Grendel is a vicious, aggressive, bloodthirsty, and dangerous monster who appears in Danish poem, Beowulf, living in a subterranean cave with his mother, rampaging through the kingdom of Hrothgar. Grendel is described as a ‘fiend from Hell’, enraged from the laughter and merry-making coming from the Hrothgar’s meadhall, and goes on a terrible and destructive rampage, slaughtering and eating 50 of the kings warriors on the first night. This goes on for the next 12 long and bloody years, with nobody being able to stop Grendel. Eventually, King Hrothgar tires of this, so he sends for a champion to final rid him of the monster. The mighty Thane warrior Beowulf and his men are eventually called upon and sent to the kingdom.
Once they arrive, they make merry in the meadhall to get Grendel’s attention. Later in the night, Grendel sneaks in and begins eating Beowulf’s men. Unfortunately for him, Beowulf had been waiting for him and when Grendel tries to eat him, Beowulf grabs him by the wrist and they begin to fight. A horrific battle ensues, climaxing with Beowulf ripping off Grendel’s arm at the shoulder socket. Grendel retreats to his cave where he bleeds to death in his mother’s arms, having just enough life left in him to tell his mother the name of the man who killed him. She later confronts Beowulf for revenge.
His most famous media portrayal was in the rendered 3D motion capture film directed by Robert Zemeckis, where he was played by Crispin Glover. He is portrayed as King Hrothgar’s illegitimate son after an affair with his mother. Essentially in this version, he is a very thoughtful and sympathetic villain because he is an outcast. When not attacking the Danes, he is shown as a timid and quiet creature that speaks in Olde English around his mother. The reasons for his attacks are due to having hyper-sensitive hearing from an exposed eardrum, and the racket from the meadhall was causing him physical pain. Despite being more sympathetic, his fate is still the same as in the poem. Beowulf slams the door into his arm with enough force to take it off, and hang it over the meadhall door.
The philosophy professor Stephen T. Asma argued in the December 7 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education that, “Zemeckis’s more tender-minded film version suggests that the people who cast out Grendel are the real monsters. The monster, according to this charity paradigm, is just misunderstood rather than evil. The blame for Grendel’s violence is shifted to the humans, who sinned against him earlier and brought the vengeance upon themselves. The only real monsters, in this tradition, are pride and prejudice. In the film, Grendel is even visually altered after his injury to look like an innocent, albeit scaly, little child. In the original Beowulf, the monsters are outcasts because they’re bad (just as Cain, their progenitor, was outcast because he killed his brother), but in the newer adaptation of Beowulf the monsters are bad because they’re outcasts […] Contrary to the original Beowulf, the new film wants us to understand and humanize our monsters.”