The first and primary villain in the ancient, Anglo-Saxon tale, Beowulf (which had nothing to do with computers, dammit). He is supposedly descended from Cain's side of the Biblical family and lived with his mommy in a lake near Hrothgar's hall in Denmark till Beowulf the Geat came, ripped his arm off, killed his mother, and took poor Grendel's head as a trophy.

Other good sources on Grendel are John Gardner's book (Grendel) and http://grendel.org/ .
Also an epic eighteen minute long B-side by the band Marillion way back in 1982. Fish's lyric is told from the John Gardner book's standpoint of Grendel itself--seeing the humans as the ugly beasts who "kill their own and feel no shame."

It's trite, pompous, and bombastic, and it's gotten to be great fun at Marillion and Fish gigs to yell out "Grendel!" as a joke, because there's no way either band will ever play the song live again--I think they think of it as an embarassing incident of their youth.

The song was produced by David Hitchcock who also ominiously produced Genesis' "Foxtrot." Many people see a strong resemblance between "Grendel" and Genesis' "Supper's Ready."

A comic book created by Matt Wagner, published at first by Comico and later by Dark Horse Comics.

The story is divided in several substories, each ranging from three to twelve issues and each illustrated by a different artist.

First, there is the story about Hunter Rose, a celebrated writer and fencer who becomes a sort of totally ruthless gentleman gangster and dies at the hands of his archenemy, the werewolf Argent. Wagner himself illustrated these issues and apparently dislikes them so much that he has sworn never to reprint them.

Rose took to wearing a very special mask, black with two exaggerated white eyes drawn on, and wielding a staff with a forked blade at the end. These items are later picked up and used by Christine Spar when her son is abducted by the vampire Tujiro. Christine is victorious and also has a run-in with Argent, whom she kills. This part of the story runs for twelve issues and is illustrated by Arnold & Jacob Pander and Jay Geldhof.

Christines lover Brian Li Sung is the next person to become Grendel, it is now hinted that Grendel is more than a mask; maybe some kind of demon. However, Brian is a wimp and dies after only three issues (drawn by Bernie Mireault).

Then Wagner himself draws the next four issues, which are two stories about Hunter Rose told retroactively by Wiggins, the police officer who killed Brian.

The next four episodes (art by Ron Turner) take place during the course of 400 years and show how the grendel figure developes into a social phenomenon. A nuclear war breaks out, but not devastate the planet. In the aftermath, and gang of young punks adopt Grendel as their totem.

The next person to become Grendel is Eppy Thatcher, a half-deranged loner who turns his hatred onto Vatican Ouest, the new catholic church that rules most of what remains of America. He is joined in the fight by Orion Assante an aristocrat from an excommunicated family. It turns out that the pope is in reality the old enemy, Tujiro, who is killed by Eppy during an epic fight. This story runs for ten issues, drawn by John K. Snyder, Jay Geldhof and Bernie Mireault.

The last story (seven issues drawn by Tim Sale) tells the tale of Orion and how he, using cunning and military power, unites first America, then the rest of the world, under one rule. Only too late does he realize that he too has become Grendel.


In my opinion this is one great comic, especially the last two stories. Wagner was critized for his less than flattering portrayal of the catholic church, so I recommend reading it with an open mind.

Grendel, as he is portrayed in Seamus Heaney's new bilingual edition of Beowulf evokes certain feelings of sympathy from the reader.

Grendel is described as "spurned and joyless" (line 720) and also "God-cursed" (line 711) which denotes a certain inevitability to his fate. The concept of a "family curse" is quite common throughout many myths. The fact that Grendel was a member of "Cain's clan" (line 106) shows that from the beginning of his life, he was born to be punished for the sins of his ancestor.

Furhermore, after Beowulf rips off Grendel's arm, he nails it to the wall of Heorot Hall as a trophy. When Grendel's mother comes to avenge her son, Beowulf kills her, and beheads Grendel's corpse. These events win Beowulf fame and fortune, and he returns to his native land a hero. Beowulf himself describes his childhood, and says that everyone thought that he was just a clumsy, awkward weakling. The killing of Grendel and his mother won respect and fame for Beowulf. In a sense, it seems that they were only born so that they could die by his hand.

A novel by the late John Gardner, written in 1971.

We all know by now that it's narrated by the Monster himself. Like all monsters, you and me and everybody (ohhh, that's so deep, ha ha ha), he feels sorely put-upon and quite justified in what he does. Unlike many of you, he's comfortable with the idea that he's been sent to punish the human race. Nevertheless, he wouldn't mind being loved. The humans enrage him, but they fascinate him as well. Sometimes he eats them, and sometimes he just spies on them. He worries about them a lot. He's lonely.

His family situation is problematic: His mother is devoted to him, but unable to communicate. He lives with her in a cave full of offal, beneath a lake. His father is out of the picture, unmentioned. The closest thing to a father figure in his life is the Dragon, a miserable, fatalistic nihilist (atesh tells me (very politely!) that I'm on crack and the Dragon's an existentialist. Since I get the impression that atesh (unlike me) actually knows the material, I'd advise you to take his word for it) who scares the living crap out of the poor little monster.

Grendel lives in a world of inexorables: From where he sits, the Dragon is raw Power. He stands blinking at the Dragon like a brainless rabbit. In turn, the thanes are helpless when Grendel roars into the meadhall to eat them. It's their fate. They can't win. Unferth, their greatest hero, is destroyed when Grendel whimsically decides not to kill him: Nobody even gets to choose for himself to die bravely, really. Then the Danes arrive. It is in their nature to win. It is their fate, as it was the local thanes' fate to lose, and Hrothgar's fate to sit there watching. Ultimately, Grendel's fate is also to lose. The Dragon is fated to lose as well, but he knows it and he's well past caring. He's outside time and he just doesn't give a damn, really. He lives to satisfy his immediate desires: That intellect of his is really just an impotent passenger riding on the back of a senseless brute lust for gold.

You might say that Grendel and Hrothgar are the only real people in the book. The other humans are uninteresting because they're unreflective (yes, I do believe that silly bard is unreflective). They march stupidly to their doom. There's nothing happening inside. Beowulf is exciting and he's got that whole Shane thing going on, but he's a brute. The Dragon is uninteresting because he's a too-obvious literary device[1]. Gardner had a weakness for those, sometimes: Too much time spent in too many writing workshops. He just missed greatness. In the end, he marched stupidly into a tree on his motorcycle, still not as famous as Pynchon.

All this fatalism, of course, is perfectly appropriate for the time the epic describes. You can't really get inside the heads of people so far off and as stuck in their own context as we are in ours, and anyway, a lot of the dramatic power of the novel grows out of the anachronisms and contrasts. You need the feel of the epic there for it all to work, and epic poems aren't long on introspection. It's in their nature.

Grendel and Hrothgar are real because they stop and think about it, and they don't much like it. They want more than to be chained to the wheel. Hrothgar is too stoical to like very much and Grendel wallows in self-pity, but at least they're human.

However...

"'Poor Grendel's had an accident...', I whisper. 'So may you all.'"

It's a beautiful book and that's the only excuse it needs. Whatever else you may say about it all, the man could surely write.



[1] Furthermore, nihilism is too easy. Anybody can do it, and the only grown-ups it appeals to are the ones who should be on medication (and of course sleazy academics who notice how all those poses pull the coeds, not that I'm jealous or anything).

A mail/news client written in Java, originally developed as part of the Javagator project at Netscape. This project was cancelled, but the source to these portions was released under the MPL.

It is currently usable, if buggy and incomplete, with support for multiple identities and reading newsgroups, as well as the basic functionality of sending and recieving e-mail. Development is slow, in fact at the time of writing there have been no CVS checkins in the last month.

www.mozilla.org/projects/grendel/

John Gardner's masterpiece novella Grendel was adapted for the stage by Paul Mullin in 1997, and premiered in Seattle at the Book-It Theatre Company under the direction of Susanna Wilson, with James Lapan starring as the title character. Though the Book-It Space was entirely too small to properly accommodate the vastness of the piece (not to mention the broadsword fights), the production was well received. The Seattle Times called it, ”...a bountiful display for the ears and mind... a shocking work... uncommonly, wonderfully vivid”. The Stranger, one of Seattle’s alternative weeklys, said it was, “”... a wildly impassioned lament about human aggression.... One of the most original and thoughtfully conceived productions of the year.”

A subsequent 2001 production at Circle X Theatre Company in Los Angeles enjoyed a much more ample performance space at the Open Fist Theatre, but the production lacked some of Seattle’s freshman verve. Nevertheless, the LA Weekly, honored it with their annual award for Best Adaptation.

The Mullin adaptation is as true-to-the-source as possible. The playwright says he typed the entire novel into the computer at his day job and then proceeded pare away at the prose until he had something stageable. Thus, nothing but Gardner’s words are spoken in the script, though the stage-directions do suggest some rather radical interpretations: the Dragon played by a pipe-smoking professor for example, and the monster appearing at one point in the guise of Gardner himself, chain-smoking behind an Underwood with a bottle of whiskey beside him, typing his own demise as he lives it.

As Mullin says in his Seattle production program notes: “What makes John Gardner’s Grendel different is that the narrative voice isn’t merely a means of delivering the story; in a very profound way, it is the story.

GRENDEL: So it goes with me, age by age. Talking, talking. Spinning a web of words, pale walls between myself and all I see.

I’d even venture further to say that as much as the voice is the story, Grendel is, to a compelling degree, Gardner; or perhaps more accurately, some version of Gardner that he has chosen, or half-chosen, to share with us. One need only read the author’s outrageous lit-crit rampage, On Moral Fiction, to see him surging from the comforting darkness of righteous indignation to slay his literary enemies, one by one. One need only glance at his famous dust-cover photo, scowling and shaggy-headed, to half-imagine him as poor old Hrothgar’s foe. It’s a testament to his genius that Gardner can invest himself in the monster, teach us to weep for Grendel, and yet still have us root in the end for his nemesis/saviour, Beowulf. Personally, I think it’s one of the greatest jail break scenes in all of literature.
BEOWULF: Grendel, Grendel! You make the world by whispers, second by second. Are you blind to that? Whether you make it a grave or garden of roses is not the point. Feel the wall: is it not hard?... Hard, yes! Observe the hardness, write it down in careful runes. Now sing of walls! Sing!

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