Grendel | Study Guide

John Gardner

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Grendel | Chapter 11 | Summary



Grendel is excited when he sees a ship arrive carrying 15 heroes; he learns they are called the Geats. Almost inhumanly large and strong, the Geats intimidate the guard who asks them why they have come. Grendel is amused by the contrast between the giant strangers and the small guard, but he is unsettled by the group's leader, whose soft voice contrasts sharply with his massive bulk. This leader is Beowulf; Grendel refers to him throughout as the stranger. The Geats are subjects of another king; they have come to visit Hrothgar and advise him on how to handle the enemy that raids his hall at night. Grendel mocks the men in whispers, but he is intimidated by the size and obvious strength of the stranger. He knows the stranger is dangerous, yet he's intrigued.

The guard leads the men to Hrothgar's hall while Grendel stays behind, not daring to approach the meadhall in daylight. He returns to his cave and contemplates what kind of threat these new arrivals pose. He considers remaining in the safety of his cave, but decides to go to the meadhall that night. When he arrives, he sees the Danes and the Geats engaged in a tense dinner. The king only wants to get through the dinner without incident. Unferth asks the stranger about a legendary swimming competition in which, as Unferth heard, the stranger was bested by one of his friends. The stranger responds by explaining how he won the competition and then asks Unferth about how he killed his own brother, which quiets Unferth. Wealtheow is absent from the dinner because a woman's presence might cause the tensions to boil over. She makes an appearance after Hrothgar realizes the stranger will be useful against Grendel, and he calls for the queen; her presence seems to soothe rather than rile the men. She praises the stranger, and Hrothgar declares the man "like a son" to him. The stranger is polite but disinterested. Eventually, the king and queen retire. The warriors prepare to sleep, and Grendel prepares to attack.


Although Grendel has felt a sense of unease and foreboding for some time now, he is also overwhelmed by the boredom of his routine. He finds it painful. The Shaper no longer has songs to distract Grendel. Grendel's mother has become increasingly clingy. Whatever raids he launches on Hrothgar's hall run the same course: break down the door, eat some men, escape safely. Grendel has always felt a sense of monotony with regard to his life, but the monotony threatens to crush him now. When the Geats arrive, Grendel is excited to see something new in the kingdom. He is intimidated by the size of these new men, but he is also eager to face a new adversary and conquer a new challenge. Grendel decides to meet this challenge because his many past victories make him confident; but also, whatever happens, at least it will be a break in Grendel's boredom.

When Grendel sees the Geats and the Danes at dinner, he thrives on the tension in the room. He seems to believe the animosity between the Danes and the Geats bodes well for him. Perhaps they will fight and weaken their numbers, although Hrothgar is taking great pains to be sure that does not happen. The Danes view the arrival of the Geats as an insult. Assistance from outsiders implies the Danes are not strong or brave enough to handle their problems on their own, and they do not like ceding even a little power to these newcomers. Unferth's question to the stranger about his alleged loss in the swimming competition and the stranger's reply about his deeds accompanied with his cutting remark about Unferth's own infamy brings the tension to the fore. Unferth regards himself as the great hero of Hrothgar's hall, and the stranger threatens his position. Unferth fears the stranger will succeed where Unferth has failed so many times at defeating Grendel; the stranger has the advantage of size and strength, making his victory a real possibility. Hrothgar's declaration of favor toward the stranger and Wealtheow's kindness toward him only serve as fuel for Unferth's jealousy. These statements from the king and queen also allude to the tensions brewing in their own household as Hrothulf lurks around the edges of the feast, another "like a son" to Hrothgar.

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