Beowulf vs Grendel Essay Example: Which Tells a More Convincing Story?



Often, history is looked at from multiple perspectives. As such, it is important to view things like novels and stories from differing viewpoints as well, because while some may weave a story one way, another might tell the same story yet make it appear different. The story of Beowulf, an ancient hero, is an example of this because the novels “Beowulf” and Grendel, though speaking of the same story, have extremely different focuses and narration styles. Because of this, important information that may not have been revealed in “Beowulf” is later revealed in Grendel. In fact, upon further examination, it is evident that “Beowulf” does indeed lack significant information about characters that is necessary to fully comprehend the story.

Ultimately, the story told through Grendel’s eyes in John Gardner’s Grendel, is far more convincing than the story told in “Beowulf” not only because of the differences in focal points but also because of the differing narration styles, making Grendel the more powerful of the two novels.

The Main Focus in Beowulf

Foremost, in “Beowulf,” the focus of the entire novel is primarily to make Beowulf himself appear as a hero. This makes the details of his adventures seem more exaggerated and therefore less realistic. Dramatic accounts of his actions and overall persona appear consistently throughout the novel. For example, when the Geats make their first appearance, the Danish coast guard confronts them with suspicion. Despite this suspicion, however, the coastguard explains, “I have never anywhere seen a more formidable champion than that armed man in your midst” (32). This seems like an odd statement to make in this circumstance as the coastguard is just meeting this strange and unfamiliar group of people, yet is concerned more with compliments than security.

If this were more realistic, it is highly doubtful that the coastguard would say such things in the presence of a group of people who could potentially be a threat. However, because this novel’s purpose is to make Beowulf seem like a powerful and strong hero, it makes sense that the author would add in this seemingly random dialogue to prove the point that Beowulf is indeed a “formidable champion.” This piece of dialogue and others like it throughout the story do take away the credibility of the novel and makes it seem much less believable. Similarly, when Beowulf describes his adventures and successes he states, “It was my own terrible grip that splintered every bone in his body and stopped the beating of his heart” (86). Not only is Beowulf boasting here, but his words seem very exaggerated. 

Beowulf is certainly not a humble hero and everything he says and does is to make himself seem stronger. It is almost as if he feels he has to prove himself to everyone he meets. Though he indeed ends up conquering Grendel, which does make him a hero, the details of the whole ordeal are very much embellished. In the end, while some details in “Beowulf” may have some truth to them, the novel is over-elaborated, thus making the entire story less convincing.

The Main Focus in Grendel

Differing greatly from “Beowulf,” the main focus of the novel Grendel is on Grendel himself as a conscious being with complex thoughts rather than a completely inhuman monster. In this novel, a completely different side of Grendel is revealed, one with thoughts and emotions rather than just a monster with a propensity for violence. For instance, at the beginning of the novel Grendel describes himself as a “Pointless, ridiculous monster crouched in the shadows, stinking of dead men, murdered children, martyred cows. I am neither proud nor ashamed”(6). This bleak description of how he views himself shows that he is aware of the monster he is and judging from the pitiful tone, possibly even regrets it. Throughout the novel, it becomes quite clear that most of his violence stems from loneliness and rejection by the humans he preys on. This reveals him to be a multifaceted character who, after reading Grendel, can be empathized with by the audience.

After reading “Beowulf” alone, one would certainly not feel the same amount of compassion for Grendel. Additionally, it becomes apparent that Grendel is quite philosophical as well. For instance, while he talks about the monotony of life he says, “Ah, monstrous stupidity of childhood, unreasonable hope…. The world is all a pointless accident” (28). In his heightened state of anger, Grendel shows that his thoughts are complex, not simple-minded as one might expect. If one were to read only “Beowulf,” they would never be able to see this intelligent and almost human side of Grendel. Whereas “Beowulf” focuses on exaggeration, Grendel focuses on truth. Grendel’s account of the story does not hide anything, nor does Grendel try to make himself or his life seem better than it is. His dismal descriptions prove that he is simply trying to recount the story of his life as it is. Overall, because Grendel focuses on the truth more than it focuses on dramatization, it is much more convincing than “Beowulf.”

Comparing the Narration Styles

Lastly, the narration styles also differ among “Beowulf” and Grendel, further showing that Grendel is the more convincing novel of the two. Whereas “Beowulf” contains long pieces of dialogue and speech, Grendel includes many examples of inner streams of consciousness. These different styles of story-telling reveal different things about both the characters and the storylines. 

For instance, in one of Beowulf’s long speeches in “Beowulf,” he boasts, “I emerged from a fight in which I destroyed an entire family of giants - capturing five of them - besides killing, by night, a number of sea-monsters” (36). This portion of dialogue is just one out of many throughout the story where Beowulf can be seen gloating about himself and his exploits. Considering how many instances there are of Beowulf bragging in the novel, it is reasonable to wonder just how much of it is true. Though there are many long speeches in the novel that are similar to this one, not all of them are spoken by Beowulf himself, but rather, others speaking about him with the utmost admiration.

This furthers the notion that much of “Beowulf” might not be credible, but instead just exaggerations. In contrast, the streams of consciousness found in Grendel continue to prove its validity. For example, when Grendel is talking about his reasons for tormenting Hrothgar he explains, “Why should I not? Has he made any move to deserve my kindness? If I give him a truce, will the king invite me in for a kiss on the forehead, a cup of mead?” (122). It is evident that Grendel has an actual motive behind his violence, and perhaps even a conscience. Without inner monologues like this, it would be difficult if not impossible to fully understand Grendel’s plight. He would just appear as a monster who commits violent acts simply out of rage. However, by getting to view his inner thoughts, it is plain to see that he has reasons for his actions. Rather than a one-sided story like “Beowulf,” the story told in Grendel is multifaceted which diminishes the credibility of “Beowulf” yet increases that of Grendel.

Conclusion

In the end, Grendel proves to be a more convincing story than “Beowulf” because while “Beowulf” focuses on over-elaborating details with its one-sided narration, Grendel focuses on telling the truth with a narration style that tells all sides of the story. Although both novels speak of the same story, they are quite different from each other and both offer up different aspects and information. However, details revealed in Grendel ultimately reveal themselves to be more credible than the details in “Beowulf” because they are displayed without a dramatic flair. The slight differences between these novels are influential and become the deciding factor in figuring out which one is more convincing. Ultimately, the contrast between these two novels is significant because it shows that there are two sides to every story, regardless of when it was written or what the story is about.