GRENDEL - Summit School District / Overview
GRENDEL - Summit School District / Overview
An overview of
John Gardner’s work
• Artists in Society and the Power
• The Importance of Language
• Heroism—a moral force
• The Struggle Between Good and
• Grendel both imitates and ridicules
specific forms of literature and authors
• Beowulf—most of plot and characters
• Grendel becomes a “case history of a
bad artist” whose words are constantly
misunderstood; thus, he inspires acts of
violence versus the Shaper who
inspires great deeds.
• Various characters represent specific
philosophies (Dragon, Hrothulf, Red
• 12 chapters: Twelve years of
Grendel’s raids and 12 zodiacs
• Not chronological: Flashbacks,
• Tense: Present tense is interspersed
with past telling of events leading up
to this 12th year
• Each chapter presents a different
branch of philosophy
• Book opens in April, month of the
ram and there is an immediate
concern with language:
– “Talking, talking. Spinning a web of
words, pale dreams, between myself
and all I see”
– Grendel’s mother lives in a cave, mute,
– Chpt. 2 when Grendel is trapped in tree,
most important element is the
encounter with the men who speak a
• Chapter 3: summary of Grendel’s
years watching the Danes who are
slowly developing civilization
• Hrothgar becomes powerful because he
has a theory about the purpose of war
• The Shaper appears; he does more than
make poetry; he retells history and
• Also the Shaper names Grendel as one of
the race of Cain, everything that is dark
and evil—this is what Grendel becomes
• Grendel visits the dragon who tells
him the Shaper’s words are an
“illusion of reality” leading men to
believe there is meaning in the
• Dragon denies existence of God and
meaning and advises Grendel to
“seek out gold and sit on it.”
• Grendel discovers dragon has put a
“curse” on him: he can no longer be
injured by men’s weapons.
• Grendel finds the “heroic” and
idealistic Unferth, and in acting in
unexpected ways, completely
humiliates the would-be hero.
• When Unferth seeks Grendel in his
cave, Grendel shows that life is
meaningless; he refuses to engage in
battle; he returns Unferth unharmed,
“So much for heroism.”
• The arrival of Wealtheow (“holy
servant of the common good”) as a
• Hrothgar’s nephew arrives after the
murder of his father.
• Hrothulf’s resentful attitude and
desire for power allows Grendel to
ponder “the idea of violence.”
• Encounter with priest leads to
observations about religion.
• Chapter 10, Grendel deals with
• Chapter 11: strangers arrive
• Beowulf tells him about the
cycles of existence before
– “Though you murder the world . . .
Strong searching roots will crack
your cave and rain will cleanse it:
The world will burn green, sperm
build again. My promise.”
• But Grendel attributes his end to
a random accident.
“Profile of a Killer”
• Chpt. 2: First encounter w/ men,
the most dangerous things”:
• Grendel is trapped in a tree.
• The men think he is a fungus at
first, then a spirit that eats pigs
• King, in fear, attacks him with an
• He is saved by his mother
• Men are dangerous because “they
think and scheme”
Grendel’s Reaction to the
(Scop’s) Shaper’s Songs:
• Chpt. 3: Grendel is emotionally
affected by the songs, the lies
• He feels torn between what he
observes (reality) and what he
hears (the beauty and idealism)
• Chpt. 4: Hearing that he, himself,
is considered the dark side of
creation, he wishes to convert.
• He goes to the mead-hall calling
for mercy and peace, but is
• He wishes for someone to talk to
• He returns because he is
• He wants the songs to be true,
even if he has to be the outcast
The Dragon’s Answer
• Chpt. 5: The dragon says that
Grendel inspires and improves the
• That if there were no Grendel, they
would invent one: they need the
• Thus, Grendel is irrelevant.
• It makes no difference if he stops
The Dragon’s Charm
• Chpt. 6: Grendel at first feels the
charm causes his enemies defeat
• Then he realizes he has nothing to
fear and nothing to stop him, so his
raids become inevitable.
• He discovers the charm when he
accidentally runs into a guard, trips
and is not hurt by the sword.
• He discovers a reason for his
existence: he is now “Ruiner of
Mead-halls, Wrecker of Kings.”
Psychology Vs. Strength
1. Grendel’s feelings?
2. Beowulf’s trick?
3. Grendel’s defense of Beowulf’s
4. The whispering?
5. Explanation for defeat?
Psychology Vs. Strength
6. Amplifies fight details
Beowulf is seen as cool, calculating, clever and vicious. He uses surprise, strength
and psychology to defeat Grendel.In the original, Beowulf as hero refuses to use
weapons for a fair fight. Grendel rips off his own arm in the poem in his fear
ridden desire to escape. In Gardner’s story Beowulf’s tactics throw him off guard
and allows Beowulf to rip off his arm.
6. Beowulf’s image
Beowulf hero is courtly and chivalrous. In Grendel, Beowulf is seen as slightly
mad and cruel; sneaky and calculating; He uses psychologically demoralizing
whispers and parody of “Say Uncle!” He also seems to use unnecessary violence.
Courtliness seems gone.
6. Grim humor
Grim humor: Grendel’s comment that he wouldn’t want to wake up to the sound
of his own laughter anymore than the Geats; the napkin; the image of Grendel
and Beowulf shaking hands grotesquely.
Both Grendel and Unferth exhibit
characteristics of the anti-hero.
Grendel as Anti-Hero
1. He murders and cannot be punished
2. He sneaks around at night, spying
3. He makes fun of the Danes and rejects
all that they stand for
4. He searches for answers but can find
5. He is crude, but not stupid or dishonest
(He is successful in his feud but a
failure at finding happiness)
6. He says he is angry very often
Unferth as Anti-Hero
• 1-3 do not fit: while he did kill his brother, he
has made restitution according to the law.
• 4 He tries for greater heroism in chasing
Grendel, but is forced to achieve an ideal the
Danes do not understand.
• 5. He seems a failure as a hero, yet
achieves an even more difficult kind of
heroism by not giving up even when faced
with humiliation; did commit a crude and
stupid mistake in the past.
• Yes, he is angry
To Be or Not to Be a Hero
“Nothing from Nothing”
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
(Macbeth, Act V, Scene v)
How Grendel Sees Time
• Grendel says “tedium is the
worst pain” as the sun walks
• He waits for the Shaper to die.
• Chapter filled with references to
past and a dark future.
• Time passes slow and boringly
• That the Danes are fooled by the
• That Unferth is a fool for clinging to
his heroic ideals
• That his war with Hrothgar is “an
idiotic war” (Ch 1)
• That he, himself” is a “pointless,
ridiculous monster” (Ch 1)
Macbeth's Shadow and
• Grendel describes himself as a
shadow (Ch. 10) and as walking
around the edges of the world,
outside the mead-hall at dusk.
• Chapter I, Grendel plays game of
looking at himself as he postures, as
standing outside himself
• Also Hrothulf’s arrival and encounter
w/ the Priest read like scenes from a
A Tale Told By an Idiot?
• Grendel agrees with Macbeth, he says
often that he is stupid and that life is
meaningless (and he tells the story)
• He whispers, cannot be understood by
the Danes (his language is older)
• His voice is too loud and frightful to be
• His killings, an expression of anger
and the meaning of his tale he
summarizes at the close of chapter 10:
“Nihil ex nihilo.”