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Grendel | Study Guide

John Gardner

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Grendel | Chapter 10 | Summary



Grendel expresses the pain of his boredom and his apathy for the world around him before revealing the Shaper is sick. As a break in the monotony, Grendel confronts a goat lingering near his cave. Grendel is oddly protective of his space and attempts to shoo the goat away, although the goat remains standing after Grendel rolls a tree at it and pelts it with rocks that crack its skull and knock out its teeth. As the dying goat climbs toward Grendel, he grabs another stone.

In the evening, Grendel watches the activity in the nearby village, the men and apprentices at work, the watchmen standing guard, the children at play. He watches the people come and go from the house of the dying Shaper, including the king and queen. The Shaper asks after a specific woman who has not come to visit him. After the Shaper dies, Grendel watches this woman receive the news of the Shaper's death. Grendel calls her the "soul of fidelity, decorum." Although the Shaper displayed romantic interest in the woman, she never outwardly reciprocated his feelings. When she gets word of the Shaper's death, she looks toward the meadhall on the hill but remains composed. Grendel considers snatching her but only looks in on the Shaper's body one last time before returning to his cave.

Back in the cave, Grendel believes his mother is losing her mind. She scuttles about aimlessly and tries to keep Grendel from leaving the cave. She makes odd sounds, and claws at herself. Grendel is unmoved. He thinks about how only the present moment exists, and the Shaper's histories, even his own youthful acts, do not exist; nor does the future. He regrets not tormenting the Shaper, but decides to attend the funeral. Grendel's mother tries to stop him, but he goes out anyway.

At the funeral, the Shaper's assistant sings of another ancient king of the Danes, and, as the pyre burns, Grendel recognizes the loss of the Shaper as the end of an era. He considers telling Hrothgar, "We're on our own again. Abandoned." The next morning, Grendel wakes to find his mother acting crazy again. Despite her inability to speak, she passes him a message: "Beware the fish."


The goat represents the zodiac sign of Capricorn, associated with deep winter, although Grendel's encounter with the goat mirrors his meeting with the ram in Chapter 1. While Grendel was content to leave the ram alone, judging it silently from afar, Grendel takes out his rage and frustration on the goat by pelting it with stones when it will not go away or die. Grendel feels exceptionally protective of his lair in this scene, not even wanting silent animals near him, and the source of his rage becomes apparent with the revelation that the Shaper is dying. Also, the way the goat moves mechanically up the mountain, thinking "with his spine," foreshadows how Grendel will move toward his own death. Even though Grendel tells the goat to use reason, Grendel's own reason is hopeless against the fate awaiting him in the ensuing chapters.

The Shaper has been a constant presence for years, a guide for Grendel in his search for meaning in his life. While Grendel's feelings about the Shaper and his songs have been mixed at times, the Shaper has also inspired Grendel's desire to build his own reality based on words and perceptions. As implied in his sense of abandonment at the Shaper's funeral, without the Shaper as a guide, Grendel is left to his own devices to create his reality and define his place in it. The loss creates an existential crisis for Grendel in his cave. Without the stories and songs, Grendel limits himself to the belief that only the present moment exists; past and future have no bearing on reality. Such is the power of storytelling.

The emergence of the Shaper's unrequited love for a married woman also reveals the limitations of storytelling and song. Although the Shaper sang for this woman, he was not able to construct a reality in which she loved him in return; or, if she did love him, there is no reality in which she expresses that love. She hears the news of his death but remains discreet. She does not cry or express regret, even alone. She only looks to the meadhall that will certainly be emptier without the Shaper's songs to entertain. Grendel's passing thought of snatching the woman as she quietly accepts the loss reflects a sense of loyalty to the Shaper's memory; Grendel could punish the woman for not reciprocating the Shaper's feelings, although Grendel ultimately admires her reserve and discretion.

The declining sanity Grendel views in his mother belowground parallels the upheaval happening aboveground with the loss of the Shaper. As Grendel's mother scurries about in her restlessness and tries to block Grendel's exit from the cave, he finds even this stable part of his world is thrown into turmoil. These changes are precursors to the change that is coming toward Grendel, but they further destabilize Grendel's already precarious sense of security. Grendel says his mother does not know anything, yet she is able to overcome her speechlessness to deliver him a prophetic message. Grendel is wrong about his mother, and he has likely been wrong about her all along. As the climax approaches, it becomes clearer that Grendel's view of himself and those around him is somewhat unreliable. He has never truly given in to the meaninglessness and hopelessness that the dragon convinced him to believe in when he was young.

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