The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Grendel, a young monster, lives with his mother in a vast cave under a marsh. Swimming through a pool of firesnakes, he finds a secret door leading to the world above. On the surface one night, he becomes stuck in a tree. Exhausted, he finally sleeps, awakening to find that a group of humans is trying to figure out what he is. Grendel understands their language, but they misinterpret everything he says and eventually try to kill him. Only his mothers arrival rescues him.

Grendel periodically visits the surface to observe these creatures who speak his language. They slowly evolve from small marauding groups, always fighting and bragging, into organized communities clustered around meadhalls; they begin planting crops and domesticating animals. Hrothgar gradually predominates, brutally subduing nearby tribes and building roads to consolidate his power. Despite these superficial changes, Hrothgars actions merely change the scale, not the meaning, of the incessant strife. The arrival of a blind bard, whom Grendel dubs the Shaper, transforms everything. His poetic words turn violence into heroism for an ideal, and destruction into part of the glorious destiny of Hrothgars people. Bloodshed, suffering, and sacrifice now have a historical context and transcendent meaning.

Grendel understands that the Shapers songs hide reality behind beautiful webs of words, but he still longs to believe the vision. He accepts the Shapers view that God divided...

(The entire section is 523 words.)