When he finished, the hall was as quiet as a mound. I too was silent, my ear pressed tight against the timbers. Even to me, incredibly, he had made it all seem true and very fine.
Here, Grendel describes the first time he listens to the Shaper’s poetry. The Shaper talks of the righteous and victorious Danes, not mentioning any of the violence and gore that Grendel saw firsthand. Nevertheless, Grendel feels taken in by the story. From the beginning, readers can see that the Shaper has the power to use words and stories to manipulate people, to alter history, and to get others to believe his words.
My heart was light with Hrothgar’s goodness, and leaden with grief at my own bloodthirsty ways. I backed away, crablike, further into darkness—like a crab retreating in pain when you strike two stones at the mouth of his underwater den. I backed away till the honeysweet lure of the harp no longer mocked me. Yet even now my mind was tormented by images.
As Grendel continues to listen to the Shaper, he begins to internalize the stories as truth, feeling admiration for Hrothgar and disgust for himself even though he knows the stories to be untrue. The fact that the Shaper can affect Grendel’s mind so much, even after Grendel leaves the meadhall, reveals the Shaper’s incredible artistry and storytelling abilities.
“He reshapes the world,” I whispered, belligerent. “So his name implies. He stares strange-eyed at the mindless world and turns dry sticks to gold.”
After Grendel listened to the Shaper, he understands the reason behind his name: The Shaper can shape history into whatever he wants it to be. While Grendel and the dragon see the world as meaningless, the Shaper uses his art to instill meaning in the world and to therefore make others feel that their lives are worth something. Grendel recognizes the great power that comes with such a skill.
It was a cold-blooded lie that a god had lovingly made the world and set out the sun and moon as lights to land-dwellers, that brothers had fought, that one of the races was saved, the other cursed. Yet he, the old Shaper, might make it true, by the sweetness of his harp, his cunning trickery.
After Grendel listens to the Shaper a few times, he begins to hate the Shaper and his songs. Here, Grendel calls him “cold-blooded” and accuses him of using “cunning trickery.” Grendel hates being misconstrued by the Shaper. However, the Shaper likely believes he is doing something kind for the humans listening to him. By giving meaning to their lives, he can reduce their suffering.
The Shaper speaks. They bend closer. “I see a time,” he says, “when the Danes once again—” His voice trails off; puzzlement crosses his forehead, and one hand reaches up feebly as if to smooth it away but forgets before it can find the forehead, and falls back to the covers.
As the Shaper lays dying, he begins to make what seems like a prophecy that he never gets to finish. Until this moment, the Shaper has only talked of the past, shaping stories to make the Danes and the rest of humankind look good. Here, the Shaper seems to want to leave the others with a hopeful prophecy of what the Danes will do in the future, even though he does not actually know.