However, it's my belief that one monster in particular, Grendel, is often misunderstood.
So who is Grendel?
Beowulf's fight against Grendel
Grendel first appeared in the epic, Beowulf near the end of the 10th century. He was the first of three monsters that Beowulf had to face.
Grendel is described as a "grim demon" and a "banished monster from Cain's clan." He was "condemned as an outcast by God" ("Beowulf" 102-107). Grendel and many other monsters were spawned when Cain murdered Abel in the Old Testament.
Grendel was created because of the sins of a man. He was spawned from a murder that he had nothing to do with.
When a monster is from a murder and set free to roam the Earth, what are they supposed to do except murder people and create chaos?
Joseph Milosh wrote an article in Contemporary Literature, Volume 19, published by the University of Wisconsin Press that discusses Grendel's personality in the original epic as well as the book Grendel by John Gardner. On page 49, Milosh gives a good description of the original interpretation of Grendel saying,
Milosh gives a good summary of who Grendel is in the epic.
Despite his monstrous ways, Grendel is an essential part of the story of Beowulf.
The novel Villains and Villainy: Embodiments of Evil in Literature, Popular Culture and Media by Anna Fahraeus and Dikmen Yakalı Çamoğlu discusses the importance of villains to a story.
In Part Four of the book, it says,
“The eternal story of conflict between good and the evil needs to be retold to emphasize the good in the evil and the evil in the good” (175).
Good in Bad and Bad in Good
Also, in the Introduction of Villains and Villainy it says,
“The hero - who usually wins - cannot exist without an opponent in one form or other. The villain embodies this opposition and can present a fascinating complex of characteristics” (viii).
Without Grendel, the story of Beowulf would be entirely different.
Beowulf is hardly a hero without monsters to fight.
Also, it is thanks to Grendel and his mother that Beowulf is able to become king of the Danes and take the throne after Hrothgar.
It's the evil people and the terrible things in life, like Grendel, that allow us to really see the beauty in life, and the greatness in other people. Without some pain and sorrow, we take the good times for granted.
No one would argue that Grendel is a good guy, but it is because of him that we can see how great Beowulf really is.
Another popular interpretation of Grendel is in the 2007 movie, Beowulf, directed by Robert Zemeckis.