Grendel Beowulf and Grendel are two tales. They share subject matter. They share plot. They share setting and tell of the exact same events, but Beowulf and Grendel have two entirely different themes.
Beowulf is an epic poem about the honesty, bravery, and humility that defined the ideal Dane. John Gardner’s Grendel, a retelling of Beowulf, is a story about growing up and searching for the answers to “Why?” and “How?” Gardner shows incredible skill when he writes an entirely different story while using the same facts as another tale. Some say that Grendel is simply a satire that makes Grendel the hero and Beowulf the villain. This is clearly true, but this train of thought can be followed further. Grendel was written in 1971.
The late sixties and the early seventies made up one of the greatest social revolutions in the history of the United States. This social revolution was all about asking “Why?” and “How?” it was all about the search for enlightenment. If, for a minute, we ignore the fact that Gardner follows the same story line as Beowulf, we will see that Grendel is constantly asking “Why? and “How?” and searching for enlightenment. Most of Grendel is about Grendel searching for reasons for his existence, people’s existence, and the existence and reasoning behind most anything he sees. He begins by asking his mother, who is of no help. He then goes on to ask the Dragon, who is little comfort with his pessimistic and heartless answers.
Grendel is feeling emptiness, a lack of understanding, and he is simply searching for something to fill this hole. This search for understanding is a human trait. Grendel has all the traits of a human and therefore an outcast of his own society. It is impossible for him to communicate to his mother, and there is no other character for us to compare him to as a peer. If we look beyond his outward appearance, we see a confused young man.
Unfortunately for Grendel, he is not a man. He is a lonely beast whose only purpose on this Earth is to keep man’s population under control. This is discovered with the help of the Dragon, the only source of enlightenment Grendel has. Grendel is truly a man in beast’s clothing. Like Frankenstein’s monster, Grendel, has a heart and soul. Like Frankenstein’s monster, Grendel will never be accepted by society.
It is a sad story. It is a deep and complicated story about the search for truth and answers to the unknown. Grendel is burdened with the human desire to know all. Beowulf is a tale about a hero which has passed on for centuries.
It is simple. It is simple because Beowulf is completely admirable, and completely unrealistic. Beowulf possesses no faults except old age; something he cannot avoid but still handles with great grace. Grendel is a more believable, well-rounded character. He shows a struggle that we all know. He has a conscience and makes mistakes, just like any other man.
He also seeks the truth as to why this is the case. When both stories are examined in this light, we see that Grendel is a man, and Beowulf is a god. Gardner’s reasoning behind Grendel is as much a mystery as is the author of Beowulf. The point is that plot and setting are not the most important parts of a story. Bibliography: