Thus I fled, ridiculous hairy creature torn apart by poetry—crawling, whimpering, streaming tears, across the world like a two-headed beast, like mixed-up lamb and kid at the tail of a baffled, indifferent ewe—and I gnashed my teeth and clutched the sides of my head as if to heal the split, but I couldn’t.

This beast resides with his mother who he dislikes, because she lacks the ability to converse with him. Although Grendel seems like your typical monster, he can think. In the beginning of the novel, it is clear that Grendel is highly dependent on his mother. As the story progresses, the reader realizes that the monster is going through the process of becoming an independent person. Grendel faces an ongoing battle with Hrothgar, King of the Danes, and often raids the meadhalls of the King for humans to feast on. The arrival of the Shaper changes Grendel. When Grendel meets the dragon, he is made invincible to the men’s weapons through a charm. This curse sparks the interest of many strangers who soon arrive by sea with the sole purpose of slaying the beast. Beowulf comes to rid Hrothgar's land of this beast. Their battle is epic, but Gardner puts his own spin on this story, infusing it with philosophy, psychology and postmodernism.


Beowulf Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

I understood that the world was nothing. . . . I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist.

Questions For Discussion

How does the Shaper's song affect Grendel?
How is the cave symbolic?
How has Grendel changed during the story?
Is Grendel evil?
How does Grendel's mother influence him throughout the book?
What is significant about the fact that Grendel's mother can't talk to him very well?
What is Grendel's opinion of humans?
What is Grendel's relationship with his mother?
In your opinion, do you believe the dragon's charm is a curse or a blessing? Explain.
How and why is Grendel defeated?

What is the role of women in this novel?
If the Shaper has been around for so long and has seen so many kings, why has he not figured out how to kill Grendel?
On page 12, Grendel says, “And so I come through the trees and towns to the lights of Hrothgar’s meadhall. I am no stranger here. A respected guest.” Why do you think he refers to himself as a respected guest, and do you think the townspeople feel the same way?
How does Grendel telling his own story effect your impression of him?
What do you think Grendel learns about himself while he is trapped in the tree?
What do you think makes Grendel a monster?

What does Grendel mean when he says, “The world resists me, and I resist he world.”
Grendel explains the carvings that men make on p. 28 and midway through a list of animals and mythical beings he includes “shapes." He has used this many times before. What is he referring to?
What is the significance of the Charging bull?
What does the dragon mean when he tells Grendel to "seek out gold and sit on it." (pg. 74) What would be Grendel's gold?
Why does the dragon put a charm on Grendel? How does this affect Grendel?
Why does Grendel display human emotions at one point, but then act like the monster once he is around humans?
Why does Grendel see the stranger turning into a dragon? Does this represent anything?
If only Grendel exists, than what does it mean when he has no control?

The human define themselves by who their enemies are. How does Grendel define himself?
What does Grendel mean when he says "there was nothing, or, rather, there was everything but my mother?"
Why is Grendel so impressed and affected by the Shaper? Why does he fear the Shaper?
What is "the pastness of the past?"
How does the story of Cain and Abel affect Grendel?

Writing Assignments

#1. Grendel accused The Shaper of lying. The Shaper can be seen as a historian or artist or both. His music tells a story that Grendel doesn't accept. Why not? 200 words minimum.
#2 How is Grendel affected by The Shaper's song? Give at least three examples from the novel. Quote the novel, and explain the effect. 400 words minimum.
#3 In what way is this novel a commentary on human behavior? Draw parallels between Grendel's psychological function and human psychological function as displayed in the novel. You may also include examples from recorded human history to complete this behavioral/psychological analysis. 600 words minimum.

Video (You can only view these at home.)