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 [?].
Compare and Contrast Essay: Grendel in Beowulf and in the Novel by John Gardner
Most people think of evil and mayhem when they think of Grendel the monster. Grendel is one of the antagonists in the epic poem Beowulf that was written sometime between the eighth and eleventh century A.D. There has been a lot of discussion about this particular monster, so much so that John Gardner wrote a parallel novel in 1971 called Grendel in which the story is told by the monster's point of view. After reviewing both these texts, we find that there are some sharp contrasts provided in the depiction of the same characters in each of the text. Where Beowulf describes Grendel as a vile monster with no compassion, Grendel delves more into the philosophical aspects of why the monster was behaving in such a manner. Both texts, however, denote the evil that lay in Grendel as it went on a killing rage in the area.
There is a debate amongst scholars as to the exact description of Grendel in the original epic poem Beowulf. This is because the exact characteristics and physical description of Grendel never actually appears in any of the Old English texts that were written by the original poet. Many scholars, however, agree on the fact that Grendel was actually a descendent from Cain, Abel's brother and Adam's son. These scholars have defined Grendel as a monster who is somewhat human in shape but much larger. Other people who have translated the original text have written similar things, citing that Grendel's head was so large that it required more than a few men to carry it when Beowulf decapitated him in Grendel's mother's lair. Grendel's body is also defined to be extremely tough as none of the weapons that Beowulf or his men wielded were able to hurt him. When Beowulf tore Grendel's arm from the body, many of the people described the arm as having horn-type growths and being covered with impenetrable scales.
In the novel Grendel, however, we find that Grendel's character to be much more sophisticated as before. Even though Grendel is still described as a monster having vile intentions, a lot more about his personality is investigated here. Grendel is shown to be intelligent, even articulate as he goes on about his killing sprees. Grendel is shown to have an immense grasp about his own existence as well as the existence of others. Throughout the novel, Grendel strives to find meaning in his life and the reasons for which he was created. He is always thinking about what he is meant to do in his life and strives to understand why he is what others think he is: a monster.
One of the most interesting things about both the poem as well as the novel is that they present the readers with an insight into Grendel's mind by showing us his thoughts. This way, we are made to feel empathy towards the creature even though he is evil and vile. This is because the monster is depicted as a lonely outcast who has become enraged over his own deformity and his treatment by others.. However, these feelings of empathy are soon lost as we find out that Grendel is pure evil that enjoys killing humans for no reason. Where the whole of the country fears Grendel, we find that Grendel starts to fear Beowulf. Beowulf is strong and brave and he has been called to kill Grendel. And this causes Grendel to become fearful of Beowulf. This theme is followed in both the novel as well as the poem.
So, we see even though both Grendel as well as Beowulf depict the same character of the monster Grendel, they both do them in each their different perspectives. Where Beowulf presents Grendel as an unreasonable monster, Grendel delves deeper into the psychology of the monster and attempts to describe his inner feelings and the motives behind his actions.