Grendel Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5 and 6

Chapter 5 Summary

Grendel meets the dragon, an ancient, red-gold, gigantic creature resting upon and guarding its hoard of golden treasures. The dragon mocks Grendel, claiming to know his thoughts—in fact, to know everything that ever has happened or will happen. It attempts to engage Grendel in deep philosophical discourse regarding the nature of reality, but is frustrated by Grendel’s inability to comprehend. The dragon shares Grendel’s disdain for humanity, but tells Grendel that Grendel’s very presence is what inspires them to greater glory. Grendel attempts to argue that he will avoid humanity and thus not help them in their development, but the dragon laughs at his futile attempt at free will. Grendel also attempts to defend the words of the Shaper, which the dragon dismisses as mere nonsense created by inferior beings to help them feel safe and significant in an indifferent universe.

Chapter 5 Analysis

Grendel’s encounter with the dragon is an encounter with the philosophies of materialism and nihilism. The dragon directly contradicts the Shaper’s concept of God, insisting instead that the universe is impersonal and consists simply of entities that exist. The dragon also offers Grendel a place in this universe: he is the monster, the affliction on humanity that will lead the human race to think, to create, and to develop. Grendel has difficulty understanding the dragon’s words and so cannot immediately accept his place in the universe according to the dragon’s metaphysics. He falls back to the Shaper’s views, which he at least finds comprehensible, if not palatable.

That Grendel does not wholly accept the dragon's philosophical outlook hints strongly that he has not completely given up on either humanity or himself. The Shaper is too strong an influence; the "redemptive power of art" (a favorite Gardner theme) offers Grendel a chance to avoid a life of blind materialism or empty existentialism.

Chapter 6 Summary

Grendel discovers that his encounter with the dragon has changed him not only mentally, but also physically. The dragon has put a charm on him so that no weapon will ever cut him. His reaction to the Shaper’s songs changes, as well: no longer moved to loneliness and awe, Grendel now reacts with anger at the humans’ willing self-deceptions. He discovers his invulnerability to weapons by accident, when a guard manages to come up behind him as he listens to the celebration in Hrothgar’s mead hall. Once he knows he cannot be harmed, Grendel bursts into a fit of mania, waving the hapless guard about to show the other warriors that he does not fear them.

A few nights later, Grendel launches the first in a long series of raids against Hrothgar’s village. He sneaks in at night and devours some of the warriors, killing them as they sleep. On a later raid, Grendel encounters Unferth, a mighty warrior who would make a futile attempt to become Grendel’s nemesis. Grendel mocks Unferth’s heroic challenge by pelting him with apples, and then escapes back to his subterranean home. Unferth follows, swimming through the pool of fire-snakes to arrive, bedraggled and weak, in Grendel’s lair. Grendel mocks him further and, in an ultimate act of mockery, refuses to fight Unferth. Having failed to properly fight Grendel (or to be killed in the process), Unferth collapses from exhaustion. Grendel carries his limp body back to Hrothgar’s mead hall and deposits him there, much to the Danes’ astonishment and Unferth’s chagrin. From that point on, Unferth would occasionally attack Grendel on one of the monster’s raids, but to no avail.

Chapter 6 Analysis

Although he has difficulty understanding all the dragon has told him, Grendel accepts that he has a place in the cosmos as a being who exists and creates his own meaning from that existence. Grendel has become an existentialist, and he parodies the Christian belief in spiritual rebirth when he describes himself as “born again.” He feels confident in moving beyond the seeming duality of his experience and the Shaper’s words into making himself what he wishes to be; he is now “Grendel, Ruiner of Mead halls, Wrecker of Kings!” He will define himself, but does not seem to realize that he must do so in relation to others (in this case Hrothgar) and so is not the sole creator of his own meaning.

Grendel’s encounter with Unferth gives his existentialism a temporary victory. Unferth’s ideal of heroism is undone by Grendel’s sheer power and the monster’s refusal to play along with the heroic idea. Unferth cannot kill Grendel, and Grendal refuses to kill the would-be hero. Thus, glory is denied Unferth and the warrior’s heroic ideals are shattered.

The dragon’s spell, which renders Grendel immune to harm by human weapons, further separates him from the human race he sometimes wishes to join. Not merely deformed, Grendel is now a being of a different order than humans, as he is practically immortal.