Interpretation of Literature
26 February 2015
Murderers and Psychopaths: Our Innate Fascination with the Anti-Hero
Monstrous hero. The two terms are fairly linked, as the connotation of such a thing is generally negative in nature. A better term for such a character would be a villain, as it is a character within literature whom we are expected to despise because of the constant battle of good and evil in which heroes and villains struggle. The monstrous hero, otherwise known as an anti-hero, has made an increasing number of appearances in literature and modern popular culture. What we continue to define as monstrous has changed throughout the course of our existence. The rise of the antihero within novels such as John Gardner’s Grendel, or Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Betrayer, has allowed the bridging of the gap between a heroic character and someone otherwise seen as villainous, creating a character who is increasingly accepted and enjoyed due to their ability to make moral and ethical decisions that we may not or should not be allowed to act upon. In John Gardner’s reimagined adaptation of Beowulf, he portrays the monster Grendel in a more human light than anything previous. Grendel is thus seen as a living being who can think, feel, and depict the world around him. However, due to his monstrosity, Grendel is a flawed character. He is his own anti-hero. “I shake my two hairy fists at the sky and let out a howl so unspeakable that the water at my feet turns sudden ice and even I myself am left uneasy. But the am stays; the season is upon us. And so begins the twelfth year of my idiotic war” (Gardener, 5). Gardner’s imagining of Grendel as a relatable character sheds the idea of a monstrous man-eating demon. In a partial sense. While we feel for the position that Grendel has been forced into and see him as maintaining this childlike ignorance of the danger he truly represents to Hrothgar and his men. “Eleven years now and going on twelve I have come up this clean-mown central hill, dark shadow out of the woods below, and have knocked politely on the high oak door, bursting its hinges and sending the shock of my greeting inward like a cold blast out of a cave. ‘Grendel!’ they squeak, and I smile like exploding spring… While they squeal and screech and bump into each other, I silently sack up my dead and withdraw to the woods. I eat and laugh and eat until I can barely walk, my chest-hair matted with dribbled blood” (Gardener, 12). Grendel is a monster that has terrorized the Danes for over a decade. Grendel’s portrayal of the Danes enjoying his company shows a rewriting of history through his point of view. Here, he is not merely an ignorant monster bent on destruction, but the being of focus and enjoyment by the Danes, something Grendel appears to thrive on.
Within the novel, Grendel is essentially rewriting history as he sees fit. He subverts the status quo by revealing that humans fool themselves by rewriting history and applying meaning where meaning does not exist, mainly with the creation of gods that do not exist. “Inside, I hear the people praying – whimpering, whining, mumbling, pleading – to their numerous sticks and stones… ‘Theories,’ I whisper to the bloodstained ground. So the dragon once spoke. (‘They’d map out roads through Hell with their crackpot theories!’ I recall his laugh.)” (Gardener, 13). Grendel’s discussion of religion and religious behavior is highlighted in a negative way. By taunting their beliefs, Grendel is able to feel as though he is their superior because he lacks such ridiculous beliefs. He is mocking the Danes for their ignorance in believing “sticks and stones” can save them. Grendel himself has difficulty understanding these religious practices. As an outsider, he believes the Danes turning to their Gods for salvation as futile because Grendel is certain they do not exist.
What makes Grendel such an interesting anti-hero is not his hatred of the living or…