In Gardner’s novel Grendel, the main character of Grendel is different than the same character in Beowulf in the manner in which he portrays fate. In Gardner’s novel, Grendel is seen as a character who is unsure about life and the path that he is going to create for himself, whereas in the story Beowulf, Grendel is seen as a ruthless monster that is hell bent on destroying Herot and all who reside in it and that seems to be the main goal in life for that character’s portrayal.
To start, in Gardner’s version of Grendel, he is a lost soul who at first doesn’t seem to fit in with where he is in life. He is surrounded by animals that are too dumb to speak, undignified (Page 7), a mother who is disgusting and embarrassing (Page 11), and an uncertainty about life and the direction that he was going to take in it.
One point to illustrate this mentality is when Grendel was stuck in a tree and a bull came towards Grendel and was threatened by the fact that Grendel was too close to the calf that Grendel was chasing and began to charge at him. While the bull was charging, Grendel was unable to escape from the tree that held him and came to his realization.
“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, blindly—as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back.(Page 21-22)”
In this statement, he comes to understand “that the world is nothing”, it has no real meaning to it, no purpose. He found the world to be a chaotic, violent place that we “impose our hopes and fears” towards it. One truly gets the imagery of a hopeless, formidable place with no order and no ‘grand scheme of things’ as seen in a later quote when Grendel was conversing with a dragon about the meaningless and futility of life, “”Things come and go,” he said. “That’s the gist of it. In a billion billion billion years, everything will have come and gone several times, in various forms...Meaningless, however. These jugs and pebbles, everything, these too will go…(Page70)”
In the story Beowulf, it is quite a different story. In the story Beowulf, the narrator is beginning to introduce the reader to Grendel. The description begins with the imagery that Grendel is a character who has a purpose, though dark one, and it is a purpose that has been written since biblical times. His description is that he is a “grim demon haunting the marches, marauding round the heath and the desolate fens (Line 102-4) ” It is discussed that Grendel is the descendent of Cain who killed his brother Abel out of jealousy and as such was punished (Line 104-7). As Grendel is the descendent of this punishment, this curse, he too is affected by it and as such will be destined to never have the light. As he is destined to never have the light, he was just as fated to become jealous of his Abel, Herot, and try to destroy it. And as he will seek to kill Abel (Herot), the Creator (Beowulf) must punish him (kill him). Unlike with Gardner’s version where he sees the futility in life, the hopelessness of it, and the unstructured form of it, in Beowulf, he is destined to die at the hand of Beowulf.
What is believed to be the point in Gardner’s choice at creating Grendel to be as unsure about life and his role in it as he is portrayed is that by having Grendel in the story be as unsure as how he will end up is an ironic twist that Gardner created for the reader. As the reader goes through the story, it is ironic as how the end for Grendel is foreshadowed even as he portrays life as meaningless. The big “in your face” moment comes when Grendel meets the dragon and the dragon advises Grendel that everything ends and that even he (the dragon) too will also die as Gardner puts it comically, “A certain man will absurdly kill me. A terrible pity—loss of a remarkable form of life. Conservationists will howl (Page 70)” which not only serves as a comic relief, a statement about mortality, but again also as a foreshadowing by this dragon which is presumed to be the very same dragon that Beowulf ‘absurdly’ kills which layers in that in actuality, Grendel really is destined by fate though he doesn’t think that he is.
In summation, Gardener portrays Grendel to be a character that is uncertain about where his life is directing him or if there is any direction at all to life. Underneath the main storyline and dialogue of Gardner’s Grendel, Gardner is actually reconfirming the portrayal of Grendel in Beowulf that life is predestined to play out end the way that it is going to end.