In the wild lands beyond the homes of the Spear-Danes a grim and powerful
monster lived in the darkness. The creature's shape was not unlike a man's,
but his hideous head was sunk between his hunched shoulders and his eyes
were set deep into his skull. His lipless mouth was wide with sharp and
vicious teeth. His matted hair smelled foul, and his skin was blistered with
festering sores. His long arms hung loosely at his sides. On each hand and
foot were curved and terrible iron claws. During the day, when the sky was
filled with light, he would stay hidden away in the marshes. He hated the
brightness and preferred to stay hidden from the sight of humans. But when
night fell, he would creep out from his lair and sniff the air like an animal,
peering around to make sure that he wasn't seen. Then he would go hunting,
killing anything or anyone in his way. This evil creature lived a savage life. His
name was Grendel.
Hrothgar, the great-grandson of Shield Sheafing, was now the king of the
Spear-Danes. Like his ancestor, he was a wise and much- loved king. Under
his rule, the Spear-Danes had become happy and prosperous. King
Hrothgar's thanes had won several battles and gathered many treasures for
the Spear-Danes. To celebrate these victories and riches, the king decided to
build a great feast hall.
"Spear-Danes," he said, "look around you! On this fine piece of land I order
that a great hall be built. It shall be the greatest building ever seen! And when
it is finished there will be feasting, merry-making, and singing, and I will
reward everyone for their work."
Spurred on by their king's speech, the men started work at once. Slowly the
hall rose, high and lofty, built from the strongest trees in the forests.
"Men from other lands will marvel at our hall!" they proclaimed.
When the building was finished, the feast hall was decorated with spun-gold
banners lining the walls. Golden cups and bowls were brought to the hall and
placed on the long table that stood at the head of the hall. Attached to to the
roof gables was a pair of stag's antlers. The hall was named "Heorot," which
King Hrothgar called everyone to Heorot for a great feast and an evening of
merry making. The hall smelled of roasting meats from the open spit and of
strong mead brewed from sweet honey and pure water. Hrothgar was
generous to his people. He gave them treasures—rings and collars, charms
and brooches made of the finest twisted gold—as a reward for their work and
for their bravery in battles.
But not everyone was happy. When King Hrothgar's brave warriors sang
about victory in the great feast hall, their voices and the music from the
minstrels' harps echoed over the lands until it reached the monster Grendel's
lair. Grendel hated hearing the laughter and singing. He hated the happiness
and friendship of the Spear-Dane warriors. His hatred grew so strong that he
could bear it no longer.
One night, under the cover of darkness, he silently stalked from his marshy
lair to Heorot. He crouched in the darkness, spying on the Spear-Danes and
loathing them for the happiness that they were enjoying. After this first secret
visit, he grew bolder, and on many nights he would creep up to Heorot's door.
Slowly his anger and hatred grew until he decided that he would destroy the
feast hall and all the people within it.