Characters Beowulf

In making the transition from the original Beowulf epic to the novel Grendel, the Geatish hero Beowulf undergoes as radical a transformation as Grendel does. The Beowulf of Grendel is uncannily superhuman. He is not only supremely strong, but also a cold, mechanical being who is often described as a walking dead man. This association of Beowulf with death paints him as a kind of resurrected Christ figure. As such, Gardner invites us to read Beowulf’s battle with Grendel as potentially an act of bloody salvation. Beowulf is the only being who can inflict pain or physical harm on Grendel, and his horrifically violent treatment of Grendel shocks the latter into a state that is equal parts ecstasy and terror. During the battle, Grendel has a vision of Beowulf sprouting wings and breathing fire. This imagery follows a medieval tradition of depicting both Satan and Christ as dragons. Beowulf arrives as a second kind of dragon at the end of the novel, offering an alternative, total vision of the world and the end of time. However, while the dragon emphasizes the eventual death and decay of all things, Beowulf stresses the rebirth that must always follow. The dragon and Beowulf are further linked because they are the only characters in the novel who actually have dialogues with Grendel.