In my storyteller’s version of Beowulf, Grendel doesn’t speak, but his mother does. As descendants of Cain and the last two forest demons of their kind, they represent all that was terrifying to humans in the medieval darkness. Forests were always thick and close back then, and no electricity lit the earth. Let’s hope those times don’t return.
Robert Zemeckis, in his animated 2007 film version of Beowulf, made Grendel a multicolored, hairless giant. Straying even further from the original story, Zemeckis presented Grendel’s Mother as a sexy Angelina Jolie with smooth golden skin, naked most of the time. Both Grendel and his mother spoke words.
For my version, I’ve gone a more traditional route and followed the basic Beowulf text, imagining Grendel as giant wolf on two legs who can roar, and that’s about it. His mother is a female version of this species of ancient forest demon, covered with fur and just as big. She speaks in a terrifying shrill voice. There’s nothing sexy about her.
Tasked as I am to create voice characterizations for my tales, I spent considerable time exploring my lowest, most guttural vocal register for Grendel. What he emotes is roaring fury. Unbridled, explosive fury. He possesses cruel confidence, both in his invulnerability—he has magic, blade-resistant fur—and in his ability to kill, at least until he meets Beowulf in the mead hall. His persona takes a lot of energy to create. I dread to think what I look like when I enact him.
I don’t watch myself do these things. I just work in my trance.
Grendel’s screechy, crafty mother, on the other hand, is signaled by a rapidamente motif on 12-string guitar and her heavy running footfalls. “Killer has a sword,” she thinks in her underwater cave as Beowulf sinks down toward her, “what kind of sword?” If a blade is giant-made, she fears it. Human-made blades cannot cut her. Instead, they vaporize, something Beowulf discovers to his horror when he tries to cut off her head, and it doesn’t work.
Two very different monsters. Two very different voices.
There are plenty of other character voices in Beowulf: The Only One, including Beowulf, Hrothgar the King and various thanes.