, has spent the last twelve years locked in a war against a band of humans. The main action of
takes place in the last year of that war, but the novel skips back in time in order to illuminate the origins of the conflict
as well as Grendel’s personal history.
As a young monster, Grendel lives with his mother in a cave on the outskirts of human civilization. A foul, wretched creature
who long ago abandoned language, Grendel’s mother is his only kin or companion. One day, the young Grendel discovers a lake
full of firesnakes and, swimming through it, reaches the human world on the other side. On one of his early explorations he finds
himself caught in a tree. A bull and then a band of humans attack Grendel before his mother rescues him.
Grendel becomes fascinated with the world of men, watching from a safe distance as mankind evolves from a nomadic, tribal
culture into a feudal system with roads, governments, and militaries. He is alternately befuddled by their actions and disgusted by
their wasteful, brute violence. Grendel watches as Hrothgar of the Danes (also known as the Scyldings, after an illustrious
ancestor) develops into the most powerful king in the area.
Eventually, Hrothgar’s power and fortune attract the services of the Shaper, a court bard who sings glorious tales of Danish kings
and heroes. Though the Shaper’s songs are only partially based on fact, their imaginative visions of a supremely ordered moral
world are incredibly powerful and invigorating. Inspired by the Shaper’s words, Hrothgar builds a magnificent meadhall and
names it Hart. Even Grendel, who has witnessed the true, savage history of the Danes, finds the Shaper’s vision extremely
seductive and becomes ashamed at his own brute, bestial nature.
Grendel, increasingly upset by his split feelings about the Shaper, visits a dragon in search of some advice. The dragon belittles
the Shaper and declares all moral and philosophical systems pointless and irrelevant. Grendel gradually adopts this worldview
and becomes enraged at the humans. He begins to raid Hart systematically, initiating the twelve-year war. In his first battle,
Grendel handily defeats Unferth, one of Hrothgar’s mightiest thanes (or soldiers), and adds insult to injury by scoffing at
Unferth’s romantic ideas of heroism.
Other kings increasingly threaten Hrothgar, who preemptively tries to attack one of them: Hygmod, king of the Helmings. In
order to avoid a war, Hygmod offers Hrothgar the hand of his sister, Wealtheow, in marriage. Hrothgar accepts, and Wealtheow
becomes the much beloved queen of the Scyldings, bringing a new sense of peace and harmony to the vulgar, masculine world of
Hart. The lovely queen briefly enraptures Grendel, and only a nighttime attack and a cold, misogynistic look at her genitals rids
him of her spell.
Some years later, Hrothgar’s brother Halga is killed, and Halga’s orphaned son, Hrothulf, comes to live at Hart. Hrothgar and