Tuesday, 2 July 2013

My opinions regarding Grendel's Mother

Seeing that my blog title is as it is, maybe the subject of Grendel's Mother is a good place to start. This was the subject of my MA thesis, so I've done my research and watched all the crappy films that come with it (and let's not get started on the absolute rubbish (well, this 'Josh' fellow doesn't seem to think so, but that's what friends are for, eh?) that was camouflaged as literature).

I am an unapologetic fan of Grendel's Mother - I see her as a powerful and role-transcending woman (note how I say "woman", and not "sea-hag" or "monstrous ogress"). I feel that she has been given an extremely hard doing over the years, and has been incorrectly portrayed in many of the hundreds of translations of Beowulf, along with her appearances in literature, comics, film and TV (with few exceptions!).

From the outset, it would seem that the figure of Grendel's Mother just hasn't really attracted much attention - her scenes in the poem are often seen as fillers, as irrelevant , or unconnected with the rest of the poem, or seen as merely a transition between Beowulf's fights with Grendel and the dragon. Some critics, like J.R.R Tolkien (Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics), for instance, seem to have read a copy of the poem that's missing quite a number of pages, as they appear to have forgotten about Grendel's Mother. In fact, Tolkien appears to pretty much ignore all the female characters in the poem, transforming Beowulf into some sort of exclusively-male poem (obviously many still view it as so).
Why does he ignore Grendel's Mother? Is it because she's female? It's hardly because she isn't a capable foe - in fact, she puts up quite a fight, and puts her historically much more famous son to shame as far as I'm concerned. As it turns out, I can't answer why Tolkien ignores Grendel's Mother, or why so many other critics brush her out of the way and concentrate on the apparently more important men in the poem, but I can throw out some guesses in due course.

To liven things up, here are some re-imaginings of Grendel's Mother, in art and media, to get an idea of how the majority seem to view her:

Angelina Jolie as Grendel's Mother - complete with gold paint and stiletto-feet

Did you know: Grendel's Mother played the troll from the Mines of Moria in The Fellowship of the Ring...well you do now

Two mouths. Cool

da fug is this?

From Gareth Hinds' comic version. I honestly loved the artwork in this, but didn't love Grendel's Mother's sagging chest :(

So...uh...yeah. Although, out of these, her portrayal in the 2007 Beowulf by Zemickis, where she is played by Angelina Jolie is probably the most accurate, in a way (fun fact: only the face is Jolie's. Grendel's Mother's hot body is actually played by Rachel Berstein, swimwear model, cause y'know, Angelina's body just isn't what anybody wants to see - but this is an issue for another day). Why? Because, at least here she looks somewhat human (minus the gold and the tail), disregarding when she turns into that...thing...seen in the second last picture, which kind of looks like it started off life when it burst through John Hurt's stomach.

Zemickis is obviously an Alien fan

I guess this is where I state my views on Grendel's Mother (provided you haven't already guessed) - I do not believe that she was intended to be a monster (or "swamp-thing" or "sea-hag" for that matter!). I believe she is, plain and simple, a woman, because, in my humble opinion, the original Old English just does not translate that way. "So, what", you say, "she's just, like, some really strong woman who happens to live in a cave and almost kills Beowulf? Haw haw, yeah right". YES. PRETTY MUCH. And I plan to state my case in a coming blog post, and then probably go on to nitpick every media adaptation of her. 

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