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Compare and Contrast Essay: Grendel in Beowulf and in the Novel by John Gardner

Most people think of evil and mayhem when they think of Grendel the monster. Grendel is one of the antagonists in the epic poem Beowulf that was written sometime between the eighth and eleventh century A.D. There has been a lot of discussion about this particular monster, so much so that John Gardner wrote a parallel novel in 1971 called Grendel in which the story is told by the monster's point of view. After reviewing both these texts, we find that there are some sharp contrasts provided in the depiction of the same characters in each of the text. Where Beowulf describes Grendel as a vile monster with no compassion, Grendel delves more into the philosophical aspects of why the monster was behaving in such a manner. Both texts, however, denote the evil that lay in Grendel as it went on a killing rage in the area.

There is a debate amongst scholars as to the exact description of Grendel in the original epic poem Beowulf. This is because the exact characteristics and physical description of Grendel never actually appears in any of the Old English texts that were written by the original poet. Many scholars, however, agree on the fact that Grendel was actually a descendent from Cain, Abel's brother and Adam's son. These scholars have defined Grendel as a monster who is somewhat human in shape but much larger. Other people who have translated the original text have written similar things, citing that Grendel's head was so large that it required more than a few men to carry it when Beowulf decapitated him in Grendel's mother's lair. Grendel's body is also defined to be extremely tough as none of the weapons that Beowulf or his men wielded were able to hurt him. When Beowulf tore Grendel's arm from the body, many of the people described the arm as having horn-type growths and being covered with impenetrable scales.

In the novel Grendel, however, we find that Grendel's character to be much more sophisticated as before. Even though Grendel is still described as a monster having vile intentions, a lot more about his personality is investigated here. Grendel is shown to be intelligent, even articulate as he goes on about his killing sprees. Grendel is shown to have an immense grasp about his own existence as well as the existence of others. Throughout the novel, Grendel strives to find meaning in his life and the reasons for which he was created. He is always thinking about what he is meant to do in his life and strives to understand why he is what others think he is: a monster.

One of the most interesting things about both the poem as well as the novel is that they present the readers with an insight into Grendel's mind by showing us his thoughts. This way, we are made to feel empathy towards the creature even though he is evil and vile. This is because the monster is depicted as a lonely outcast who has become enraged over his own deformity and his treatment by others.. However, these feelings of empathy are soon lost as we find out that Grendel is pure evil that enjoys killing humans for no reason. Where the whole of the country fears Grendel, we find that Grendel starts to fear Beowulf. Beowulf is strong and brave and he has been called to kill Grendel. And this causes Grendel to become fearful of Beowulf. This theme is followed in both the novel as well as the poem.

So, we see even though both Grendel as well as Beowulf depict the same character of the monster Grendel, they both do them in each their different perspectives. Where Beowulf presents Grendel as an unreasonable monster, Grendel delves deeper into the psychology of the monster and attempts to describe his inner feelings and the motives behind his actions.