By Frank Gori
They have seen my strength for themselves,
Have watched me rise from the darkness of war,
Dripping with my enemies' blood. I drove
Five great giants into chains, chased
All of that race from the earth. I swam
In the blackness of night, hunting monsters
Out of the ocean, and killing them one
By one; death was my errand and the fate
They had earned. Now Grendel and I are called
Together, and I've come. –Beowulf
Beowulf has some obtuse turns for a modern audience. The story builds up Grendel as the primary threat when we eventually learn that his mother is a greater threat. The two conflicts establish Beowulf as a hero, but then we skip to fifty year later when Beowulf is an old king for his last battle against a dragon.
For once I think the movie made a better story. Grendal’s mom being the most compelling villain, partly because she acts first on vengeance which for the culture was a proper response to Grendel’s death. When the hero confronts the mother she seduces and uses him, in time he is forced to face that and his own weakness.
Back to the written work, what makes Grendal’s mother a more potent threat for me is the lair. I think this is a good lesson for fantasy design, its not filled with traps but obstacles and the set up is creepy. The lair mimics a hall like the one Beowulf is from, it’s a twisted mirror of culture, modeled the same way but inaccessible to society.
Give Beowulf another read it sounds like an RPG campaign, there’s even a sword that kills the main bad guy in the dungeon. Apologies to my regulars I do not have the energy for more crunch today… Consider this another open call throw an email in the comments section and we’ll chat.