A Descriptive Essay of Grendel from “Beowulf”.
Grendel is one of the three major antagonists in the poem “Beowulf”. We are told he is a monster and a descendant of the biblical figure “Cain” early on in the text. “Till the monster stirred, that demon, that fiend/Grendel who haunted the moors, the wild /Marshes, and made his home in a hell. /Not hell but hell on earth. He was spawned in that slime/Of Cain, murderous creatures banished/ By God, punished forever for the crime/ Of Abel’s death. ” (Lines 101-108). Although Grendel is likely the poem’s most memorable character, we are never given a straightforward description of his physical characteristics.
We can only imagine why the author wrote his character in this way, giving us only a few clues as to his nature. One explanation is that they wrote it this way to leave the image of Grendel to the imagination of the reader. This is a trick that writers use to make readers more involved in the story line and character development, and in this case, it works to their advantage. Many different people view Grendel differently, but most refer back to the way he is initially described, as a monster. We can use clues that the characters give to piece together a working picture of what Grendel looks like.
The narrator provides us with much of the information we discover about Grendel’s physical attributes, but the other characters such as Unferth, and Beowulf himself also provide us with a few details about the monster’s looks. The narrator describes Grendel as “ent”, “ettin” and “scather”. The terms “ent” and “ettin” are taken from the Old Norse language, and mean, “troll”. The term “scather” means “one who scathes”. Many believe that these words describe the monster as a troll like figure, although we can’t be sure exactly what a “troll” looks like to the author of the epic.
In the film “Lord of the Rings” an “Ent” is depicted much differently then we would regard now as being troll-like. “Ents are tree-like creatures, having become like the trees that they shepherd. They vary in traits, from everything to height and size, coloring, and the number of fingers and toes. An individual Ent more or less resembles the specific species of tree that they typically guard. ” The hero of the poem, Beowulf describes Grendel as a “Jotun” which we now translate to mean “giant” in modern English.
It is hard to relate the term “giant” from an old English meaning into what we refer to as a giant today. This old norse description is from a Swedish encyclopedia: “As a collective, giants are often attributed a hideous appearance – claws, fangs, and deformed features, apart from a generally hideous size. Some of them may even have many heads or an overall non-humanoid shape. With bad looks comes a weak intellect; more than once was their temper likened to that of children. ” Many reviews of Beowulf refer to the poem as an epic simile of the story of Christ and Satan.
If this is true, then it can also be assumed that Grendel has a slightly man-like appearance and mannerisms. However being a “monster” and not a “man” we have to take into consideration that he doesn’t possess all characteristics of a human. He man be able to walk on two feet and fight as a man would do, it is made clear that he does not fight noble, as knights and soldiers would do. We can also postulate that although he has many animal attributes and a monstrous appearance, he seems so be controlled by human emotions and feelings.
With the author being unknown and any other work he may have being unknown, it is impossible to say whether we will ever have a clear image of the Grendel that he described in his text. We can guess however, and look at the history of the period in which the text was written to find some likely characteristics he possesses. There will always be many versions of Grendel’s physical appearance, and all will remain true until the author tells us otherwise. Work Cited: Beowulf, author unknown.