John Gardner

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Grendel is the protagonist and narrator of the novel. He is a terrifying monster who kills and eats humans, but he is also a lonely, isolated creature, who craves a friend or companion. Grendel is… read analysis of Grendel

Grendel’s Mother

Unlike Grendel, his mother neither speaks nor questions the world. She spends most of her time in her underground lair and generally experiences the world in a purely physical way. Similarly, she is only… read analysis of Grendel’s Mother


Hrothgar is the king of the Danes. After rising gradually to power, Hrothgar created a vast kingdom. As the leader of the Danes, Hrothgar is Grendel’s main rival. His kingdom flourishes on ideals of justice… read analysis of Hrothgar

The Dragon

Though he is dismissive of Grendel, the dragon is the closest thing Grendel has to a mentor or intellectual companion. Able to see the past, present, and future, the dragon attempts to teach Grendel… read analysis of The Dragon

The Shaper

The Shaper is an old, blind man who comes to Hrothgar offering to sing for money. He is the character through whom the novel most deeply explores ideas about language, art, and beauty. His skillful… read analysis of The Shaper
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One of Hrothgar’s men, Unferth is a strong, proud hero. When he attempts to fight Grendel, though, he is humiliated. Grendel mocks his ideas of heroism and refuses to allow Unferth to die a… read analysis of Unferth


Wealtheow is Hrothgar’s queen, given to him in marriage as a gesture of peace by a rival king. Wealtheow’s presence at Hart exerts a calming power, easing tensions and resolving disputes between men. Her beauty… read analysis of Wealtheow


Ork is an old priest, who encounters Grendel at a sacred religious site one night. He cannot see who Grendel is and so believes him when he says he is The Destroyer, the king of… read analysis of Ork


Beowulf is never named in the novel, but his identity can be inferred from context. He is the leader of the Geats and brings a band of men to come to Hrothgar and defeat Grendelread analysis of Beowulf
Minor Characters
Hrothulf is the nephew of Hrothgar, who comes to live with Hrothgar after his father dies. Though he doesn’t go as far as his adviser Red Horse (who advocates violent rebellion against Hrothgar), he is harshly critical of Hrothgar’s state and its hierarchy.
Red Horse
Hrothulf’s adviser, Red Horse sees all forms of government as equally evil. He tries to persuade Hrothulf to rebel against Hrothgar. Red Horse’s critiques of Hrothgar and the violence upon which his rule is founded are comparable to Grendel’s critical views of the humans.