Talking, spinning a spell, a web of words telling the story of the hero and the damned. It is often said that History is written by the winners. John Gardner takes that view and deconstructs the winning story in Beowulf and transforms it into the story Grendel. This story shows the many questions that lie in the text of Beowulf. By using the answers to these questions, Gardner is able to deconstruct the story of Beowulf.
To understand the deconstruction that Gardner performs; the reader would have to know how Grendel was portrayed in Beowulf. In the Old English classic, he is described as a “dread monster.” He is viewed during the whole story as an evil monster that was damned by God because he descended from Cain. He was evil incarnate and had been ruthlessly attacking the mead hall for twelve years. He had enormous strength and could not be harmed by any weapons.
John Gardner takes this Grendel and asks the question of what Grendel was really like. He delves into the character and doesn’t take for granted the stories told about this creature. To Gardner, Grendel becomes a misunderstood creature. In the beginning of Grendel, he is depicted to be almost more humane than a human. One example of this is when he won’t kill the dear because cows are easier to catch and he only catches for food. This shows that he kills out of necessity and not sport; an activity than man participates in. This touch of humanity strips away at the view that Beowulf portrays and indirectly strips away from the deed of Beowulf himself. Grendel shows a love for things and a search for a purpose. These characteristics make him a human in character and, if not for his outcast status, normal. As the character of Grendel gains more and more humanity, the deed of Beowulf looks less like a heroic act and more like a misunderstanding.
Bobby Paik att British Connections / Romance and Rebellion Honors/ AP/DC September 8, 1998 GRENDEL vs. BEOWULF Both in the novel Grendel, and the poem Beowulf, there are substantial differences between characters, and how they are depicted in each of the writings. The interpretation of a hero is always created and altered by the society in which the hero resides. For example, Saddam Hussein may be ...
Gardner deconstructs the telling of the tale in Beowulf, by using the “shapers.” These men were able to weave the tale of history into something that was more pleasing to the listeners. That is why it is said that the winners are the ones who write history. These shapers, as the dragon put it, “knows no more than they do about total reality—less, if anything.” This shows Gardner saying that the “shapers” that wrote Beowulf were merely telling the tale that would be pleasing to the side that won. The winners don’t want to hear that the “dread monster” that they defeated was merely a lost, lonely, and misunderstood outcast that just wanted acceptance.
John Gardner deconstructs the Beowulf and with it creates the tale of the tragic hero. Grendel becomes the hero. He doesn’t perform the normal heroic deeds that Beowulf was granted hero status for, but rather helps to advance a culture of beings. “The essence of life is to be found in the frustrations of the established order.” He “keeps them going—for what that’s worth” and with that becomes an overlooked hero in the process. This hero status that is given to Grendel further deconstructs Beowulf because it makes his act of killing insignificant compared to the helping of an entire society.
Grendel is a book that shows us that nothing in life is what it seems. It itself is written like that because it is written in simple language and yet, the depth of thought and knowledge in the text in insurmountable. It asks many questions to the reader and the reader answers those questions. The questions have no specific answer; which coincides with the deconstructionalist thought that words have no meaning and only readers give words meaning.