Grendel

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 a relentlessly thinking and questioning character. As he grows and experiences new things, Grendel constantly theorizes about the world and ponders deep questions about time and space, formulating laws and drawing grand conclusions about the universe. Persuaded by the ideas of the dragon, Grendel accepts that the universe is meaningless and mechanical, but he is also deeply frustrated by the stupidity and indifference of nature and its inhabitants, as particularly shown through his interactions with the ram, bull, and goat. It is through Grendel’s eyes that we see the humans, and Grendel’s perspective emphasizes the cruelty and senseless violence of the humans. From Grendel’s point of view, the grandiose ideas of heroism, justice, and religion upon which the humans found their society are simply false, foolish ideas. Unlike his monstrous mother, Grendel has the ability to speak, and although he despises the Danes, he is also to some degree jealous of their community and feels a special bond with them, especially Hrothgar. He takes care not to wipe out all of the Danes, so that he still has people to frighten and toy with.

Grendel Quotes in Grendel

The Grendel quotes below are all either spoken by Grendel or refer to Grendel. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Monsters and Humans Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Grendel published in 1989.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Behind my back, at the world’s end, my pale slightly glowing fat mother sleeps on, old, sick at heart, in our dingy underground room. Life-bloated, baffled, long-suffering hag. Guilty, she imagines, of some unremembered, perhaps ancestral crime. (She must have some human in her.) Not that she thinks. Not that she dissects and ponders the dusty mechanical bits of her miserable life’s curse.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Grendel’s Mother
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

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The king has lofty theories of his own. “Theories,” I whisper to the bloodstained ground. So the dragon once spoke. (“They’d map out roads through Hell with their crackpot theories!” I recall his laugh.)

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Hrothgar, The Dragon
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

Talking, talking, spinning a spell, pale skin of words that closes me in like a coffin.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:

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I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

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I found I understood them: it was my own language, but spoken in a strange way... They were small, these creatures, with dead-looking eyes and gray-white faces, and yet in some ways they were like us, except ridiculous and, at the same time, mysteriously irritating, like rats. Their movements were stiff and regular, as if figured by logic... We stared at each other.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

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I tried to tell her all that had happened, all that I’d come to understand: the meaningless objectness of the world, the universal bruteness. She only stared, troubled at my noise. She’d forgotten all language long ago, or maybe had never known any.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Grendel’s Mother
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

Then once, around midnight, I came to a hall in ruins. The cows in their pens lay burbling blood through their nostrils, with javelin holes in their necks. None had been eaten. The watchdogs lay like dark wet stones, with their heads cut off, teeth bared. The fallen hall was a square of flames and acrid smoke, and the people inside (none of them had been eaten either) were burned black, small, like dwarfs turned dark and crisp.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

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They hacked down trees in widening rings around their central halls and blistered the land with peasant huts and pigpen fences till the forest looked like an old dog, dying of mange. They thinned out the game, killed birds for sport, set accidental fires that would burn for days. Their sheep killed hedges, snipped valleys bare, and their pigs nosed up the very roots of what might have grown... There was nothing to stop the advance of man.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

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So he sang—or intoned, with the harp behind him—twisting together like sailors’ ropes the bits and pieces of the best old songs. The people were hushed. Even the surrounding hills were hushed, as if brought low by language.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), The Shaper
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 4 Quotes

“Why can’t I have someone to talk to?” I said. The stars said nothing, but I pretended to ignore the rudeness.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 53
Explanation and Analysis:

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It was a cold-blooded lie that a god had lovingly made the world and set out the sun and moon as lights to land-dwellers, that brothers had fought, that one of the races was saved, the other cursed. Yet he, the old Shaper, might make it true, by the sweetness of his harp, his cunning trickery. It came to me with a fierce jolt that I wanted it. As they did too, though vicious animals, cunning, cracked with theories. I wanted it, yes! Even if I must be the outcast, cursed by the rules of his hideous fable.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), The Shaper
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

“Ah, Grendel!” he said. He seemed that instant almost to rise to pity. “You improve them, my boy! Can’t you see that yourself? You stimulate them! You make them think and scheme. You drive them to poetry, science, religion, all that makes them what they are for as long as they last. You are, so to speak, the brute existent by which they learn to define themselves.”

Related Characters: The Dragon (speaker), Grendel
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 6 Quotes

I discovered that the dragon had put a charm on me: no weapon could cut me. I could walk up to the meadhall whenever I pleased, and they were powerless. My heart became darker because of that. Though I scorned them, sometimes hated them, there had been something between myself and men when we could fight. Now, invulnerable, I was as solitary as one live tree in a vast landscape of coal.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), The Dragon
Page Number: 75-76
Explanation and Analysis:

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“It will be sung,” he whispered, then paused again to get wind. “It will be sung year on year and age on age that Unferth went down through the burning lake—” he paused to pant “—and gave his life in battle with the world-rim monster.” He let his cheek fall to the floor and lay panting for a long time, saying nothing. It dawned on me that he was waiting for me to kill him. I did nothing. I sat down and put my elbows on my knees and my chin on my fists and merely watched.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Unferth (speaker)
Page Number: 87
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

What will we call the Hrothgar-Wrecker when Hrothgar has been wrecked?

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Hrothgar
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

This nobility of his, this dignity: are they not my work? What was he before? nothing! A swollen-headed raider, full of boasts and stupid jokes and mead. ...I made him what he is. Have I not a right to test my own creation?

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Hrothgar
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 9 Quotes

I recall something. A void boundless as a nether sky. I hang by the twisted roots of an oak, looking down into immensity. Vastly far away I see the sun, black but shining, and slowly revolving around it there are spiders. I pause in my tracks, puzzled—though not stirred—by what I see. But then I am in the woods again, and the snow is falling, and everything alive is fast asleep. It is just some dream. I move on, uneasy; waiting.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Oak Overlooking the Abyss
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 10 Quotes

Tedium is the worst pain.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 11 Quotes

I am mad with joy. –At least I think it’s joy. Strangers have come, and it’s a whole new game.

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker), Beowulf
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 12 Quotes

Grendel, Grendel! You make the world by whispers, second by second. Are you blind to that? Whether you make it a grave or a garden of roses is not the point.

Related Characters: Beowulf (speaker), Grendel
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:

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“It was an accident,” I bellow back. I will cling to what is true. “Blind, mindless, mechanical. Mere logic of chance.”

Related Characters: Grendel (speaker)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

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Grendel Character Timeline in Grendel

The timeline below shows where the character Grendel appears in Grendel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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The novel begins in the twelfth year of Grendel’s war with the humans. Wandering outside, he encounters a ram and tries to scare it... (full context)
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Grendel walks away from the ram, toward a forest, reflecting on his difference from animals and... (full context)
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Philosophy, Theory, and Belief Theme Icon
A doe in a clearing sees Grendel and runs away. Grendel cries out that this is unfair, since he has never killed... (full context)
Loneliness and Isolation Theme Icon
The beginning of spring is apparent even in the underground lair where Grendel lives with his foul, monstrous mother. He has felt the stirrings of spring and so... (full context)
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Grendel shouts and mocks the cliffs, from whose height he could fall and die. He is... (full context)
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Grendel thinks of his mother sleeping in their underground lair. He thinks that she feels guilty... (full context)
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Grendel comes to Hrothgar’s meadhall, where he’s been busting down the door and terrorizing the inhabitants... (full context)
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As he leaves the meadhall, Grendel hears various humans saying that he is a punishment sent to them because a god... (full context)
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Watching from the edge of the forest, Grendel observes as the humans pray and then prepare a funeral mound for the deceased—or at... (full context)
Chapter 2
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Grendel walks around the wilderness while talking and muttering. He says that his words enclose him... (full context)
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Grendel recalls how he would gradually play farther and farther out into the world, fleeing back... (full context)
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Grendel remembers one morning when he went out hunting in the woods for a calf and... (full context)
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Then, a bull appeared, probably protecting the calf that Grendel was searching for. Grendel shouted at it, but it wouldn’t go away. It charged and... (full context)
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Grendel laughed at the stupidity of the bull and kept looking around for his mother. He... (full context)
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The bull kept charging and Grendel kept laughing at it, not even bothering any more to dodge its horns. Grendel fell... (full context)
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That night, Grendel awoke to a strange smell and an eerie silence. He looked around to find men... (full context)
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The humans then tried to decide what Grendel was. One suggested that he was a fungus or growth. One human, identified as a... (full context)
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Grendel tried to yell “pig” to confirm that he was hungry, but his voice scared the... (full context)
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Grendel was convinced that he was done for, when suddenly he heard a shriek even louder... (full context)
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The next thing Grendel remembers is waking up back in the cave. The other shapes were gone now and... (full context)
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Grendel emerges from his memory, once again in his underground cave, and keeps talking and theorizing... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Grendel says that he didn’t decide to be Hrothgar’s enemy because of the axe he threw,... (full context)
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...hunted. The men would drink and brag about their fights with other bands of men. Grendel was amused by the humans, observing of their violence that “no wolf was so vicious... (full context)
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Grendel describes how humans would gather around meadhall tables and boast. Occasionally an argument would break... (full context)
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One spring, Grendel noticed a change in the humans’ behavior. Groups of men would shout that they were... (full context)
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One night, around midnight, Grendel found a hall in ruins, the community’s cows slaughtered but not eaten, the humans burned... (full context)
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From his place up in the trees, Grendel could often hear the singers in the meadhalls singing of glorious deeds of dead kings,... (full context)
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Grendel felt safe from the humans’ wars up in the trees. Though he and the humans... (full context)
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As wars continued, some groups of humans formed alliances (though some allies betrayed each other). Grendel watched season after season, sometimes from the high cliff wall near his den, as Hrothgar... (full context)
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...amounts of game, and killed birds for sport. Their own animals grazed and cleared hedges. Grendel says that “there was nothing to stop the advance of man.” He began to feel... (full context)
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One night, watching from behind a cowshed, Grendel saw a blind man arrive at Hrothgar’s meadhall with a harp and a young companion.... (full context)
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Grendel was swept up in the song and music of the Shaper even though he knows... (full context)
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Grendel fled from the meadhall crying, feeling ridiculous and pained by the Shaper’s poetry. He attempted... (full context)
Chapter 4
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In the present day, the Shaper still sings, as Grendel continually spies on Hrothgar’s greatest meadhall, Hart. Grendel says that the Shaper built the hall... (full context)
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Grendel knew the Shaper was lying but his words sounded true. Hrothgar gathered a slew of... (full context)
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Talking to himself out in the wild, Grendel thought about how the Shaper was able to reshape the world and change it. As... (full context)
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Feeling some kind of presence around him, Grendel went toward Hart. At the edge of the settlement, he accidentally stepped on a dead... (full context)
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...fought, splitting the world between darkness and light, between one cursed and one blessed race. Grendel was the descendant of the cursed race. Grendel believed the song and cried. (full context)
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Grendel then rushed into the hall crying out “mercy!” and “peace!” The Shaper stopped playing and... (full context)
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In the middle of the forest, Grendel moaned and wept. After calming down, he asked why he couldn’t have someone to talk... (full context)
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Two nights later, Grendel went back to hear the Shaper, addicted to his singing. The Shaper sung lies about... (full context)
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Back in his cave, Grendel was convinced that the Shaper’s songs about the creation of the world and the feud... (full context)
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Grendel awoke suddenly, feeling some presence around him again. He asked who it was, but no... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Grendel recalls his meeting with the dragon, a humongous creature who lay on top of his... (full context)
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Irritated, Grendel picked up an emerald to throw at the dragon. The dragon got immediately stern and... (full context)
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The dragon gave Grendel the advice to find some gold and watch over it. Grendel attempted to question the... (full context)
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The dragon decided to tell Grendel about time and space, emphasizing the importance of scale and perspective in terms of time... (full context)
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...that “the essence of life is to be found in the frustrations of established order.” Grendel had trouble following the dragon’s abstract language filled with philosophical jargon. (full context)
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Continuing to try to educate Grendel, the dragon explained the difference between animals and vegetables. Grendel pondered whether the dragon was... (full context)
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The dragon then attempted to give a general summary of his ideas for Grendel: “things come and go.” The dragon explained that all life was meaningless, a small “swirl... (full context)
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Grendel asked the dragon why he shouldn’t stop terrifying the humans. The dragon answered that Grendel... (full context)
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The dragon explained his own personal ambition: to count all of his treasure. He advises Grendel, “know thyself.” Grendel told the dragon of the Shaper’s story of the world’s creation, which... (full context)
Chapter 6
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After his meeting with the dragon, Grendel felt an air of futility and doom around himself. Also, the dragon had put a... (full context)
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In the summer of the first year of Grendel’s war with Hrothgar, Grendel was drawn to the meadhall though he had not yet begun... (full context)
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One night as he was doing this, a stick snapped behind Grendel and a dog barked. A guard discovered him and struck him with a sword, but... (full context)
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Three or four nights later, Grendel performed his first raid. He burst into the hall while the men were sleeping and... (full context)
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A few nights later, Grendel raided Hart again. The humans tried to attack him bravely, but their weapons were useless... (full context)
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Then, a man named Unferth appeared. Grendel calls Unferth his salvation. Taller than the other men, Unferth took on Grendel single-handedly and... (full context)
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Grendel returned to his cave. Three nights later, Unferth arrived, having followed him. Grendel woke up... (full context)
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Frustrated, Unferth told Grendel that he was wrong about heroism, that it really did exist and that Unferth was... (full context)
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Unferth fell asleep and Grendel carried him back home, leaving him at the meadhall door. Grendel says that Unferth still... (full context)
Chapter 7
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It is now mid-way through the twelfth year in Grendel’s war with the humans. Grendel thinks that his enemies do define themselves against him, just... (full context)
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Grendel sings, influenced by the language of the Shaper. He thinks he might be crazy but... (full context)
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As Grendel’s stream of consciousness continues to alternate with third-person narration, he thinks of Hrothgar’s queen, Wealtheow,... (full context)
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Grendel remembers how Wealtheow first appeared, during the second year of his raids. Hrothgar had gathered... (full context)
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Hrothgar met with the other king. Grendel anticipated a battle, but the king asked for a truce and offered Hrothgar gifts. Hrothgar... (full context)
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All that winter, Grendel refrained from raiding Hart. He spent much time in his cave, thinking of Wealtheow and... (full context)
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Grendel spent much time pondering the power of Wealtheow’s beauty. He often saw her cry at... (full context)
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The next night, Grendel raided the meadhall, killing men on his way to the queen’s bedroom. Finding Wealtheow, he... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Imitating an epic, heroic style, Grendel tells of how Hrothgar’s brother was murdered and so his young nephew Hrothulf came to... (full context)
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The novel returns to Grendel’s narration, as he describes how he saw Hrothulf increasingly take to the idea of violence.... (full context)
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Grendel notes that Hrothgar is no longer physically strong and is aware of the scheming of... (full context)
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Grendel thinks of a dream to “impute” to Hrothgar. Hrothgar then narrates the dream he has:... (full context)
Chapter 9
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It is now December, dark and cold. Children in town make snow angels, which Grendel notices as he goes to the meadhall at night. He feels that some event is... (full context)
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Grendel observes some priests near the meadhall praying to a ring of icons of their gods.... (full context)
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One dark night, at midnight, Grendel sits in the center of the circle of the icons. The humans are all asleep,... (full context)
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...presents two axioms: “things fade” and “alternatives exclude.” He continues to preach and theorize, while Grendel thinks of what to do with him. (full context)
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Three other priests arrive. Grendel narrates a dramatic dialogue of what follows. The priests ask what Ork is doing. Ork... (full context)
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All the men but Unferth are asleep. As Grendel doesn’t usually raid in the winter, he heads back to his home. He has a... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Grendel is profoundly bored and sick of the scent of the dragon that is around him,... (full context)
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At dusk, Grendel watches Hrothgar’s men going about their business. There are guards posted throughout the realm, though... (full context)
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The Shaper is sick. Grendel watches as Hrothgar, Wealtheow, and Hrothulf go to visit the Shaper’s sickbed. Grendel laughs, asking... (full context)
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Back in the cave, Grendel continues to feel bored. His mother begins to block the entrance to the cave, trying... (full context)
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Grendel decides to attend the Shaper’s funeral. His mother attempts to prevent him from leaving the... (full context)
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Back in his lair, Grendel awakes from a deep sleep, imagining that he still hears the goat climbing up the... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Grendel is overjoyed because a new group of humans has arrived by boat. He sensed their... (full context)
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Back in his cave, Grendel wonders if he is afraid of the Geats. In any case, he is excited by... (full context)
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Grendel decides to go to the meadhall, reflecting on the facts that he alone exists and... (full context)
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Grendel sees that Hrothgar’s Danes are embarrassed and frustrated that foreigners have come to save them.... (full context)
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...Unferth says that Beowulf lost the contest and predicts that he will be defeated by Grendel. Hrothgar’s men laugh. Beowulf responds that he actually won the swimming contest, in which he... (full context)
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Grendel watches Beowulf and is transfixed by the warrior’s mouth as he speaks and by his... (full context)
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The Geats wait in the hall for Grendel as the new shaper sings. Grendel reflects that all beings obey the mechanics of time.... (full context)
Chapter 12
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Grendel forces open the doors of the meadhall and laughs. Everyone is asleep, so he seizes... (full context)
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Grendel tries to kick, but feels as though he is falling, clutching at the oak’s roots... (full context)
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Grendel calls out for his mother and tells Beowulf that if he wins it is only... (full context)
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Grendel thinks Beowulf is crazy with his insane ideas. He maintains that it was chance and... (full context)
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Grendel cries out for his mother and flees into the woods, crying out that Beowulf’s victory... (full context)