Welcome to Mythology Explained. Today, we’re discussing the epic of Beowulf, both the cinematic version and the poetic version, with a particular emphasis on Grendel’s mother’s sexual relationship with a few of the characters.
Let’s take a look at the movie’s version first.
At the heart of the movie is the killing of three monsters, first Grendel, a troll-like monster, then Grendel’s mother, a water demon, and, finally, Grendel’s mother’s second son, a dragon. Hrothgar, an elderly king, is father to the monster Grendel, having been seduced by Grendel’s mother long ago. Now, whenever there is merriment and feasting in Hrothgar’s legendary mead hall, Heorot, Grendel becomes infuriated because noise causes him great pain, driving the monster from the wilds to unleash slaughter. News of this plight reaches the ears of the hero Beowulf, who sails to Hrothgar’s lands and kills Grendel. The following night, Grendel’s mother infiltrates Heorot and nearly kills all of Beowulf’s men, which is the impetus for Beowulf seeking out Grendel’s mother in her own cavernous lair; but the hunt does not go as planned. Grendel’s mother is a shapeshifter and appears before Beowulf as a beautiful woman. Instead of killing her, Beowulf is seduced by her. They share a night of passion that forms a covenant between them. Beowulf impregnates Grendel’s mother and leaves the golden horn he has on him in her possession. In exchange Grendel’s mother promises to ensure he becomes “the greatest king who ever lived” and has “the greatest song ever sung”. Beowulf and king Hrothgar share a private conversation upon the hero’s purported triumphant return. Hrothgar quickly realizes that the burden of having slept with Grendel’s mother is no longer his to bear, it having been passed along to Beowulf, who chose sex over steel. With no sons of his own (anyone who has sex with Grendel’s mother becomes sterile) Hrothgar proclaims Beowulf to be his heir and then promptly swan dives off the parapet, killing himself. The final act of the movie is set 50 years later. Beowulf has become a mighty king and conqueror, but accomplishments that should have been the sweetest life had to bear are but ash to him. He knows he traveled the wrong road to get to where he is, and because of that, everything he achieves feels hollow. A slave then finds the golden horn on a barren patch of land. This is an ominous sign and greatly distresses Beowulf, who understands that his pact with Grendel’s mother – which was predicated in part on her having the golden horn in her possession – has come to an end and that danger is nye. A dragon, which turns out to be the son Beowulf sired by Grendel’s mother many years before, begins to terrorize his kingdom. Beowulf ends up killing it, but he later succumbs to the mortal wounds he sustains in the effort. The movie ends with Wiglaf, Beowulf’s second in command finding the golden horn on the ocean shore, which is where he spots Grendel’s mother beckoning him with her nubile appearance to wade in after her, to be the newest installment in a long line of men ensnared by her beauty.
The movie is quite similar to the original poem in most ways. The fundamental element that changes between the two versions is the role Grendel’s mother plays. She’s more pivotal in the movie and more incidental in the poem. In the movie She’s one of the main forces that drives the plot forward. Her child, Grendel, is what brings Beowulf to Hrothgar’s domain; her killing of Beowulf’s men in the night is what brings Beowulf to her cave; her seduction of Beowulf is what makes him king; and the son, a dragon, that she has by Beowulf is what ultimately claims Beowulf’s life. The reason she’s so much more integral to the plot in the movie is because she keeps seducing men and having sex with them . Allow me to belabor this point with an overwrought analogy: If the story were a chunk of conglomerate rock, all of the men who lay with Grendel’s mother are the stones, and the passionate nights they all share with Grendel’s mother is the matrix that holds the whole thing together.
…Watch the video for the rest!