Beowulf and the Monsters

I’ve been thinking about the ‘monsters’ in Beowulf recently. I don’t think they’re all that monstrous, if anything they’re probably justified in their actions if you look at events from their point of view.

Grendel, the meer-monster, is pottering about in his home, not causing any harm and then some inconsiderate bar-steward, Hrothgar, comes along, builds a hall, Heorot, on his territory without so much as a by-your-leave, makes a racket every night. Not only that, said bar-steward then gets an outside contractor, Beowulf, in to kill Grendel, as though he were vermin, rather than a disgruntled neighbour.

Of course Grendel is slain and Beowulf is a great hero. But it was hardly polite of Hrothgar to build Heorot without checking with the neighbours if they minded. No, he was more interested in his own glory than in being a good neighbour and asking the resident wights if they minded or in negotiating once it became obvious there was a problem.

Grendel’s mother, of course, needs no excuses for her behaviour. Her child had just been murdered.

On to the dragon. The dragon, who had no name, is quietly pottering around, guarding his mound, away from human habitation, when a ‘nameless man’ robs him of a valuable treasure. Instead of taking it back and apologising, or handing over the thief for punishment, Beowulf attacks the dragon. If the nameless man hadn’t been so greedy, the dragon wouldn’t have hurt anyone. Beowulf and the dragon die because of man’s greed, the mound is emptied and the treasures piled in Beowulf’s grave, as though it was his to take.

I think the theme here is greed. The greed of humans, taking resources that don’t belong to them. The earth isn’t ours to plunder, we share it with other lifeforms, who have equal right to live out their lives. The minerals of the earth aren’t ours to hack out willy-nilly with no concerns for the consequences of our actions. Even if you ignore the other living beings on the planet, atrocious greed had led to terrible suffering for our fellow humans, in the form of slavery in mines and factories, poisoned water supplies, and loss of life caused by corrupt governments and militias for control of resources.

We’ve made our own monsters.



  1. beanalreasa says:

    Have you ever read John Gardner’s book, ‘Grendel’?
    It is a retelling of ‘Beowulf’ from the point of view of Grendel himself ☺

  2. R Cawkwell says:

    No, I haven’t, but I’ll have to look it up. I was lying in bed the other day and mt brain suddenly decided to go off on a tangent about how horrible everyone was to Grendel.

  3. J.S. Pailly says:

    I agree with the other comment above. It sounds like you’d definitely enjoy “Grendel.”

    By the way, I’ve nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award. If you chose to accept the award, the rules are up on my blog. The important thing is I like what you’re doing, so keep up the good work!

    1. R Cawkwell says:

      Thanks J. I’ll get back to you about accepting the award.

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