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Differences Between the Epic "Beowulf" and John Gardner's Novel "Grendel"

By blackleather Dec 12, 2005 699 Words
When the same scenes are described in different ways, many things inevitably change. As each writer has his/her own idea about how the scenes should look on paper, the results may differ significantly. In this essay two works are compared – the epic Beowulf and John Gardner's novel Grendel. The differences between them arise because the authors concentrate on different details. As a result of the lack/presence of suspense, the choice of the point of view, and the choice between ‘telling' and ‘showing', these two works differ. In the original Beowulf, the hero's fight with Grendel lacks suspense. Throughout the whole scene the author makes sure the readers know how the battle will end – with Grendel's doom. In the following examples, he repeats the same message in different ways: •"Close to the building crept the slayer,

Doomed to misery."
•"But Wyrd had otherwise willed his doom;
Never again should he get a victim
After that night."
•"But a woeful end awaited the wretch,
That very day he was doomed to depart,
And fare afar to the fiends' domain."
In the newer version, however, the outcome of the battle is revealed only at the last possible moment. This happens because in Grendel the story is told by Grendel himself. He is very strong; moreover, he had never met his match before. As a result, he is so confident of his success that he admits to himself that he will die only after he is mortally wounded by Beowulf. o"The room goes suddenly white, as if struck by lightning… He has torn off my arm at the shoulder… I really will die!" The change in the point of view is rather important when comparing these two works. Beowulf is told in the third person narrative. Here, the author concentrates on the actions of the characters and on the battle itself. This might not be very appealing to some readers. Gardner's version, written from the point of view of Grendel, the monster, should be more interesting to read. The writer gets inside the head of Grendel and shows how everything unfolds from his perspective. Because of that, the readers have the chance to experience the thoughts and feelings of somebody who is considered a ‘bad guy'. They can observe Grendel's unique reactions to everything that happens ("Mistake! It's a trick!" – when Grendel realizes that he has been deceived; "I discover I no longer feel pain… My heart booms terror." – when he is dying; "You're crazy… If you think I created that wall that cracked my head, you're a fucking lunatic." – this is one of his answers during the fight with Beowulf).

Another point that makes these two works different is the authors' choices between ‘showing' Grendel and ‘telling' the readers what to think of him. In Beowulf the author ‘tells' the readers what Grendel is like by using the following words: horrible slayer, the hideous fiend, monster, ravager, man-devourer, slaughterous guest. The character is shown as the common villain, who kills for his own entertainment, a monster that must be eliminated. In Grendel, on the other hand, Gardner does not comment on the fact that this character is a 'bad guy'; he ‘shows' Grendel by presenting his thoughts and emotions and lets the readers decide for themselves what Grendel is like. I, for example, perceive him as a mentally sick monster. Here are some of the phrases that helped me to form such opinion: "…with a laugh that I wouldn't much care to wake up to myself", "…half-crazy with joy", "For pure, mad prank, I snatch a cloth from the nearest table and tie it around my neck to make a napkin." Even though both works are full of differences, they have one thing in common – the ending. o"But Grendel escaped with his gaping wound,

O'er the dreary moor his dark den sought,
Crawled to his lair. ‘Twas clear to him then,
The count of his hours to end had come,
Done were his days." (Beowulf)

o"Poor Grendel's had an accident," I whisper… (Grendel)

Bibliography:
1. Epic "Beowulf"
2. John Gardner's novel "Grendel"

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