Prof. Derek Sharp
“The Monster of Childhood”
When I was a child, I believed in good versus evil, hero versus monsters. I would see them in cartoons and in comics, and to make my own ideas of heroes and monsters became as easy as they were so easy to define. However, after reading Beowulf I learned to realize that a hero or monster does not need to have specific characteristics or abilities to earn that title. Someone else decides for them what kind of specimen they are. Monsters can’t be defined and even if they could, this definition changes with time. And exploring these, I realized: Grendel is not a monster.
Before going in depth about the reasoning behind writing about monsters, what is a monster? I know if I asked anyone for their own definition of a monster, they might probably come up with a different definition than mine. Why? - Because there is no such thing as a world-accepted criteria for a monster-. However, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a monster is “an animal or plant of abnormal form or structure; one that deviates from normal or acceptable behavior or character. A definition I dare to say is generally accepted, since it does not state what a monster should look like or how they behave. This definition goes as general as it can go, and it works because as I said earlier, everyone feels different about monsters. However, the author decided to use them for the same difficulty to explain them. “It is just because the main foes in Beowulf are inhuman that the story is larger and more significant…. It glimpses the cosmic and moves with the thought of all men concerning the fate of human life and efforts; it stands amid but above the petty wars of princes”. (Tolkien) Because the monsters are what make the story a universal human story about a hero facing the forces of evil in a way that writing about a hero versus a human, historical enemy would not, “for the universal significance which is given to the fortunes of its hero it is an enhancement and not a detraction that his final foe should not be some Swedish prince, or treacherous friend, but a dragon”. (Tolkien) With that said, could it be that the author made Grendel look like a monster just to make Beowulf great? Or can Grendel be rightly defined as one?
I do not think Grendel can be considered a monster. First of all, there is no physical description rather than the scales in his skin, and I like to think that this is because we are more afraid of the unknown. I know I would not be scared if the author straight up described a giant crocodile. But instead he does not describe what he looks like; he just describes his actions, to make the reader think, -“woah, what is this creature that kills men at night?”-. So for the thrill of it, I will not speculate about my own description of Grendel and would rather like for it to remain the same: a mystery. Secondly, the author describes Grendel as having human-like emotions. But these emotions are just the anger he feels whenever everyone was drinking and having a good time. Finally, and here’s a crazy thought, Grendel is the protagonist of the story. "Man alien in a hostile world, engaged in a struggle which he cannot win” (Tolkien) I like to think when Tolkien wrote that quote, he was talking about Grendel. Grendel meaning grinder, not grinder of bones as people often think about him, but grinder of teeth, his own teeth; suggesting his insecurities. He was an outsider, living a world where no one understood who he was and judged him for being different. A world that alienated and antagonized him. He is engaged in fighting for survival, fighting for his existence. But people are moving in, forcing him from his life, still judging. He can’t stop the world from turning, so he lashes out. If they wanted to see a monster, that’s what they are going to get. But even so, he can’t really do anything. He is just a man trying to halt the course of the entire…