Grendel | Study Guide

John Gardner

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Grendel | Quotes


Pointless, ridiculous monster crouched in the shadows, stinking of dead men, murdered children, martyred cows.

Grendel, Chapter 1

Grendel introduces his sense of isolation from other living creatures by highlighting his approach to those creatures as prey and by mentioning himself as a resident of the shadows. He also introduces a sense of self-loathing when he describes himself as "pointless" and "ridiculous," and mentions the stink that surrounds him.


The world resists me and I resist the world ... mountains are what I define them as.

Grendel, Chapter 2

Grendel perceives that the world is hostile toward him, and he responds with hostility of his own. In his youth, he also learns to believe in his ability to shape his reality by defining the world through his own perceptions.


The men ... talked in something akin to my language, which meant ... we were, incredibly, related.

Grendel, Chapter 3

When Grendel first encounters Hrothgar and his men, he is trapped in a tree, and he feels both vulnerable and camouflaged. His recognition that he and the men speak a similar language and are therefore related demonstrates how men and monsters in the story have more in common than either would like to admit.


My heart was light with Hrothgar's goodness, and leaden with grief at my own bloodthirsty ways.

Grendel, Chapter 4

Grendel's perception of the Danes begins to change, and this changes his view of himself. He wants to believe in something meaningful and good, but soon he gives in to an ancient darkness he feels pressing in on him.


The Shaper was singing the glorious deeds of the dead men ... all lies.

Grendel, Chapter 4

The Shaper sings songs that create one version of reality for the king's men—in this case, a song telling the tale of men who bravely fought Grendel—but it isn't the same reality Grendel experiences. All perception is subjective; therefore, so is reality.


I know everything, you see ... the beginning, the present, the end. Everything.

The dragon, Chapter 5

The dragon knows about time and events beyond Grendel's understanding. As a result, the dragon assigns a different value—generally a lesser value—to the events he witnesses.


They'd map out roads through Hell with their crackpot theories, their ... lists of paltry facts.

The dragon, Chapter 5

The dragon holds men in contempt for their shortsighted view of reality and their cursory understanding of the world. Men know facts and develop theories, but they don't understand how time and matter are connected. The dragon's unique point of view allows him to see all these connections.

The dragon reinforces Grendel's view that humans distort facts to suit their emotional needs. The dragon also fills Grendel with doubts; Grendel begins to doubt that the Shaper has powers, that a god created the world, and that there is meaning in any creature's existence.


In a billion, billion, billion years everything will have come and gone ... A certain man will absurdly kill me.

The dragon, Chapter 5

In his summation of his long talk with Grendel, the dragon indicates that everything that can exist, everything that can happen, will exist and happen repeatedly over the course of all time, and the details of what will exist and happen are absurd. The dragon's reference to the man who will kill him—the same man who will kill Grendel, as the source material of Beowulf indicates—provides a connection between himself and Grendel.


But though I laughed, I felt trapped, as hollow as a rotten tree.

Grendel, Chapter 6

Grendel has just stormed the meadhall and slaughtered Hrothgar's men. He laughs, but real joy eludes him, and he sees himself killing mechanically, raising the question of whether Grendel has free will or is just like any other creature following its instincts.


I sighed. The word "hero" was beginning to grate. He was an idiot.

Grendel, Chapter 6

Grendel takes delight in embarrassing Hrothgar's great hero, Unferth. Grendel refuses to kill Unferth when they fight, preferring to make Unferth a source of his amusement. Grendel's mockery of Unferth extends to mockery of all heroes and of the very concept of heroism.


There is no limit to desire but desire's needs. (Grendel's law.)

Grendel, Chapter 7

Grendel knows he could destroy all of Hrothgar's men in one fell swoop, but he prefers to conduct his raids periodically, killing a few men at a time. This way, he can continue to fulfill his desire for mayhem rather than extinguish his desire by destroying its object.


Poor Grendel's had an accident. So may you all.

Grendel, Chapter 12

When Grendel finally meets his end at the hands of the stranger, he convinces himself he has had an accident; by doing so, he resists the idea of fate. Even in his last breaths, he remains firm in this conviction, shaping his reality to his own perception instead of acknowledging he might have been outfought. His isolation and his contempt for others resonate in Grendel's final words, a curse wishing his own fate on everyone.

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