Imagine you are the heroic Beowulf slaying Grendel’s mother in the swamp. As you take note of your surroundings, you happen upon the body of Grendel himself. You inch closer and closer to peer into the eyes of the beast that terrorized an entire kingdom. When you envision this scenario, what does Grendel physically look like? Maybe you imagine his having sharp teeth and fur. Perhaps he has reptile scales and slithers around. In your mind, are his characteristics more human or animal-like? Is he one definite type of monster or is he a composition of many types of recognizable monsters?
Within the epic Beowulf, the author creates a variety of rich details that define the story. The family lineages, the strength and stature of Beowulf, and the intense fight scenes are among a lost list of vivid details that have attracted readers for centuries. Oddly enough, very little is written about the physical description of the central monster Grendel himself. The story depicts him as a large beast that lurks in a swamp nearby the kingdom of Heorot. Some fight scenes reveal small details about his being, such as the grip of his “claw” or his shoulder that Beowulf severs. To me, this aspect of the story seems strange, since Grendel remains one of the most famous beasts in literature. Are these vague descriptions intentional? If so, why would the author choose to omit such details about the monster?
I believe the author may have left out certain details to fully activate our imaginations. By taking this route, every reader can imagine the most frightening version of Grendel based on his or her own fears. Instead of an established, defined monster, the possibilities and parameters of his existence are endless. Every reader can imagine a different beast, which ultimately incorporates an element of creativity on the reader’s part. For me, this is the best part of reading. Personally, I like to think of Grendel as a man-eating dragon that drags his victims back to his swampy lair. Since the author leaves this part of the story an enigma, I can happily fantasize about my version of Grendel, and you can do the same with yours. ☺