Beowulf is a classical epic poem which describes Beowulf’s heroic deeds and his acts towards bringing justice and peace to the Scandinavian society by eradicating Grendel. The original manuscript (700-1000A.D.) and the modern film (2005) reveals significant differences between the characters’ traits and descriptions, an important quotation, descriptions of places, motives, a character’s presence and events that have taken place. Thus, this modern adaptation, Beowulf and Grendel, of an ancient text, Beowulf, is significantly flawed as any modern adaptation of an ancient text will be.
In the film, specific characters are portrayed differently as they are in the poem. A significant example of this is from the character, Grendel. The poem portrays Grendel as a demon who is ultimately evil and a descendant of Cain. The image of Grendel the poem gives its readers is nothing compared to that of a human’s traits and characteristics. “ He was spawned in that slime, conceived by a pair of those monsters born of Cain, murderous creatures banished by God, punished forever for the crime of Abel’s death.” (Beowulf, lines 41-45) This quotation shows us that Grendel was portrayed as a very non-human character, he was displayed more of a monster and a creature than a human.
“The Almighty drove those demons out, and their exile was bitter, into a thousand forms of evil---spirits and fiends, goblins, monsters, giants, a brood forever opposing the Lord’s will, and again and again defeated.” (Beowulf, lines 45-51) This quotation reveals the fact that Grendel was being contrasted to the many forms of evil in which none resemble any human characteristics or traits, and this quote also foreshadows the eventual defeat of Grendel. “ A powerful monster, living down in the darkness, growled in pain, impatient as day after day the music rang loud in that hall.” (Beowulf, lines 23-26) This quotation clearly states that Grendel is a monster which lives in darkness and antagonizes the celebrations in the mead-hall which is clearly a sign of a non-human characteristic.
Grendel is a demonic and evil figure which represented evil within the Scandinavian society and also Satan’s presence on earth. “Grendel, who haunted the moors, the wild marshes, and made his home in a hell not hell but earth.” (Beowulf, lines 39-41)
In contrast, the film characterizes Grendel as more of a troll and savage than a demon. Also, in the film Grendel is given some human characteristics contrasting to the very non-human characteristics given to Grendel in the poem.
These human characteristics in the film are illustrated in the following examples: Grendel urinates on the mead-hall’s front entrance while Beowulf and his soldiers are waiting to attack; when Grendel attacks the mead-hall he does not kill the monk which was outside praying because the monk was not Danish and had done nothing to him; and Grendel creates his own version of bowling with the heads of Danes being the pins and rocks being the bowling balls. These examples of human characteristics indicate that the film version of Grendel is portrayed as more “human” than in the epic poem.
Also, another convincing example of character contrast is King Hrothgar, the king of the Danes, in the poem was displayed as a confident, courageous, and powerful King which reigned over the Danish territory. Even though Grendel’s haunt terrorized the Danes, Hrothgar is still shown to be there for his people and to lead the Danes out of this terrible situation. With the arrival of Beowulf, Hrothgar’s confidence and courage to defeat Grendel’s haunt is elevated even further. “ Hrothgar, gray-haired and brave, sat happily listening, the famous ring-giver sure, at last, that Grendel could be killed; he believed in Beowulf’s bold strength and the firmness of his spirit.” (Beowulf, lines 327-330)
In the film, Hrothgar is shown as a weak and demoralizing leader which has no confidence or courage to defeat Grendel. He falls into a great depression and is often intoxicated in the middle of the day and displays no signs of leadership to his people. For example, in the film, Hrothgar awakes in the morning and sees his soldiers slaughtered after a night of Grendel’s killings. He runs up to one of them and kneels beside them and begins to weep and screams that he should be buried here with them because he cannot do anything to stop Grendel. Here, Hrothgar is confused and does not know what to do to stop this “troll”. Even with the arrival of Beowulf and his heroic stories and confidence to defeat Grendel, Hrothgar is still pictured as a depressed and weak character. An example in the film that Hrothgar is still confused and depressed even after the arrival of Beowulf is when Hrothgar and Beowulf argue on the upper floor of the mead-hall after two unsuccessful nights of trying to defeat Grendel. Hrothgar is agitated and impatient to the fact that Beowulf has still not eliminated Grendel . This argument is an example that Hrothgar is still very worried and depressed even with the arrival of a great hero, Beowulf. These examples show that King Hrothgar in the film, is a character that has fell into a permanent depression and lacks courage, confidence, and leadership qualities. These qualities greatly contrast with the qualities of Hrothgar in the poem which symbolizes him as a great leader even through times of hardship.
Beowulf is written in the form of Old English and the film is recorded in a modern perspective and many of the poem’s words and quotations are not utilized to its full extent and context. A great example of this is found in Unferth’s taunt towards Beowulf. Unferth, in both the poem and the film, is a Danish warrior who doubts Beowulf can defeat Grendel and taunts him out of jealousy. Unferth’s taunt in both the film and the poem represents the doubts in the Danes that Beowulf cannot repulse Grendel.
Although, the character of Unferth remains unchanged in the poem and the film the quotation of the taunt is extremely altered. In the film, Unferth taunts Beowulf by saying, “Grendel can kill numbers of Danish troops in the mead-hall when they are in sight of him, what makes thirty Geats so great?” Beowulf’s reply to this taunt was, “we won’t be asleep!” This taunt and reply greatly differs from what is found in the poem: “You’re Beowulf, are you---the same boastful fool who fought a swimming match with Brecca, both of you daring and young and proud, exploring the deepest seas, risking your lives for no reason but the danger? All older and wiser heads warned you not to, but no one could check such pride. With Brecca at your side you swam along the sea-paths, your swift-moving hands pulling you over the ocean’s face. Then winter churned through the water, the waves ran you as they willed, and you struggled seven long nights to survive. And at end the victory was his, not yours. The sea carried him close to his home, to southern Norway, near the land of the Brondings, where he ruled and was loved, where his treasure was piled and his strength protected his towns and his people. He’d promised to outswim you: Bonstain’s son made that boast ring true. You’ve been lucky in your battles, Beowulf, but I think your luck may change if you challenge Grendel, staying a whole night in this all, waiting where that fiercest of demons can find you.”(Beowulf, lines 226-248) Beowulf’s answer to this taunt was, “Ah! Unferth, my friend, your face is hot with ale, and your tongue has tried to tell us about Brecca’s doings. But the truth is simple: no man swims the sea as I can, no strength is a match for mine. As boys, Brecca and I had boasted---we were both too young to know better---that we’d risk our lives far out at sea, and so we did. Each of us carried a naked sword, prepared for whales or the swift sharp teeth and beaks of needlefish, He could never leave me behind, swim faster across the waves than I could, and I had chosen to remain close to his side. I remained near him for five long nights, until a flood swept us apart; the frozen sea surged around me. It grew dark, the wind turned bitter, blowing from the north, and the waves were savage. Creatures who sleep deep in the sea were stirred into life---and the iron hammered links of my mail shirt, these shining bits of metal woven across my breast, saved me from death. A monster seized me, drew me swiftly toward the bottom, swimming with its claws tight in my flesh. But fate let me find its heart with my sword, hack myself free; I fought that beast’s last battle, left it floating lifeless in the sea. Other monsters crowded around me, continually attacking. I treated them politely, offering the edge of my razor-sharp sword. But the feast, I think, did not please them, filled their evil bellies with no banquet-rich food, thrashing there at the bottom of the sea; by morning they’d decided to sleep on the shore, lying on their backs, their blood spilled out on the sand. Afterwards, sailors could cross that sea-road and feel no fear; nothing would stop their passing. Then God’s bright beacon appeared in the east, the water lay still, and at last I could see the land, wind-swept cliff walls at the edge of the coast. Fate slaves the living when they drive away death by themselves! Lucky or not, nine was the number of sea-huge monsters I killed, What man, anywhere under Heaven’s high arch, has fought in such darkness, endured more misery or been harder pressed? Yet I survived the sea, smashed the monsters’ hot jaws, swam home from my journey. The swift-flowing waters swept me along and I landed on Finnish soil. I’ve heard no tales of you, Unferth, telling of such clashing terror, such contests in the night! Brecca’s battles were never so bold; neither he nor you can match me---and I mean no boast, have announced no more than I know to be true. And there’s more: you murdered your brothers, your own close kin. Words and bright wit won’t help your soul; you’ll suffer hell’s fires, Unferth, forever tormented. Ecglaf’s proud son, if your hands were as hard, your heart as fierce as you think it, no fool would dare to raid your hall, ruin Herot and oppress its prince, as Grendel has done. But he’s learned that terror is his alone, discovered he can come for your people with no fear of reprisal; he’s found no fighting, here, but only food, only delight. He murders as he likes, with no mercy, gorges and feasts on your flesh, and expects no trouble, no quarrel from the quiet Danes. Now the Geats will show him courage, soon, he can test his strength in battle. And when the sun comes up again, opening another bright day from the south, anyone in Denmark may enter this hall: that evil will be gone!”(Beowulf, lines 250-326)
The description of certain places in the poem and in the film varies immensely. King Hrothgar’s Mead-Hall, Herot is defined in the poem to be extremely large, glorious, grand, and constructed only out of the finest material where it was only a destination to honorable warriors returning from battle.” The work was ordered, the timbers tied and shaped by the hosts that Hrothgar ruled. It was quickly ready, that most beautiful dwellings, built as he’d wanted, and then he whose word was obeyed all over the earth named it Herot.” (Beowulf, lines 11-19) It was also a place where loyalty was rewarded, traditions were preserved, and most importantly, stories were told and reputations were built and spread.” And in that hall he’d divide the spoils of their victories, to old and young what they’d earned in battle, but leaving the common pastures untouched, and taking no lives.” (Beowulf, lines 7-11 )It was also a place that provided much light and warmth, drinks and food, and singing and celebrations. ”As day after day the music rang loud in that hall, the harp’s rejoicing call and the poet’s clear songs, sung of the ancient beginnings of us all.” (Beowulf, lines 25-28) This description of the mead-hall, Herot, in the poem presents a very majestic and elegant view towards the physical and mental structure of the hall to its readers. “To build a hall that would hold his mighty band and reach higher toward Heaven than anything that had ever been known to the sons of men.”(Beowulf, lines 5-7)
But in the film, the hall is depicted at variance. The film contributes to the degrading of the hall in contrast to the poem. As mentioned above, the hall is described to be grand and elegant in the poem, but the film diminishes the greatness of the hall by showing its viewers a filthy and unimpressive small room which is incomparable to the description of the room in the poem. The hall in the film does not meet the standard of illuminating the glorious achievements of the warriors and the light and warmth to its viewers in my opinion. These differences play a major role in the contrast between the description of a place in the film and in the epic poem, which is yet another significant example that a modern adaptation of an antique text is flawed.
In the poem, it hints that Grendel’s hatred against the Danes comes from his loneliness and jealousy. Grendel is conceived “by a pair of those monsters born of Cain, murderous creatures banished by God.” (Beowulf, lines 42-44) and he is jealous of the celebrations, happiness, and the light and warmth the Danes obtain in the mead-hall because only loneliness and darkness lies in his lair. His jealousy causes him to involve himself in an evil activity of murdering those who share warmth and happiness in the hall.”A powerful monster, living down in the darkness, growled in pain, impartient as day after day the music rang loud in that hall, the harp’s rejoicing call and the poet’s clear songs.” (Beowulf, lines 23-27) Grendel ‘s hatred towards the Danes in the poem is most significantly caused by his loneliness and jealousy.
In the poem, Grendel does not attempt to kill Hrothgar because the king, during the ancient times, was considered to be a direct descendant from the Almighty God and Grendel understands this and does not want to challenge the Almighty God. “Though he lived in Herot, when the night hid him, he never dared to touch King Hrothgar’s glorious throne, protected by God.” (Beowulf, lines 103-106)
The film portrays Grendel’s hatred towards the Danes extremely different. In the film, Grendel’s aggression towards the Danes is caused by the fact that King Hrothgar slays his father for crossing Hrothgar’s path and taking Hrothgar’s fish. Grendel witnessed this life-changing event as a child. Hrothgar sees Grendel as a child but does not kill him perhaps because Hrothgar cannot act against his conscience to kill an innocent young boy. Grendel cuts off his father’s head and stores it safely in his cave, this shows that Grendel bestows much respect and love to his father. Grendel takes revenge against all Danes except for Hrothgar himself because he will not kill the Dane who spared his life, this acts in contrast as to why Grendel does not kill Hrothgar in the poem. By not killing Hrothgar in the film, Grendel shows an important ethic and moral code in the Anglo-Saxon culture that one must take revenge by killing the people that have done harm to one’s kin and also that one must remember the good that has been acted upon oneself.
Grendel’s hatred towards the Danes in the film greatly contrasts with the hatred that he has against the Danes in the poem. This is another illustration which shows that the motives in a modern adaptation of an ancient text is flawed.
The poem does not display any indication of a character named Selma, whereas in the film a new character is introduced under the name of Selma. The film portrays Selma as a witch that can foresee the death of people and is a woman that Beowulf falls in love with. She also had a sexual relationship with Grendel which eventually lead to her pregnancy and bearing of their son. Thus, continuing Grendel’s legacy of savagery and evil within the Danish society and this greatly alters the meaning of the poem by allowing Grendel’s influence and terror to haunt the Danes which contradicts the poem’s meaning that Grendel has been defeated forever.This addition of a new character is a major flaw in the modern adaptation of Beowulf because the poem does not indicate this character at all and this character causes the alternation in the meaning of the poem. Thus, this is another strong example that the modern adaptation of Beowulf is flawed.
The events that have taken place in the poem and the film are differentiated greatly.
In the poem, Beowulf successfully kills Grendel armed with only armor but no sword on the first night he was there and he kills him with ease by tearing off his arm.” Grendel saw that his strength was deserting him, his claws bound fast, Higlac’s brave follower teraing at his hands. The monster’s hatred rose higher, but his power had gone. He twisted in pain, and the bleeding sinews deep in his shoulder snapped, muscle and bone split and broke.” (Beowulf, lines 463-470) Also in the poem, Grendel wants to battle Beowulf and the Geats and faces them without any hesitation. Grendel snatched at the first Geat he came to, ripped him apart, cut his body to bits with powerful jaws, drank the blood from his veins and bolted him down, hands and feet; death and Grendel’s greath teeth came together; snapping life shut.” (Beowulf, lines 392-298) In contrast to this, the film shows its viewers that Beowulf was unsuccessful in killing Grendel in consecutively two nights. Also, on the second night Grendel runs instead of fighting the Geats because he does not want to battle the Geats for they have done no harm to him. The Geats trigger Grendel’s anger and hatred by invading his cave and destroying his father’s skeleton head and this gives the reason for Grendel to attack the Geats. Also, in the film, Beowulf does not defeat Grendel with ease but instead with a trap that Beowulf has set up by tying a rope around Grendel’s hand and also Beowulf battles Grendel with a sword. The defeat of Grendel by Beowulf is perhaps the most significant difference between the poem and the film because the film diminishes Beowulf’s heroic attributes. This is a significant illustration that the events that have taken place in a modern adaptation of an ancient text are flawed because Beowulf’s heroism is central to the meaning of the poem and the film diminishes his heroism and alters the meaning of the poem.
Beowulf and Grendel, which is a modern adaptation of the ancient text, Beowulf, reveals many significant differences and flaws in contrast with the classic epic poem, Beowulf. The critical flaws of the film change the original poem and its true meaning and diminish many of the poem’s attributes. Because the film was filmed thousands of years after in a modern perspective, there are flaws that have been made either with or without any intention. Hence, I firmly agree with the statement that any modern adaptation of an ancient text will be flawed, especially in relation to the film, Beowulf and Grendel.