Plot Overview

Grendel is the story of one of the monsters from Beowulf, the Old English epic poem, and his twelve-year struggle against King Hrothgar. The plot centers on how Grendel, the titular character, looks for purpose and identity in what seems to him like a meaningless world. Each of the novel’s twelve chapters is associated with a different philosophical perspective encountered by Grendel, as well as a different astrological sign.

In his youth, Grendel explores the world outside of his underground home happily, until the day he becomes trapped in a tree and is repeatedly attacked by a charging bull. This traumatic experience causes him to sort the world into into categories: what helps him and what hurts him. Soon after, Grendel meets a group of humans, including a man named Hrothgar, who try to communicate with him, but end up attacking him out of fear.

Grendel watches humans closely from then on, but considers them confusing and dishonest, particularly Hrothgar’s singer and storyteller, who tells beautiful tales that Grendel knows are false. A powerful dragon explains to Grendel that this singer and storyteller, called the Shaper, is just creating illusions, and that life is truly meaningless. However, the dragon suggests that Grendel can improve humanity by giving them an opponent to struggle against.

Focusing on Hrothgar’s people, Grendel then regularly raids their village, terrorising and eating humans. Through observing and attacking humans, Grendel learns about the concept of heroism from a would-be hero named Unferth, selflessness from Hrothgar’s young wife, anarchist theories from Hgrothgar’s nephew and his mentor, and theology from Hrothgar’s priests. However, Grendel distrusts everyone and can’t make up his mind about any one school of philosophical thought.

The ending of this novel lines up with the beginning of the epic Beowulf, as the warrior of the Geats arrives to fight Grendel. During Grendel’s battle with Beowulf, he is forced into a new appreciation of...

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Essays About Grendel