Have you ever heard the same story twice and had a different view on the story the second time you heard it? This is what happened in the novel Grendel by John Gardner; it was a retelling of the epic poem Beowulf just Gardner gave the reader an insight to what it was like to be in Grendel’s shoes.
Although these two stories had a similar background, a main difference in the two was the perception at which each of the stories was told. Grendel was told from the perspective of the antagonist Grendel himself and Beowulf had a narrator telling the reader the story. Since Grendel was telling the story in first person the reader could actually feel a connection with Grendel and maybe even some of the same emotions Grendel was feeling. However in Beowulf the reader thought Grendel was nothing but a bad creature by the way the author portrayed him. The author of Beowulf, who is unknown, was telling the story for entertainment wanting the reader to understand how Beowulf became known as courageous as well as how important it was to be the strongest warrior at the end of a fight; "Often, for undaunted courage, fate spares the man it has not already marked." (Lines 572-573). Gardner’s purpose for writing was much different. John Gardner wanted to attack the mind and make a person question their existence; most importantly for the reader to see Grendel struggle through life and realize not everything about a person is entirely bad.
Both of the stories dealt with the idea of good vs. evil. In Beowulf there was a constant battle between good and evil. For example, Beowulf is always fighting someone whether it is Grendel himself, Grendel’s mom, or a dragon. Grendel is always in a dispute. On the contrary, John Gardner is inconsistent with the idea of good vs. evil because one minute Grendel hates the way the humans have battles and slaughter each other and then slaughter their enemies’ livestock, pointlessly taking lives. “I was sickened,” he says, “if only at the waste of it: all they killed – cows, horses, men – they left it to rot or burn” (p36) and the next minute he wants to go eat humans he was just ridiculing; “I killed stragglers now and then with a certain grim pleasure very different from that which I got from cracking a cow’s skull” (p76). Grendel by John Gardner is a novel that displays philosophies. The two most prominent philosophies present in Grendel are nihilism and existentialism. Nihilism is a belief that existence is pointless and everything is meaningless; and existentialism stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one's acts. The monster Grendel begins life as an existentialist and after leaving his mother he comes in contact with a confusing world. Soon he sees the humans of the Dane country and realizes the two creatures share a common language and thought. In chapter five Grendel interacts with the Dragon and through this conversation Grendel is introduced to nihilism. The Dragon it seems is the ultimate nihilistic being who knows "the beginning, the present, and the end all time, all space." (p62, 63) The Dragon believes that all things in the universe will come to an end and are therefore meaningless and discounts existentialism as a philosophy. Beowulf did not go deep into the mind game and was just a straight forward story that had been told for many years before it was even written on paper. With the different philosophies Grendel ridicules Beowulf concept of heroism; stressing the ability to be strong, to be loyal, and to be brave.
Both authors of these items of work use biblical references, kennings, and alliteration. A biblical reference is used in Beowulf when Beowulf rises from the lake after defeating Grendel's mother and the lake clears and becomes clean is symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus. Also, Beowulf and the Danes eating supper in the mead hall before he goes off to fight with Grendel's mother is another symbolic reference to Jesus's last supper. A Biblical reference used in Grendel is when Grendel says, “The world is my bone-cave, I shall not want” (170); he is referring to the Bible verse Psalm 23:1 “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Another biblical reference used in Gardner’s novel that he refers to multiple times is the use of the serpent; “treating their sword-blades with snake’s venom”(35), “look down at him as they would at a wounded snake”(136), and “slanted downward, never blinking, unfeeling as a snake’s”(154). Some examples of kennings used in Beowulf are “mail-shirt” for armor, “dwelling place” for residence and “mail armor” for helmet. Some examples of kennings used in Grendel were “shadow-shooter” and an “earth-rim-roamer” (p7). Alliteration was used in Grendel when Gardner wrote “Him too I hate, the same as I hate these brainless budding trees, these brattling birds” (p6) and in Beowulf “cunningly creeping, a spectral stalker” and "an aspect of man...superhuman in stature and strength".
John Gardner and the unknown author of Beowulf have similar plots but are told in two different ways. One was by a narrator, the other in the life of Grendel which gives the reader a different outlook on Grendel himself. It makes the reader view Grendel as not that bad of a creature so before you know both sides of a story do not judge.