Chapter 8

Summary Chapter 8

Grendel figures that the reader, after seeing Hrothgar in such a pitiful state, must be wondering how Grendel can stand to torment the Danes any further. Grendel responds by claiming that his attacks give men dignity and nobility: he made men what they are and, as their creator, has a right to test them. Grendel grows angry with the reader for pestering him with questions, saying that all this grief and energy must eventually lead to something important. Grendel then comes up with a dream that he will “impute” to Hrothgar, about a tree with two joined trunks that gets split by an ax.


With the arrival of Hrothulf and his revolutionary ideas, the Scylding community moves into yet another stage of development, with Hrothulf embodying the new era’s rising political consciousness. Hrothulf, though young, is perceptive enough to notice the economic and political divide between the haves and the have-nots, and he becomes determined to rectify this imbalance of power. His ideas about the tyranny of the ruling class and the disenfranchisement of the working class are akin to concerns expressed by twentieth-century socialists, who advocated political and economic systems that benefited all of society, not merely aristocrats. In Hrothulf’s eyes, the Scylding government has been built on violence and continues to be violent. In the original Beowulf epic, Hrothulf actually does usurp Hrothgar’s throne; this chapter in Grendel gives us the history and psychology behind that revolution.

Hrothulf’s development in many ways parallels Grendel’s own. Grendel, like Hrothulf, is sad, lonely, and frustrated with the state of the world around him. Isolated and bitter, both characters try to find theories and systems that will fix or explain what they see as the essential problem in their respective worlds. Furthermore, Red Horse’s relationship with Hrothulf mirrors the dragon’s relationship with Grendel. Both mentors share certain characteristics, such a mocking tone and a superior air. Always a few steps ahead of their students, both Red Horse and the dragon enjoy disabusing their pupils of their idealistic notions. Both teachers take their students’ nascent philosophical or political ideas and push them toward the extremes of thought. Grendel, for example, has a general feeling that the world is meaningless; the dragon responds that, yes, the world is meaningless and therefore there is no point in anything. Hrothulf feels that the government is unjust and violent; Red Horse responds that, yes, the government is unjust, but then again, all governments are unjust, so there is no point in government at all. Just as the dragon opposes the senselessness of philosophical systems, Red Horse opposes the senselessness of political systems. Red Horse is an anarchist, a person who believes that all governments are violent and are therefore inherently wrong and futile.

Among the Danes, Hrothulf is probably the one who most closely resembles Grendel, which may be why he is the first human in the novel to make an extended speech. Up until this point, Grendel’s narrative has mainly been an observation of humans and a record of their interactions. In the last chapter we have seen Grendel become more inventive with his style and form, and in this chapter we see him make another authorial leap. In Chapter 8, Grendel gives us the first glimpse of the other characters’ inner thoughts, which up to this point we have likely presumed he has no means of accessing. Whereas in the earlier chapters Grendel watches the other characters as one would watch a pack of animals, now he understands their psychology as well. In fact, there is much evidence to support the claim that all the human dialogue in this chapter is actually created by Grendel himself. Hrothulf’s soliloquies in the yard and in the woods, for example, are written in verse. As we may assume that Hrothulf does not naturally burst into poetry, we may infer that Grendel has shaped Hrothulf’s thoughts into verse when writing this chapter. Grendel supports this inference by framing a large part of the chapter as a script with scene titles, as if he is writing a play in which Hrothulf, Wealtheow, and Red Horse are merely characters. This is not to say, however, that Grendel is making the entire story of the novel up in his head. Rather, he is learning to structure his story imaginatively, turning his tale into a work of art rather than simply recording events. As Grendel is learning more and more about the power of language, he is becoming more and more like the Shaper.