The story of Beowulf is one we are forced to read in high school. At that time we may not have paid much attention to the antagonist in that tale but he is very meaningful to history, literature, and horror in general. He is…Grendel.
First Appearance: Beowulf (700-1000 A.D.)
Category: Giant/Troll/ Dragon
Height: Unknown (Said to be larger than any man)
History: Said to be descended from Biblical Cain. (Cain, of the Bible, was cursed by God for killing his brother Abel and subsequently, all of his descendents, in some way shape or form fell under this curse and were monstrous in nature because of it.)
Scholars for years have debated the subject of what Grendel actually looks like.This is because his description was never given in the original Old English version of Beowulf. He has been depicted as a half man half giant, or to a more terrifying degree, a large ape man like creature. There is even mention of Grendel being a dragon type creature on four legs instead of being bipedal.
In most interpretations of the poem, Grendel was briefly referred to as a Sceadugenga (plur. Sceadugengan — “shadow walker”, “night goer”) given that the monster was repeatedly described to be in the shroud of darkness. In modern times, the term was later coined to denote a race of undead shapeshifters, which supposedly had Grendel as a member. Then there are the various film adaptation of Beowulf. One constant that seems to be among these films is that Grendel is depicted as a Troll
One description of Grendel goes like this:
- …the other, warped
- in the shape of a man, moves beyond the pale
- bigger than any man, an unnatural birth
- called Grendel by the country people
- in former days.
In Beowulf, it is told that Grendel is killed and his arm ripped off from the socket. On further inspection of his arm, one translation depicts it this way:
- Every nail, claw-scale and spur, every spike
- and welt on the hand of that heathen brute
- was like barbed steel. Everybody said
- there was no honed iron hard enough
- to pierce him through, no time proofed blade
- that could cut his brutal blood caked claw.
You get the idea.The dude was a beast and a strong one at that. To be honest, he just seems to be a misunderstood giant who some vikings pissed off but hey, every story needs a villain and Grendel sure does fit that. He may not be a thing of nightmares by today’s standards but he lives on as being one of the first monsters ever recorded in the English language.
- Little Known Facts:
- “Lord Of The Rings” scribe, J.R.R. Tolkien even wrote his thoughts on Grendel, so you know this monster had some popularity with authors and students alike.
- The creature Grendel was even so popular that Knott’s Berry Farm was commissioned to create a maze for their annual Halloween Haunt event around him.
- Also of note is the fact that in the 2007 film Beowulf, Grendel speaks old English. He never actually speaks in the original poem but instead wails out a song of sorrow when Beowulf rips his arm off.
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