Grendel

Grendel - John Gardner In the English epic Beowulf, the Danes are plagued by the terrible man-eating beast known as Grendel. He appears to have no weaknesses and toys with the villagers relentlessly. Beowulf tells the story of how these great people were liberated by a stranger, who kills the monster single-handed and becomes a great hero. But what causes such a creature to pick on this particular village for so many years? What is it that makes hi, resistant to man's sword? John Gardner's tale, told from Grendel's own voice and perspective, answers these questions and more, while proving this horrible beast is just as much victim as predator.

Grendel's story begins when he is first old and brave enough to venture out of the cave he shares with his mother, into the forest by which Hrothgar and his men decide to camp and eventually erect a great city. Grendel's first run-in with humans reveals they share similar languages, piquing Grendel's interest in the race. He becomes fascinated, watching from afar as tribes of settlers band together and attack others, creating larger villages, until Hrothgar, the most successful leader, finally unites them all and takes his place as king of the Danes. These beings, so similar to himself and so different from any other animal he knows, gives Grendel hope that they may accept him into their tribe, ending his escalating loneliness. He finally tries to make contact, but his threatening appearance and garbled language evokes an attack. Puzzled and angry, he seeks out the dragon living nearby, for companionship and advice. The dragon shares his wisdom and foresight with Grendel, removing any doubt or guilt Grendel housed for scaring and killing the human, and also charms him so that no sword could hurt him while he terrorized them. The rejection of the humans fuels his rage and he begins to systematically terrorize the Danes' meadhall for pleasure, entertainment, and revenge. While Hrothgar expands his empire, Grendel shows he is one enemy that can not be defeated. Then one day, a ship of Geats arrives, people from another land who claim to be able to cure the Danes of Grendel. Though they remain skeptical, the Danes welcome the Geats to feast and drink with them. Grendel sees this as an opportunity to show his grit the the overconfident visitors. Sneaking into the hall, determined to devour them in their sleep, Grendel fails to notice one of the Geats awake and aware of his presence in the hall. While distracted by his own showboating, Grendel attempts to kick the vigilant Geat, unaware of a blood puddle on the floor, and the monster slips and falls, giving the man the opportunity to tear Grendel's arm from his body. Horrified by his injury, Grendel retreats and escapes back into the forest, bleeding profusely. The book ends here, when he realizes that he has been bested and will soon die of blood loss. The Geats had fulfilled their promise to dispatch of the beast.

The voice of Grendel throughout the book is exactly as one would imagine the thoughts of a "lesser being", with an underdeveloped language. He creates his own child-like names for objects in nature and among the human city that he does not know the proper name of. He also whines and cries for his mother when he is injured. Although he is a despicable being, knowing the thoughts and feelings that drive him to his actions make the reader empathize with him and even feel sorry for his loneliness and desperation for companionship, belonging, and proof that there really is more to life than merely surviving.

Though this novel is a creative perspective of a classic novel, it was a quick read and relatively unexciting. I did not regret the time spent reading it and am glad for the author's take on this particular literary character. I give Grendel three out of five stars.