crazed with evil anger; from his strange eyes an ugly light shone

out like fire" (Beowulf line 725), proves this point.


        In the novel however this point lacks development. Rather Grendel

is portrayed as a confused creature passing through life looking for

answers. Surprisingly Grendel walks the forest in harmony with the animals.

He does not act like the blood hungry beast he is seen as in Beowulf.   In

the novel -- Grendel is walking the forest and comes across a doe. He

notices that the doe is staring in fright and suddenly runs away. One would

assume from the ideas hinted in Beowulf that Grendel would have attacked

the deer. However Grendel appears upset with the deer's actions. He says; "

Blind Prejudice" (Gardner 7) "Ah, the unfairness of everything, I say and

shake my head. It is a matter of fact that I have never killed a deer in

all my life, and never will." (Gardner 8)


      Grendel is a confused creature. Since he walks alone he has more

than enough time to think about his life. He always used to ask his mother "

why are we here" (Gardner 11) the only way he realized the truth was from

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the words of  the old dragon. "You are mankind, or man's condition"

(Gardner 73) Unfortunately the Dragon did not make a whole lot of sense.

The dragon's final advice was "find the gold and sit on it" (Gardner 78).

Unfortunately this advice left Grendel more confused than ever.


        The only part in the poem Beowulf  that Grendel appears in is the

attack on the meadhall where Beowulf puts an end to Grendel. In the poem it

says " Then his heart laughed; evil monster,  he thought he would take the

life from each body, eat them all before the day came; the gluttonous

thought of a full bellied feast was hot upon him." (Beowulf line 730) This

portrays Grendel as an evil, cruel and -- unsympathetic being, but this is

not entirely true. Grendel has been attacking the meadhall for eleven years.

This fact alone points out the utter stupidity of man kind. Always the same

attack Grendel follows just for fun.  He does not really like the taste of

humans, it makes him ill. The people in the meadhall always do the same

thing, which is make the meadhall dark so as to blind Grendel. The thought

never occurs to the people that Grendel can see easily in the dark, which

is why he always manages to kill and eat someone.


      In my opinion Grendel is far more superior than man is. The novel

displays the idea well. He knows that the people fear him because he is

different and he uses that to his advantage.  He also realizes that human

waste all their time thinking about theories to why life is. As the dragon

says "They would map out roads through Hell with their crackpot theories!"

he also tells Grendel  "You improve them my boy ! Can't you see that

yourself? You stimulate them! You make them think and scheme." (Gardener

72) This proves that Grendel is a more superior than humankind is.


        Finally Grendel meets Beowulf in the meadhall. He has never met a

human quite as strong and brave as this one before and he is, in fact,

surprised. Although the poem portrays Grendel as being scared and weak, I

believe surprised -- explains it better. After escaping the meadhall

Grendel wanders home bleeding. Eventually he ends up in a clearing

surrounded by animals who no longer fear him. Grendel is not upset with

this sudden turn of events rather he is happy. An existence that was

sorrowsome and confusing will no longer be lived by the poor Grendel. We

get this idea when he says "Is this joy I feel." (Gardner 173) With his

dying breath he notices the animals staring at him and says "Poor Grendel's

had an accident, So may you all." (Gardner 174) This dramatic death scene

shows us that Grendel is happy to leave this world.


      This scene in the novel is very different from that of the poem. "

There the lake water boiled with blood, terrible surgings, a murky swirl of

hot dark ooze, deep sword-blood; death fated he hid joyless in the fen, his

dark stronghold, till he gave up life, his heathen soul; there Hell

received him" (Beowulf line 847) In my opinion this shows us (the readers)

how Grendel is thought of in the poem. Which is a cold hearted beast, and

that could be no further from the truth.

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