The main difference between the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf, and John Gardners modern retelling, Grendel, lies in the development of the characters. In the epic poem, the characters are basically static, and their actions are predictable. In Grendel, Gardner calls this stereotypical thinking about heroes and monsters into question. In particular, the monster in this modern work is dynamic, and his awareness grows as the action unfolds.
Gardner remakes Grendel from the Anglo-Saxon incarnation of blind evil, unthinking and senseless, to a conscious, rational force, and Beowulf from a honorable, courageous, and epitome of goodness, to a irrational, psychotic, cold blooded killer. The epic poem Beowulf describes the most heroic man of the Anglo-Saxon times. The hero, Beowulf, is a seemingly invincible person with all the extraordinary traits required of a hero. He is able to use his super-human physical strength and courage to put his people before himself.
He encounters hideous monsters and the most ferocious of beasts but he never fears the threat of death. His leadership skills are superb and he is even able to boast about all his achievements. Beowulf is the ultimate epic hero who risks his life countless times for immortal glory and for the good of others. Beowulf is the prime example of an epic hero. His bravery and strength surpass all mortal men; loyalty and the ability to think of himself last makes him revered by all.
Beowulf came openly and wholeheartedly to help the Danes which was an unusual occurrence in a time of war and widespread fear. He set a noble example for all human beings relaying the necessity of brotherhood and friendship. Beowulf is most definitely an epic hero of epic proportions. A heroic trait of Beowulf is his ability to put his peoples welfare before his own as well as his inhuman strength. Beowulf’s uncle is king of the Geats so he is sent as an emissary to help rid the Danes of the evil Grendel.
Beowulf risks his own life for the Danes, asking help from no one. He realizes the dangers but fears nothing for his own life. After Beowulf had served his people as King of the Geats for fifty years, he goes to battle one last time to fight a horrible dragon that is frightening all of his people. Beowulf is old and tired but he defeats the dragon in order to protect his people. Even in death he wished so secure safety for the Geats so a tall lighthouse is built in order to help the people find there way back from sea.
The most heroic of traits within Beowulf is that he is not afraid to die. He always explains his death wishes before going into battle and requests to have any assets delivered to his people. “And if death does take me, send the hammered mail of my armor to Higlac, return the inheritance I had from Hrehtel, and from Wayland. Fate will unwind as it must! ” He is aware of the heroic paradox; he will be glorified in life or death for his actions. He knows that when he fights an enemy like Grendel or Grendel’s mother he will achieve immortality as the victor or the loser. When we crossed the sea, my comrades and I, I already knew that all my purpose was this: to win the good will of your people or die in battle, pressed in Grendel’s fierce grip. Let me live in greatness and courage, or here in this hall welcome my death! ” Even with the enormous amount of confidence Beowulf possesses, he understands that Fate or Wyrd will work its magic no matter what and he could be killed at any point in his life. He faces that reality by showing no fear and preparing for a positive or a fatal outcome.