Monday, November 19, 2007
An advert for the new movie Beowulf says it isn’t like the version that your high school teacher taught you. During the early sixties Carl Perrin was a high school English teacher, and he taught Beowulf. His version of the Anglo-Saxon epic was a little different also. His rendering of the story, which was published in the June 1956 issue of Phlush, a publication of St. Louis Mensa, appears below
Monsters are a generally misunderstood lot. Perhaps the most misunderstood of all monsters is Grendel. His story is told entirely from the point of view of Geats and Scyldings, and if you’re looking for the truth from a Scylding, you’ll wait for a long time. According to their story, they were sitting quietly in their meadhall (an early type of VFW hall), having a couple of quick ones when Grendel burst in and, with no provocation, devoured two or three of the Scylding gang, blood, bones and all.
This is possibly the earliest example of yellow journalism. Think of the most depraved person imaginable. Would even he be capable of doing a thing like this? There may be a grain of truth in the story, or it would not have survived over a thousand years, but most of the details are pure imagination. The Scyldings suggest that Grendel broke into their meadhall and ate several of their brethren out of pure sadism. Frankly, I can’t imagine anyone that gross.
After doing some research on the subject, I believe I can supply a more accurate account of the evening. The Scyldings say they were just having a nightcap. Well, if you’ve ever met a Scylding or a Geat, you know there’s no such thing as a “couple of drinks” where either is concerned. When a couple of Scyldings got together for what they call a few drinks, it was one hell of an evening. Did you ever see a Scylding that could talk quietly, even sober? Not on your spear. Normally Scyldings shout at the top of their lungs, and each drink raises the volume by at least five decibels. (See Schwartzkopf, Hans. Getrunkenstudiert. Heorot, 805.)
Now imagine living next door to a family of these souses. There is no doubt whatever that the first couple of times this so-called monster—Grendel—came to the meadhall, he merely knocked on the door and said something like, “Look, fellows, hold it down, will you? I’ve got to go to work on the early shift.” Whether they even understood him in their besotted state is a loaded question, but there is little doubt that their answer was a drunken giggle and a call for another round of mead. What was Grendel to do? He tried to call the police, but they were out moonlighting at other meadhalls. Cotton in the ear had little effect.
If this had happened once, or even occasionally, it might have been bearable, but night after night after night! Grendel lost weight. His eyes were red rimmed. His reflexes were awry. He was hoarse. He inadvertently stuck his finger into a spear sharpener and ground it to a fine point before he could stop himself.
One night, or morning, at about three-thirty, after Grendel had been tossing and turning for five hours, and the party was particularly wild, something inside him snapped. He ran all the way to the meadhall and threw the door open. The look on his face was, well, monstrous. His hair pointed every which way. There was a heavy stubble on his chin. His eyes were bloodshot. Two of his fingers were sharpened to a fine point.
Grendel shoved Charlie Scylding, who was too paralyzed to fight back and too drunk to refrain from egging the monster on. During the ensuing brawl, Grendel bit Harry Geat on the right choleric humor. That’s that. That stuff about gulping blood and bone is pure libel. Grendel was guilty of nothing that would be unexpected of any normal man.