Honors English 11
4 October 2012
Beowulf vs. Grendel
“The folks own fastness that fiery dragon with flame had destroyed and the stronghold all washed by waves; but the warlike king, prince of the Weders, plotted vengeance (Beowulf XXXI). This statement stated by the narrator tells about the hero, Beowulf, seeking revenge on a dragon. The epic Beowulf was written in England, and translated in 1000A.D. The epic focuses on bravery, the characteristics of a good king, and the battle against Good and Evil. Beowulf is the hero of the Geats and comes to the aid of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, to help him get rid of a monster name Grendel who was attacking king Hrothgar’s mead hall. This epic is told in third person, and focuses on Beowulf’s point of view. John Gardner’s Grendel is written in the first person and is in the monster Grendel’s perspective. The setting is in Denmark, 1000 A.D., and focuses on lack of communication, isolation, and loneliness. Even though John Gardner’s Grendel is a prequel of the epic Beowulf, they each have some differences and similarities, making one ask: how does the epic Beowulf compare and contrast to John Gardner’s Grendel in setting, perspective, and characterization?
“He was told by the cunning of arms had rebuilt the Old Danish Kingdom from the ashes” (Beowulf). This statement made by the narrator, shows the setting of the epic, which as I previously stated was Denmark and Geatland, which is now Southern Sweden. It was originally written in Old English, but was later translated to modern day English. The epic Beowulf, whose author is unknown, is thought to be the greatest epic of its time. John Gardner’s Grendel takes place in Denmark during the fourteenth century, though it was written well after that. In the novel Grendel, Grendel states “loaded with rings King Finn could not refuse, the Danes the sailed home” (Grendel). This statement shows that both Beowulf and Grendel have the same settings. It was written in 1970’s, and is set in the fourth century A.D. It is the spinoff of Beowulf, and tells the story of Grendel, one of the monsters in the epic Beowulf.
Both of the writing had different perspectives. In the novel, Grendel sates “Scat! I hiss. Go back to your cave, go back to your cowshed- whatever” (Grendel Chap.1) This statement shows the perspective of the novel Grendel, which is first person. The epic Beowulf is written in the third person and is about how the hero Beowulf comes and saves the day by fighting monsters. Beowulf comes in contact with three monsters who each symbolize three different stages in his life. After Beowulf hears about the attacks on the Danish Kingdom, he decides to help out King Hrothgar and fight his first monster named Grendel. This symbolizes his youth and how great of a hero he is. The second monster is Grendel’s mother. After she heard that Beowulf killed her son, she was enraged and wanted revenge. This fight shows that he is getting older because he had a tougher time killing Grendel’s mother, but that he is still a great warrior because he was able to kill her. The last monster he fought was the dragon. The dragon was trying to defend his treasure and ended up destroying some of the Danish Kingdom. This fight foreshadowed Beowulf’s death. The epics theme is heroism. The people of the Danish Kingdom believe he is such a great hero, that he becomes a symbol of everything good, and Grendel becomes the symbol of evil. The statement from Beowulf states “Then farther he hied, for the hardy hero with hand he grasped, felt for the foe with fiendish claw, for the hero reclining,” (Beowulf). The statement shows that the Danes thought of Beowulf as a hero. In John Gardner’s Grendel, the monster Grendel is the narrator and is telling the story of his life. The novels themes are the pain of isolation and lack of communication, and the power of stories. Everywhere Grendel goes, he is isolated. He has no friends, and cannot make any friends because no one in the realm he lives in can understand him. The only person who can understand him is his mother, and even that is limited because his mother has become mute. Because no one really understands him, he ends up becoming known s a monster when he tries to help Abel. He picks up his lifeless body, and when the Shaper sees him, he makes up a story that Grendel killed Abel which shows the power of stories. Grendel states “And I, Grendel, was the dark side, he said in effect. The terrible race God cursed.” (Grendel), which shows he feels God has made him a monster.
Lastly, the epic Beowulf, and the novel Grendel compare and contrast by characterization. They share some the some of the same characters, but they do not stay the same. Because Beowulf and Grendel share the same setting, they also share the character King Hrothgar, which is the king that Beowulf went to help when Grendel was destroying the mead hall. This statement from the epic Beowulf states “To Hrothgar I in greatness of soul would succor bring, so the Wise-and-Brave may worst his foes,” (Beowulf), which shows the character Hrothgar. He remains the same in both the epic and the novel. They also share all the monsters Beowulf fights in his epic, like the Dragon. In the epic, the dragon is greedy monster that hoards his treasure, and kills Beowulf. In the novel, he is all knowing, and gives advice to Grendel. They also share Grendel’s mother. In the epic, she was furious and mean. In the novel, she is worried mother who really wants the best for her son. Grendel also changes because, in the epic, Grendel was the huge destructive monster who was obsessed with killing. In the epic Grendel just really wants to fit in and be accepted. He is also portrayed as child.
The epic and the novel had comparisons like the settings which were both in Denmark and were set in 500 A.D. They also share some of the same characters like King Hrothgar, Beowulf, Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. Some of the contrasts the two writings have are their perspectives. As I previously stated, the epic was written in the third person. It was written in the past tense, but often refers to the future. The novel was written in the first person, and is also written in the past tense. Something else they have in common is the protagonist. They are both the protagonist of their own story. They also differ from each other by their major conflicts. The epic is split up into three different conflicts. They are Grendel’s attacks on the mead hall, the revenge of Grendel’s mother once Grendel dies, and the anger of the Dragon after a thief stole some of his treasure. Although the two main characters seem so different from each other, they have one thing that ties them together. In the end, they both die alone. Grendel was alone throughout his life and because he could not make any friend, he was alone when Beowulf killed him. Beowulf was loved throughout his life, and was surrounded by people until his fight with the Dragon. All the men he brought with him were too scared to fight the Dragon, except for one named Wiglaf. This shows that no matter how much you were loved in life, anyone can die alone. In the epic, Wiglaf states “Such is the feud, the foeman’s rage, death-hate of men: so I demit it sure that the Swedish folk will seek us home for this fall of their friends, the fighting- Scylfings, when once they learn that our warrior leader lifeless lies, who land and hoard ever defended from his foes, furthered his folk’s weal, finished his course a hardly hero” (Grendel). He is predicting that Geatland will be attacked because their great hero is dead. Because Grendel is a prequel of Beowulf, a reader would have to read both books to understand Grendel. Although these two books have contrasts, the comparisons tie the two books together and also give two different perspectives of the same story.