Grendel Summary and Analysis of Chapters 9 and 10

Chapter 9 Summary

In a cold and dark December, Grendel observes the changing religious practices of the Scyldings. They have a circle of carven gods, some wood and others stone, which Grendel once destroyed. The priests were the only Scyldings who seemed to care about the destruction, and even they went about the business of rebuilding the circle wearily and without enthusiasm.

One night, Grendel is sitting in the circle of graven gods when an old priest named Ork arrives. Grendel poses as one of the gods, The Destroyer, and asks the priest his views on the King of the Gods. The priest (who can somehow understand Grendel’s speech) gives two different explanations of the King of the Gods. First he describes the King of the Gods as the ultimate limitation and the ultimate irrationality, yet the basis for all reason; he also describes the King of the Gods as an absolute entity in relation who which all other entities measure their concreteness. Ork concludes with a universal philosophy that reality changes, and all alternatives limit the other choices for change.

Three other priests arrive and Grendel hides among the carven gods. The new arrivals chide Ork for being out in the cold night and for claiming to have spoken to one of the gods. They are frustrated with his private pursuit of a vision, wishing that he would seek his visions publicly where they will draw attention to the priests’ religion. They do not believe him and think he is growing senile.

Then a fourth priest, younger than the others, arrives and falls at Ork’s feet when he learns what has occurred. He feared for Ork’s extreme rationalism, and he sees this encounter, which he believes to be a product of Ork’s irrational mind, as a sign of the old priest’s reconciliation of his reason and his imagination. Although Grendel had intended to slaughter the priests, this last priest’s talk of religion squelches his bloodlust.

Chapter 9 Analysis

The religious devotion of the village has turned to hypocrisy. The four priests demonstrate that they do not believe the very words they preach. Ork is an anomaly to them, a “lunatic priest” who may cause problems with his fanaticism. Grendel sees this intentional deception, but does not understand it, even though he has perpetuated it by pretending to be one of the old priest’s gods.

The village as a whole, including Ork in particular, parallels Grendel's own search for meaning. First coming upon something of great value (in Grendel's case, the Shaper's song), people revere and eventually worship this source of beauty or truth. Later, when worship has turned to habit, the original object of devotion is forgotten or distorted, like the Scyldings graven gods, until hypocrisy is the only real choice left. Grendel himself has reached a point where he is rebelling simply to rebel, turning his original attempts at existential self-assertion into a form of hypocrisy. He no longer believes his war against Hrothgar has any meaning, but he continues it nonetheless.

Chapter 10 Summary

Grendel discovers a mountain goat climbing up toward his mere. He warns the goat off, but recognizes that goats are meant to climb, so it will keep climbing. He throws a boulder at it, but misses. Becoming more and more frustrated, Grendel warns the goat again then tosses a broken tree-trunk at the goat. A limb catches the goat and nearly knocks it off the mountain, but still the goat attempts to climb. Grendel hits it with a stone, cracking its skull, but still the goat climbs. Grendel draws back from the goat and throws a rock at it, smashing its face. The monster smiles at his own sense of being threatened by a stupid animal.

Grendel watches as life goes on almost automatically among the Scyldings. The Shaper, long sick, dies; Grendel watches as a red-haired woman, taken by the Shaper yet ever-faithful to her own husband, reacts with stoic stillness to the news of the Shaper’s death. Grendel himself reacts to the death of the Shaper by pondering his own insane mother, wondering why she seems to know things from time to time even though he is aware of her total imbecility. He ponders the past—the passage of time which leaves some events and experiences in an immutable “then.”

At the Shaper’s funeral, the story of Finn and the golden age of the Danes is sung. The audience, particularly Hrothgar and Hrothulf, seem unmoved. Grendel sees the burning of the Shaper’s body as the sign of the end of an age for both himself and Hrothgar. That night, Grendel’s sleep is interrupted by the imagined noise of the goat still scrabbling up the mountain toward his mere.

Chapter 10 Analysis

In this chapter, Grendel embraces nihilism. His statement, “Nihil ex nihilo, I always say” stems from the sense that everyone—himself, the villagers, the empty-hearted priests—is alone since the Shaper is no longer around to give order and meaning to the universe. Despair fills the air, and emptiness is the order of the day. Grendel’s nihilism echoes that of Nietzsche. Just as Nietzsche’s God is dead, Grendel’s Shaper has now died in his world.

With the death of the Shaper, Grendel has lost even the vestiges of his earlier admiration of human artistry. This new world has no Shaper, and thus no true creativity. Thus, it may face Grendel's wrath, but his wrath is as empty as the next generation's tales without the Shaper's inspiration.