Grendel and the Grinch

I was watching the classic animated version of How the Grinch Stole Christmas the other afternoon, one of the occupational benefits of being a mostly-stay-at-home father, and I had the sudden realization that its story is parallel to the story of Beowulf in some significant ways.

First, both stories centre around a small community that is terrorized by a monster who lives in the surrounding wilderness: Whoville by the Grinch and Heorot by Grendel.  This in itself is perhaps not very remarkable, not considering the vast number of other stories that are also structured in this way, and not considering the many historical and mythological and poetical reasons that make this plot structure narratively compelling.

Where the Grinch and Grendel are really similar, however, is in their reasons for attacking their nearby communities.  Neither are motivated be greed or revenge or instinct or even hunger.  Both are motivated solely by anger at the sounds of happiness that they hear in the communities from which they are excluded.  Grendel is enraged by the revelry in Heorot, and the Grinch is similarly unable to tolerate the singing down in Whoville.

The two monsters are not just angered because there are others who are perhaps happier than they are, nor just because there is happiness from which they have been excluded.  They are angered because the others who are happier than they are have had the temerity to make their happiness loudly and vocally public.  This is the crime for which the two communities are punished, the crime of proclaiming their happiness, and in this sense at least, these two very different stories are quite similar.

I am not sure what conclusions we might draw from this parallel, but it is exactly the sort of textual connection that I cannot resist marking, so I will simply mark it and leave the rest of you to make of it what you can.

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8 comments
  1. Strangely enough, the line from the poem quoted, had me think of the scene in 13th Warrior where Fadlan begins to recount the creation, I never noticed this transposed detail before.

  2. Curtis,

    Thanks for the link. Apparently I am not nearly the first person to have noticed the connection between the two stories.

  3. Unfortunately, I would love to see this expand, but as Beowulf is more than 2500 lines, and the Grinch is but twenty five pages, illustrated, at that, I don’t see it going much further.

  4. I was walking home today thinking about this still… and another pop culture transposition of Beowulf came to me, the ‘Friday the 13th’ franchise treats Jason exactly like Grendel. He’s someone who has directly suffered as a result of exuberant revelry and negligence, who then comes a seeks vengeance, even on those who had nothing to do with his suffering. Taking the Original movie from the eighties, where his mother is the person killing everyone, the rendition becomes complete- though it is interesting how the ‘hero’, is then two different crowds of people. Just thought I would mention it, as it seemed most interesting and relevant.

  5. Monique said:

    I, too, made this connection a few days ago b/c I’ve watched the Xmas special about 5 times over the past week (I have a toddler) and I teach Beowulf. During the “Welcome Christmas” song, I thought, “Wait a moment…” Too bad Grendel dies before his heart grows three times. I’ll be sure to point it out to my students.

  6. Monique,

    I am picturing an alternative ending to Beowulf where Grendel’s heart does indeed grow three sizes larger, and he ends up in Heorot carving the roast beast. I may have to write this version for my own entertainment.

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