Hrothgar, inspired by the Shaper’s song of a glorious meadhall emanating a light that would “shine to the ends of the ragged world,” decides to build a magnificent meadhall high on a hill to stand as an eternal testament to the mighty justice of his Danes. Hrothgar plans to achieve glory by dispensing treasure from his new meadhall, and he hopes for his descendants to do the same. He sends to far-off kingdoms for artisans and builders to create the marvelous building. When it is finished, Hrothgar names the hall Hart and invites all the races of men to witness it. Grendel scoffs at the pomposity of it all, but he still manages to get caught up in the joyful celebration and the endlessly optimistic display of Hrothgar’s supposed goodness. Overcome with grief and shame at his own nasty, bloodthirsty ways, Grendel slinks away from Hart.
Grendel wanders through the forest, puzzling aloud over the Shaper’s mysterious power. The forest whispers back at him, but he feels as if a darker, more sinister force were speaking to him as well. The chilly, invisible presence grows in intensity and continues to unnerve Grendel. He grabs at a fat, slick vine, thinking it is a snake, only to discover it is harmless after all. The presence follows Grendel to the edge of town before mysteriously disappearing.
At the outskirts of town, Grendel observes young couples courting. While circling the clearing, he steps on a man whose throat has been cut and whose clothes have been stolen. Grendel is baffled by the contrast between the innocent picture of the pairs of lovers and the violently murdered corpse. Just as Grendel lifts the corpse over his shoulder, the Shaper begins to play his harp. The Shaper sings of the creation of the world by the greatest of gods, and of an ancient feud between two brothers that split the world between darkness and light. The Shaper claims that Grendel is on the side cursed by God. The Shaper’s words are so powerful that Grendel almost believes them, although he takes the corpse—a man murdered by his fellow men—as proof that the notion of a clear divide between man and monster is flawed. Nonetheless, overcome by the power of the Shaper’s song, Grendel staggers toward the hall with the body in his hands, crying for mercy and declaring himself a friend. The men do not understand Grendel’s cries, and they chase him out of the town with battle-axes and poison-tipped spears.
Grendel throws himself down on the forest floor, causing a twelve-foot crack to appear in the ground. He swears at Hrothgar’s Danes with curses he has picked up from human conversations he has overheard. When Grendel regains his calm, he looks up through the treetops, half expecting to see the god whom the Shaper described. Grendel asks the sky why he cannot have someone to talk to, as Hrothgar and the Shaper do. Grendel comforts himself with the knowledge that the Danes are doomed: he knows enough about human nature to realize that Hrothgar’s descendants are very unlikely to follow Hrothgar’s glorious ideas of philanthropy.
Two nights later, however, Grendel returns to hear more of the Shaper’s song. Though he is increasingly addicted, he nonetheless is enraged by the Shaper’s hopeful words, convinced of the mechanical brutishness of reality. Though Grendel dismisses the Shaper’s proposed religious system as a crackpot theory, he admits that he desperately wants to believe in it himself. Once again, Grendel hears sinister whisperings in the darkness, and he can feel the mysterious force pulling at him. He grabs a vine to reassure himself, only to discover this time that the vine really is a snake.
Back in the cave, Grendel’s mother whimpers at him, straining for language, but the only sound she manages to produce is the gibberish sound “Dool-dool! Dool-dool!”Grendel sleeps, only to wake up to the darkness pulling at him even more inexorably than before. He leaves the cave and walks to the cliff side. Grendel makes his mind a blank and sinks like a stone, down through the earth and sea.