The Theme of Heroism in John Gardner’s Grendel and Burton Raffel’s Beowulf

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

A hero can be defined in many ways; the hero’s can see themselves as a hero and society can see them as more of a villain, or society can see them as a hero but in their eyes they are as evil as it comes. When comparing the works of Grendel by John Gardner and Beowulf by Burton Raffel, in Beowulf Grendel is seen as a monster that wants nothing more than to kill and destroy Hrothgar’s Meadhall (Raffle lines 37-38). In John Gardner’s Grendel, Grendel sees himself as a hero protecting what is his and is misunderstood in the eyes of the humans and is seen as a monster. Humans tend to see a hero as someone who has strength, intelligences, integrity, compassion, moral courage, and a strong sense of situational awareness (Zimbardo para. 1-2).

Obviously, Grendel does not add up to what the average human sees a hero to be. Grendel sees himself as a hero due to the fact that he is the person that gives meaning to his life while not letting much of any outside sources interfere with what he’s thinking about himself (Sander para. 1-3). Not much is written about Grendel’s early years but we can assume that his mother was the one that taught him everything he knows about protecting what is his and standing up for the things that he believes in. In Beowulf, Grendel is seen as the monster and Beowulf is seen as the hero who comes and saves Hrothgar and his people, Beowulf, possessing all the traits a human as for hero is the likely candidate to defeat a monster seen as invisible

Although when looking in Grendel, Grendel, sees himself as the hero containing the traits he thinks a hero should have traits such as: protective, smart, willing to do whatever it takes to take care of their interests. When Grendel first sees Beowulf he notices the obvious, but lets his image of himself cloud his judgement which later leads to his death ( Gardner 151, 153, 167, 169). When reading Beowulf, Grendel, is seen as nothing more than a dumb monster that comes from a nasty evil that only he knows. In Beowulf the people think that the only thing Grendel thinks about is attacking the mead hall and killing the men that lay asleep inside ( Raffel 290-311). But when reading Grendel and getting to understand his side of the story, we see that he thinks a lot before attacking the Hrothgar’s Mead hall, we see that he spy’s on the humans all day before attacking them. Grendel, knows he is smarter than the humans and knows he is capable of outsmarting the humans he encounters. But, when Beowulf comes he is able to out smart Grendel by not falling asleep and waiting on him to attack his men (Gardner 168, 169). Grendel let his past successes of attacking the mead hall cloud his judgement of attacking it when Beowulf and his men are there. Grendel, does not wait to see how Beowulf and his men act during the day time. He is so excited to kill Beowulf and his men he rushes in full of bloodlust and joy to meet the hero that has come to save Hrothgar’s kingdom (Gardner 167).

In Grendel the dragon gives Grendel a charm that makes any mortal weapon useless against him in battle (Gardner 75). When Grendel sees Beowulf and his men get off of their ship, he automatically assumes he will be able to defeat them all (Gardner 151, 156,157). Not only has Grendel grown accustomed to always coming out of battle as the winner but so has the people of Hrothgar’s kingdom. When Beowulf and his men show up and tell the people of the mead hall that they are there to defeat the monster that has been terrorizing their village for 12 years (Gardner 159). The people just kind of brushed off what they were saying, because they too believed that Grendel was unstoppable. It is documented in a many works of literature that being prideful can be a characters downfall in a book. Grendel is no different, in chapter 11 Grendel toys with the thought that the men that got off the boat could be the ones that finally defeat him (Gardner 157,158). Also like in most popular books the one who is prideful gives into their pride and boast about how good they have grown to become.

Again, Grendel does the same, he gives into the thought that he is unstoppable and goes to the mead hall, going against his gut feeling to stay away until the Geats leave (Gardner 158). And so, since doing that Beowulf was able to trick Grendel into thinking he was asleep and later defeat him in front of the whole mead hall. Killing not only Grendel but his image as an unstoppable force in the world. When reading Grendel, we see the raise of a misunderstood “monster” who is a self proclaimed hero (Sander, para. 1). We are able to see a creature go from finding a murdered man out in the wilderness and trying to help stop the actual monster who did the killing (Gardner 52). To becoming the thing that keeps the men and women of Hrothgar’s kingdom awake at night and afraid for their lives (Gardner 52).

The book Grendel, can be seen in many ways like a tragic story of a misunderstood being, who wants nothing more than to have a respectable purpose in life and to have someone to get along with and understand him. But sadly when we read Grendel we get the opposite of what he wants to happen when he first meets encounters hrothgar’s people (Sander para. 3). Grendel is not the average hero most people think of. He does not have the typical characteristics of hero like, strength, courage, and compassion, but to some people being a hero is in the eye of the beholder, that is why Grendel sees himself as a hero rather than a villian (Zimbardo para. 1-2). In Beowulf, Grendel is seen as not much more than some animalistic monster that is only out to kill and hurt the innocent (Raffel 37-38).

While in Grendel, Grendel sees himself as a creature that is lost in the world and is trying to find a place to belong but while along the way he gets turned around and becomes something I assume he would never want to be (Gardner 52-174). When Grendel realizes that he has went down the wrong road, he chooses to embrace what he has become and terrorize Hrothgar until Grendel eventually gets killed by Beowulf (Gardner 75-174).


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