Beowulf vs. Grendel
Before we start in on one of written history’s oldest badasses, it’s important to note issues with the source material. There isn’t one complete manuscript of Beowulf’s story, and the ones we have face many translation issues. On top of that, the people capable of transposing the oral story told by the scops (bards) were men of the cloth, resulting in many Christian overtones attached that alter the themes and characters of the story as well.
Enough with the disclaimer, let’s get to what the audience wants: barehanded monster wrestling.
The story begins with Beowulf and a boat full of his buddies coming to Denmark to aid King Hrothgar who, to put it mildly, has hospitality issues. Hrothgar had built a mighty mead hall called Herot described as “splendid and decorated with gold” and “foremost of halls under heaven”, and the parties there were awesome. The downside was that the merrymaking held therein enraged a local monster Grendel, who had a nasty habit of eating the guests after they inevitably passed out. And they would always pass out; if you don’t drink enough mead at Herot to black out, you’re being an Anglo-Saxon wrong.
But this horrible man-eating monster didn’t scare Beowulf. He and his thanes agreed to stand watch in the night over Herot and slay Grendel. Beowulf also declares that since Grendel is a monster that has horrible claws and supernatural strength, there’s no way he knows how to use a sword. Therefore the only sporting thing to do is fight Grendel with nothing but his fists. Anglo-Saxons are not remembered as great logicians.
So Grendel shows up, kicks in the door and eats the first Geat he sees. Beowulf lets it happen, and pretends to be asleep—cunning strategy. Still hungry, Grendel reaches out to snack on another tasty human, except this time he grabs for Beowulf, who responds by putting him in the mother of all arm-bars. There is a great struggle, but Beowulf’s heroic strength holds, and tears Grendel’s arm and shoulder clear off. Fatally wounded, he retreats back to his lair leaving Beowulf with a grotesque trophy and another excuse to party.
But even with the monster slain, something is rotten in the state of Denmark. More on that next time in “Grudge match: Beowulf vs. Grendel’s mom”.