Examine Parallel Novels
Read and Respond to Beowulf
This novel is one of most famous examples of a parallel novel. A parallel novel is a work of fiction that exists within, or derives from, the framework of another work of fiction by another author. They usually have the same setting and time period, and many of the same characters, but are told from a different perspective. Examples include:
Wicked by Gregory Maguire parallels The Wizard of Oz
The Wind Done Gone by Alice Randall parallels Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell)
The Hours by Michael Cunningham parallels Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Do you know any others??? Tell me Friday!
Completed in 1970.
As a professor of English specializing in medieval literature, Gardner had been teaching Beowulf, the source of inspiration for Grendel, for many years at various colleges. A relatively minor character in Beowulf, Grendel is a symbol for "darkness, chaos, and death," according to critic John M. Howell in Understanding John Gardner.
In Gardner’s version, however, Grendel becomes a three-dimensional character with,"a sense of humor and a gift for language." Grendel even has a weakness for poetry. As a would-be artist, Grendel strives, however comically, to escape from his baseness. Such is the power of art, Gardner seems to be saying, that even a monster can be affected by it. Gardner also develops the theme of heroism as another moral force that enables society to advance by elevating
Gardner builds up the role of Grendel’s mother to emphasize, through her inarticulateness, the importance of language in the development of civilization. Gardner also creates a relationship between Grendel and the dragon (another minor character in the original epic) in order to expand the concept of nihilism the belief that there is no purpose to existence.
Through these changes, Gardner is able to develop themes that recur not only in Grendel but throughout his other works: the struggle between good and evil, the clash between order and disorder, the hero’s sacrifice and achievement of immortality, and the importance of art and the artist as a means of affirming the moral meaning of life.
And so I come through trees and towns to the lights of Hrothgar’s meadhall. I am no stranger here. A respected guest. Eleven years now and going on twelve I have come up this clean-mown central hill, dark shadow out of the woods below, and have knocked politely on the high oak door, bursting its hinges and sending the shock of my greeting inward like a cold blast out of a cave. “Grendel!” they squeak, and I smile like exploding spring. The old Shaper, a man I cannot help but admire, goes out the back window with his harp at a single bound, though blind as a bat. The drunkest of Hrothgar’s thanes come reeling and clanking down from their wall-hung beds, all shouting their meady, outrageous boasts, their heavy swords aswirl like eagles’ wings. “Woe, woe, woe!” cries Hrothgar, hoary with winters, peeking in, wide-eyed, from his bedroom in back. His wife, looking in behind him, makes a scene. The thanes in the meadhall blow out the lights and cover the wide stone fireplace with shields. I laugh, crumple over; I can’t help myself. In the darkness, I alone see clear as day. While they squeal and screech and bump into each other, I silently sack up my dead and withdraw to the woods. I eat and laugh and eat until I can barely walk, my chest-hair matted with dribbled blood, and then the roosters on the hill crow, and dawn comes over the roofs of the houses, and all at once I am filled with gloom again.
Beowulf Questions 7-12
7. Lines 131 to 142. What has happened to Grendel?8. Lines 172-178. What is Hrothgar asking Beowulf to do?
9. Lines 179-203. Describe how Beowulf comes to the lair of Grendel's mother. What details remind you that Beowulf is not an ordinary man?
10. Lines 216 to 241. What details in this description of the battle between Grendel’s mother and Beowulf add to your suspense about the outcome? At what point do you think Beowulf may not be successful? What saves him?
11. Lines 242 to 254. How does Beowulf kill Grendel’s mother?
12. Lines 257 to 274. What is Beowulf’s final revenge against Grendel? What action of Beowulfs provides a resolution, or wrapping up, of the episode?
Then he sawThe mighty water witch, and swung his sword,
His ring-marked blade, straight at her head;The iron sang its fierce song,Sang Beowulf’s strength. But her guestDiscovered that no sword could slice her evilSkin, that Hrunting could not hurt her, was useless Now when he needed it. They wrestled, she rippedAnd tore and clawed at him, bit holes in his helmet,And that too failed him; for the first time in yearsOf being worn to war it would earn no glory;It was the last time anyone would wear it. But Beowulf Longed only for fame, leaped back
Into battle. He tossed his sword aside,Angry; the steel-edged blade lay whereHe’d dropped it. If weapons were useless he’d useHis hands, the strength in his fingers. So fameComes to the men who mean to win itAnd care about nothing else!
His heart still angry. He was hunting anotherDead monster, and took his weapon with himFor final revenge against Grendel’s viciousAttacks, his nighttime raids, overAnd over, coming to Herot when Hrothgar’sMen slept, killing them in their beds,Eating some on the spot, fifteenOr more, and running to his loathsome moorWith another such sickening meal waitingIn his pouch. But Beowulf repaid him for those visits,Found him lying dead in his corner,Armless, exactly as that fierce fighterHad sent him out from Herot, then struck offHis head with a single swift blow. The bodyJerked for the last time, then lay still….
Examining our Hero
In the Hero freewrite, you were asked to list the qualities and virtues of your personal hero.
The class listed honesty, courage, integrity and loyalty as essential characteristics.
In the last passage, Beowulf show himself to be boastful, vengeful and motivated by fame.
Is he really an archetypal hero??
Assignment: Read and Respond to Beowulf Part Two
Sign into your account at my.hrw.com. Read pages 33-38 in the online book. To help you understand what is happening in the story, answer each of the following questions, as you come across certain lines in the text.
275 to 287.
How is this older Beowulf different from the Beowulf who slew Grendel and his mother?
288 to 296. How does Beowulf’s acceptance of fate show his deep sense of responsibility to his people?
Intro to Part Two
Beowulf carries Grendel’s head to King Hrothgar and then returns gift-laden to the land of the Geats, where he succeeds to the throne. After fifty winters pass, Beowulf, now an old man, faces his final task: He must fight a dragon who, angry because a thief has stolen a jeweled cup from the dragon’s hoard of gold, is laying waste to the Geats’ land. Beowulf and eleven warriors are guided to the dragon’s lair by the thief who stole the cup. For Beowulf the price of this last victory will be great.
The Final Battle Lines 275-296
Then he addressed each dear companionone final time, those fighters in their helmets,resolute and high-born: "I would rather notuse a weapon if I knew another wayto grapple with the dragon and make good my boast as I did against Grendel in days gone by.But I shall be meeting molten venomin the fire he breathes, so I go forthin mail-shirt and shield. I won’t shift a footwhen I meet the cave-guard: what occurs on the wall between the two of us will turn out as fate,overseer of men, decides. I am resolved.I scorn further words against this sky-borne foe.
"Men at arms, remain here on the barrow,°safe in your armour, to see which one of us is better in the end at bearing woundsin a deadly fray. This fight is not yours,nor is it up to any man except meto measure his strength against the monsteror to prove his worth. I shall win the gold by my courage, or else mortal combat,doom of battle, will bear your lord away."
Then he drew himself up beside his shield.The fabled warrior in his warshirt and helmettrusted in his own strength entirely and went under the crag. No coward path.Hard by the rock-face that hale° veteran,a good man who had gone repeatedlyinto combat and danger and come through,saw a stone arch and a gushing stream that burst from the barrow, blazing and waftinga deadly heat. It would be hard to surviveunscathed near the hoard, to hold firmagainst the dragon in those flaming depths.Then he gave a shout. The lord of the Geats unburdened his breast and broke outin a storm of anger. Under grey stonehis voice challenged and resounded clearly.Hate was ignited. The hoard-guard recognizeda human voice, the time was over for peace and parleying.° Pouring forthin a hot battle-fume, the breath of the monsterburst from the rock. There was a rumble under ground.
What is the rumble??
What happens next??