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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.