Grendel is the ill-fated monster from the ancient story, Beowulf. This is his tale.
There are very few details shared about Grendel in Beowulf. I thought that this story would be an opportunity for the reader to get to know him.
Unfortunately, we spend most of the time in Grendel’s mind, circling endlessly around the ideas of time, brutality, nature and the meaninglessness of existence.
I wanted to know more about Grendel’s mother, but there was very little about her.
John Gardner wrote her as some kind of void-filled slug monster: “Behind my back, at the world’s end, my pale slightly glowing fat mother sleeps on, old, sick at heart, in our dingy underground room. Life-bloated, baffled, long-suffering hag. Guilty, she imagines, of some unremembered, perhaps ancestral crime. (She must have some human in her.) Not that she thinks. Not that she dissects and ponders the dusty mechanical bits of her miserable life’s curse.” pg 10, ebook.
Not like Grendel does, endlessly.
“I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist.” pg 17, ebook.
I think that was the biggest reason I didn’t enjoy this read. I believe every moment in life is, or can be, filled with purpose, meaning and happiness. Grendel falls on the exact opposite end of the scale.
In that way, Grendel is one of the biggest downers you could ever read. He believes that life means nothing. He acts and kills from this empty center.
Out of this morass, the one part I kind of enjoyed was Grendel’s conversation with a dragon in its hoard.
The dragon lives for millennia and sees the world from a view so wide that it is almost outside of time. Again, there’s a nihilist bent to his view, but the dragon brought a weird bit of humor to an otherwise bleak story.
“Don’t look so bored,” he (the dragon) said. He scowled, black as midnight. “Think how I must feel,” he said.” pg 43, ebook.
Yeah, think how I must feel. All I wanted was the story of Beowulf from a unique perspective and what I received was a vague feeling of depression about the meaninglessness of it all.
Thanks for reading.