February 07, 2011

Dealing with monsters

Say what you want about human conflict, but literature would be a lot duller--or maybe even non-existent--without it. I remember a high school English class when a teacher explained that pretty much all of it had to do with conflict, either between characters, between characters and nature, or within characters. There might be some exceptions in this post-modern age, but he had a point

Imagine, for example, how dull Beowulf might have been if the creatures in it were expert at resolving conflict. In the epic, the monster Grendel is bothered by the noise of king Hrothgar's mead hall, where he and his boys revel all night:

Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
to hear the din of the loud banquet
every day in the hall, the harp being struck
and the clear song of a skilled poet
telling with mastery of man's beginnings.

Eventually, he starts eating people there. Imagine instead this scenario instead:

GRENDEL: Sorry to bother you, Hrothgar, but I've been having a little trouble sleeping since you built your mead hall. I know that this is very important for you but would appreciate it if you could keep the noise level down a bit. The thing is, I have a tendency to eat a bunch of people when I get upset and I'd rather that not happen.

HROTHGAR: Gee, Grendel, I never thought about that. We always have such a great time drinking, feasting and listening to the bard that I never thought this could bother anybody. But you have to understand that someone in my position has to have a place like that to give gifts and keep my boys happy--otherwise they wouldn't fight for me when I needed it.

GRENDEL: I totally appreciate that. Maybe we could agree that you guys could revel for a while but try keeping it down after, say, midnight. And since you've recently converted to Catholicism, maybe you could try something like bingo when it gets late.

HROTHGAR: Bingo...I never thought of that. How about we try this for a few weeks and see how it works: we'll tone it down after midnight and will even cut you in some livestock every now and then if you'll refrain from eating my guys.

GRENDEL: Deal. Thanks! See you around.

That just doesn't do it for me.

DUMBING DOWN. Here's Leonard Pitts on our falling away from science.

SWORDS TO PLOWS. Literally. This story is about an effort to help combat veterans from the current wars to try their hand at organic farming.

FOOD, FLOODS AND CLIMATE discussed here.



1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Or imagine if Beowulf had discerned Grendel's real grievance - he felt left out - and included him in the feasting.

I've always been fond of John Gardner's Grendel which tells it from the other side.