It is the second year of Grendel’s raids on the Danes. The attacks have decimated Hrothgar’s dominion. His glory is waning, and other feudal lords are rising up around him. To the east, one such king is extending his circle of power much as Hrothgar once did, plundering neighboring villages and forcing them to swear allegiance to his hall. Hrothgar responds by gathering an army from the farthest reaches of his realm of influence. Grendel watches as these forces gather at Hrothgar’s meadhall and grow in number.
One night, when Grendel comes down to spy on the humans, he sees that they have left their campsites. He follows their tracks eastward, to the hall of the young King Hygmod, lord of the Helmings. Hrothgar assembles his troops before Hygmod’s door and calls him out. Hygmod appears on the doorstep with six retainers and a great bear on a chain. Hrothgar makes a speech, and it is clear that his troops would easily best Hygmod’s in battle. Extraordinarily calm, Hygmod drops his sword at Hrothgar’s feet with his left hand—a sign of a truce—and offers him gifts in order to avoid a battle.
Hrothgar refuses the Helmings’ treasure, but Hygmod tells him he has a treasure that will change his mind. Hygmod returns to his hall and emerges with his sister, a beautiful woman with long red hair. Hygmod offers her to Hrothgar, telling him that from now on she will be known as Wealtheow, or “holy servant of common good.” Grendel finds himself wracked with pain at the sight of Wealtheow; despite himself, she moves him just as the Shaper’s song once moved him. Weeping children run up to Wealtheow and snatch the hem of her dress, and Grendel can imagine himself joining them. Hrothgar accepts her as his bride. After a few days of speeches from both the Scyldings and the Helmings, Hrothgar’s men return home to Hart.
Throughout the winter, the presence of Wealtheow keeps Grendel from attacking Hrothgar’s hall, even though he understands that Wealtheow, in her goodness and selflessness, is no different from any other female creature he has encountered before. Even Grendel’s mother, disgusting and wretched as she is, would give her life to lessen his suffering. Sometimes Grendel goes to Hart to watch Wealtheow as she passes the meadbowl around the hall. Her presence seems to have affected all the Danes: the Shaper now sings songs of comfort, beauty, and love, and Hrothgar seems somewhat softened as well. One night, the other thanes taunt Unferth for having killed his brothers, but Wealtheow manages to stop the barrage with a word.
One time during the winter, Hygmod comes to visit Wealtheow, bringing with him a great troop of Helmings. Grendel watches the festivities through a hole in the wall. He notes the doting manner in which Hrothgar watches Wealtheow, and also the cunningly duplicitous looks that Hygmod shoots at Hrothgar. Back in his cave, Grendel is tortured by visions of Wealtheow, which tease him away from the nihilistic truth he has received from the dragon. The next night, Grendel storms the hall and catches Wealtheow up in his hands. He spreads her legs and thinks about cooking the “ugly hole” between them over a fire. But then Grendel, realizing that killing Wealtheow is just as meaningless as not killing her, suddenly releases her. He returns to the mere, happy that his forbearance has surprised the men and wrecked another one of their theories.
The first few pages of Chapter 7 mark a radical shift in the style in which Grendel narrates his story. Though he has consistently employed a mix of tones and diction, ranging from contemporary swearwords to mock-epic epithets, these pages go even further. The change is noticeable in the shape of the text on the page: beginning in Chapter 7, the text suddenly features italics, parentheses, brackets, and bulleted lists, at times looking more like a film script than a prose novel. The text’s expansion into other styles and genres parallels Grendel’s own growth as a narrator. As he matures, his language becomes more inventive and experimental. Grendel becomes a Shaper himself. As his linguistic abilities grow, Grendel also becomes more aware of the power of literature and stories. In the previous chapter, Grendel accepts his prescribed role in the Beowulf epic. In Chapter 7, however, he comes to understand that he is now bound by that identity: he asks, “What will we call the Hrothgar-Wrecker when Hrothgar has been wrecked?” Grendel now realizes that by fulfilling his goal—destroying the Danes—he will no longer have a purpose in life, thus destroying himself.
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