Spoiling the Mystery: Grendel in Beowulf Movies

Always a pleasure to re-visit Beowulf and delve into our shared race memory of this distant and magical world of our ancestors which seems to distant and yet so familiarly close. I’ve always shared a certain sympathy for both Grendel, his mother and the dragon in the tale. As a child, I used to cry for King Kong, so this is not surprising! Grendel is a metaphor for the darkness that surrounds the hall. All the forces which attack us in the long, cold hours of a northern night – death, enemy attack, disease, mental anguish, supernatural spirits and even the natural world of violent storms and famine-inducing calamity. Grendel demonstrates that despite the light and the warmth of the fire and the arms hung on the sturdy wooden walls, that we are all naked and shivering in the darkness, waiting for the ‘thing’ to get us and longing for a hero to save us from our fate. as such Grendel is an essential element of human mortal fear against forces much larger and stronger than ourselves which seek to do us harm for no rational reason.

Dutch Anglo-Saxonist

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” (H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature). The secret to any, successful scary monster story is to keep your monsters clouded in mystery; a secret that was known to the Beowulf poet, but sadly lost on modern movie makers.

Grendel goes to Heorot

Grendel is one of the three monsters that feature in the Old English poem Beowulf. We are introduced to Grendel as an “ellengæst” [bold spirit] (l. 86a) who has spent the last twelve years harassing the hall of the Danish king Hrothgar, devouring anyone who spent the night there. A Geatish hero, Beowulf, arrives to save the day. After a long battle, Beowulf rips off Grendel’s arm and the monster, mortally wounded, returns to his home in the swamp and dies.

A troll, a…

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