The contrasting points of view in Grendel and Beowulf significantly alter the readers perception of religion, good and evil, and the character Grendel. John Gardners book, Grendel, is written in first person. The book translated by Burton Raffel, Beowulf, is written in third person.
Good and evil is one of the main conflicts in the novel, Grendel. How is Grendel affected by the concepts of good and evil? Grendel is an alienated individual who just wants to be a part of something. His desire to fit in causes him to do evil things. Grendel is fascinated by the Shapers poetry. He often returns to the mead hall to listen to it. One night while he is listening, he hears the story of Cain and Abel, including the Danes explanation of Grendel. His reaction to this leads to one of his most dramatic emotional reactions:
I believed him. Such was the power of the Shapers harp! Stood wriggling my face, letting tears down my nose, grinding my fists into my elbow the corpse of the proof that both of us ere cursed, or neither, that the brothers had never lived, nor the god who judged them. Waaa! I bawled. Oh what a conversion (Gardner 51)!
Grendel then cries for mercy from the Danes. He wants their forgiveness as well as unification with them, which represents the good in him. The Danes reject him by confusing his outburst of sorrow as an attack. After visiting with a dragon that tells Grendel a fictional version of the Shapers tale, Grendel continues to believe the Shapers story. He searches for the goodness in human beings, which was mentioned in the story. He eats people only because it provides a place for him in society, even if it is a negative position (The Two Faces of Grendel, 2).
Good and evil is one of the main conflicts in the poem, Beowulf, and ultimately both wipe each other out. Good, is portrayed by God, and evil seems to be what fate has in store for the hero. Beowulf occasionally talks to God and asks God to give him strength before the battle and to give him the valor he needs to overcome his enemy. Evil seems to always get the bad side of things since it always gets conquered by Gods good side. Even though this is true, evil lives the high life for a long time.
Grendel, Beowulfs first opponent, killed thousands and thousands of men before he met his match. Evil comes from the monsters. They attack the good side by killing innocent men because they are hungry or just want to defy the laws. Good fights back when the evil creations are killed and all is back to normal. Beowulf is truly good because he helps people when they need it the most and hopes that God is with him even though he doesnt have to do anything to help the people who have an evil creature killing their villages population every night.
In Grendel, the main belief is that of existentialism, however, there are also numerous references to Cain throughout the entire book. The basis for his version of existentialism is the following excerpt from the book itself:
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. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindlyas blindly as all that is not myself pushes back. I create the whole universe, blink by blink. An ugly god pitifully dying in a tree (Gardner 22)
One can explain this view of existentialism by considering some simple concepts of existentialism. Existentialists believe that man is forlorn and totally responsible for his actions, and that his choices are important because existence precedes essence. Furthermore, the references to Cain, which represented chaos and the presence of evil, can be found throughout the book. For example, after Cain killed his brother, he drinks his blood. This is typically something that Grendel does after he kills his victims. Additionally, both Cain and Grendel are viewed as outcasts of society who have to roam in the shadows. They are outside looking inside. They are outside threats to the order of society as shown by Grendel with the Danes (Similarities between Grendel and Cain 1). The religious references to Cain, as well as the belief in existentialism are important aspects in Grendel.
In Beowulf, the main belief is that of wyrd, or fate, and sources say that Beowulf is a pagan poem adapted to fit ideals of Christianity. The belief in wyrd is one of the most pervasive pagan elements. The Anglo-Saxons believed strongly that their lives were predestined and that powerful supernatural forces acted upon them. The inevitability of this fate is shown many times throughout the poem.
When Beowulf prepares to fight Grendel, he abandons his armor and sword saying, Fate ever goes as it must (Beowulf page #). Additionally, although there are Christian overtones, the paganistic point of views are expressed anytime they discuss fate and destiny. For example, Beowulf makes a remark to Wiglaf that fate has swept their race away. But right above that, he tells Wiglaf, I thank our Father in Heaven, Ruler of the Earth-For all of this that His grace has given me (Gardner 109). The epic poem, Beowulf contains definite references to Christianity, but it is also full of Pagan symbols such as that of fate.
The character, Grendel is viewed in a different light in the book Grendel. Grendel is pitiful in Grendel, however, Gardner uses this pity to arouse sympathy for Grendel by giving him human traits and emotions and by using first person. This novel is actually narrated by Grendel, which offers understanding of the beasts innermost feelings, as well as evoking sympathy from the reader. In Grendel, the antihero has human traits: he walks on two legs and speaks a language similar to the Danes. He also has strong emotions of fear, anger, and sorrow as well as intellect. Grendel has a sense of alienation and just wants to fit in. The point of view of the book Grendel allows the reader to see another side of Grendel.
In Beowulf, Grendel is viewed as the antagonist and the evil villain and is both feared and hated. The reader discovers Grendel as seen through the eyes of his terrified victims. King Hrothgar, leader of the Danes, fears his visits: The renowned ruler, the prince of long famous, sat empty of joy; strong in might, he suffered, sorrowed for his men when they saw the track of the hateful monster, the evil spirit (Beowulf page #). Hrothgar would dread the fatal nights when Grendel would dine on human flesh. The ruler understands that Grendel attacks his men out of spite and jealousy (The Two Faces of Grendel, 1).
In reading Grendel and Beowulf, one can find many similarities in the way the events occur in the books, however because of contrasting points of view, the reader gets insight on the entire picture from two different sides. This allows the reader to better understand each book and its contents, such as their beliefs and the concept of good and evil, and acknowledge the ways the character, Grendel can be described.