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Grendel's Glove and His Immunity from Weapons Author(s): E. D. Laborde Source: The Modern Language

Grendel's Glove and His Immunity from Weapons Author(s): E. D. Laborde Source: The Modern Language Review, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Apr., 1923), pp. 202-204 Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association

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MISCELLANEOUSNOTES.

GRENDEL'SGLOVEAND HIS IMMUNITYFROMWEAPONS. THE GLOVE.

The connexion which has recently been established between the main theme of the Grendel Fight and folk-lore originals explains the significance, not before understood, of Grendel'scurious glove described in

Beowulf, 11.2085-92.

'a kind of pouch,' and Chambers,following ten Brink, translates glof as

is no

'pouch, bag.' The glove definite evidence of its

teristic property of trolls. The featurewas probably inheritedfromthe

by the Edda. This

glove episode

glove was so large that Thorandhis

Stopford Brooke says that the glove was probably

m,ay have been used as a bag-there

use as such,-but

a large glove was a charac-

of

Thorand the giant Skrynlir as told

partylodged in a part of it. Thorpe,

in his Northern Mythology, II, p. 149, relates the story of a troll whose

glove could holda barrelof rye.

glove

tion has been to emphasise the gigantic

the fiend, and this wasalso the scop's intentionin Beowulf. Fromwhat

statureand terriblenatureot

In every case wherethe mentionof a

has been introducedinto a troll-story, the reasonforits introduc-

it is not impossible that Grendel

glove

as a game-bag. But neverthelessits significance as the

is known of trolls and their gloves,

used his

special markof a troll remains.

THE IMMUNITYFROMWEAPONS.

Grendel's immunity from weapons is anotherof which has not hitherto been

in Beowulf are relatedin an allusiveand obscuremannerandare widely

his characteristics The factsas given

sufficientlyexplained.

scattered over several passages. The first mention of this attribute in the monster occurs in 11. 433-40, where Beowulf says he has heard that

Grendel cares not for

reason of his rashness. This does not

weapons by

soundlike magic. It gives the idea that

Grendelin the presence of his

foe is seized with a

blind fit of courage and rage, like a berserker or a

enemymight possess.

thought

Beowulfscornsto have

wild beast, and hurls himself fiercely on his adversary without

of the weapons whichthat

advantage 11.671-87 he is found

So far the description is

the

of arms overan enemy ignorant of their very use, so at

disarming himselfin preparation for the struggle.

consistent.

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Miscellaneous

Notes

203

But at 11. 794-805, where the fight begins, it is said that Beowulf's followers try to assist him by striking at Grendel with their swords, but that no war-bill, not even the best of blades, could touch the accursed foe. Why not ? Now, the next sentence has usually been taken as the

explanation: 'because he used enchantment against conquering weapons,

every sort of blades' (Clark Hall).

a mistranslation. He, the subject of forsworen, could according to the rules of modern English syntax refer only to Grendel, in which case Clark Hall's rendering would be correct. But O.E. syntax allows of such

rapid changes of subject that he quite possibly refers to Beowulf, and in that case the passage merely repeats Beowulf's resolve to trust to his hand-grip alone. Such an explanation does not require the invention of

a forced meaning for forsvworen. Nor would the sentence be an irrelevant

reminder of Beowulf's resolve, for it would be a hint, in the scop's typical manner, that the hero had been wise in rejecting the use of weapons. Moreover, this explanation fits in with what has been said of the monster's recklessness, whereas, if he had laid a spell on all cutting weapons, his disregard for their blows could hardly have been termed reckless. What then is the explanation of the monster's immunity from the retainers' swords ? This is given at 11.985-90: 'Everyone said that no excellent blade (even) of the harder sort would touch him or sever the blood-stained battle-hand of that monster.' It was therefore this

ness of skin, in keeping with the steel-like claws, of the monster which

protected him against the weapons of the Geats. Such a characteristic

would be highly

in early versions of the tale

Saxo) to have had some connexion

with a bear. Nor would mere toughness of skin be incompatible with the

recklessness of Grendel, for

of his skin being pierced, just as his mother's was pierced later.

But there is a possibility that this is

tough-

appropriate to a monster, especially to one who seems

(e.g.

presumably there was always the possibility

Besides, there is corroborationin 11.1518-28

and 1.557-69.

Here it

is said that even the well-tried blade of Hunferth failed to penetrate the mere-wife's skin, and in consequence the hero's life was in serious

danger. But presently he saw hanging on the wall a mighty sword with which he was able to cut off his adversary's head. If the immunity of Grendel and his dam had been due to magic, this sword must have possessed superior magic power. But the sword is described at length at 11.1557-62 and again at 11. 1688-98, and in neither passage is there

any mention of magic properties.

What is emphasised is its great size

and its excellence. It was so big that no other man than Beowulf could wield it in battle, and it was said to have been the work of giants, those

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204204

MliscellaneousMliscellaneous NotesNotes

legendary smiths to whose skill all excellent swords were attributed.

legendary

smiths to whose skill all excellent swords were attributed.

Hence, it would seem that the success of the blade was due to material,

material,

Hence,

it would seem

that

the success of the blade was due

to

and not to

and not to magical, properties.

magical, properties.

characteristics of Grendel was a tough-

To sum up then, one of the characteristics of Grendel was a tough-

To sum up then, one of the

Beowulf realised the

Beowulf realised the

ness of skin which

against weapons.

ness of skin which protected him against weapons.

protected

him

futility of attacking him with his sword and preferred to trust to his

strength.

muscular strength.

played, the Danes understood why all their efforts to rid themselves of

played,

of

futility

muscular

of

the

attacking

Danes

him with his sword and

the monster's

arm

understood

why

all their

preferred

to trust to his

were

dis-

When the monster's arm and shoulder were dis-

When

and shoulder

efforts to rid themselves

their foe had been in vain.

degree-was

though possibly in a less degree-was

though possibly

their foe

had been in vain.

by

in

a less

of skin-

The same

The same protective toughness of skin-

protective

an

toughness

attribute

of

special

Grendel's

also an attribute of Grendel's

excellence,

of a sword of special excellence,

of a sword of

also

the

mother, but,

mother, but, by the

fortunate

acquisition

fortunate acquisition

the hero was able to overcome her.

the

hero was able to overcome her.

E. D. LABORDE.

E. D. LABORDE.

LONDON.

LONDON.

BLAKE'S

BLAKE'S

INDEBTEDNESS

INDEBTEDNESS

THE

TO THE

TO

'EDDAS.'

'EDDAS.'

Williamt Blake, I, p. 336, we read,

we read,

Williamt

'Vala, a Scandinavian prophetess, may have given her name to Albion's

her name to Albion's

of

In

In

Ellis

Ellis

and Yeats'

Yeats'

and

The Works

The

Works of

Blake, I, p. 336,

'Vala, a Scandinavian prophetess, may have given

above

over-elaborate edition of Blake I

wife.' Even in this over-elaborate edition of Blake I find only the above

wife.'

rather tentative statement bearing on Blake's probable indebtedness to

rather

indebtedness to

Even in this

tentative

find

only

the

statement

bearing

on Blake's

probable

reminded of Norse mytho-

the

mytho-

logy

vague

memories of Norse

edition of 1914),

fearfil

Black-

p. 157, 'From this first great labour we get the myth of Los the Black-

'We

and

and p. 347, 'We

but

Comedy, but

must

(the

smith,

smith, a sort of Thor, standing hammer in hand

p.

fearfil shudder.'

In P. Berger's William Blake (London edition of 1914),

the

In Irene Langridge's William

logy in reading the Prophetic Books.

Jerusalem," vague

Blake,

Blake, p. 129, we find,' Looking through the pages of

William

Eddas.

Eddas.

Other critics

Other critics have, however,

been

have, however, been

reminded of Norse

Irene

pages

Langridge's

of

" "

Jerusalem,"

delightfill

in

reading

p.

129,

we

shudder.'

the

Prophetic

Books.

In

the

find,'

In P.

first

Looking through

come

come

Berger's

great

to

one

memories of Norse sagas

sagas

yet

to one and cause a delightfill and yet

and cause a

and

347,

William Blake

labour we

get

the

hammer in

the

the

Iliad

Iliad

(London

myth

hand

the

or the

or

157,

'From this

a

sort

of

Thor,

compare

compare

read

it

it

of Los the

';

';

p.

Divine

Divine

standing

with

with

not

must not

(Vala)

(Vala)

Comedy,

He

He

it

rather read it

rather

as we should

should

as we

some

read some

read

northern

northern Saga

Saga

(the

and all the

must regard Urizen, Los, Enitharmon, Tharmas, and all the

must regard Urizen, Los,

rest as demigods, of protean shapes and subject to no logical rules; as

as

gigantic

or

rest

gigantic

made more definite ?

made more definite ?

student)

student)

Enitharmon, Tharmas,

and

subject

as

as beings

beings

Can it

Can it

to no

like

like

be

be

as

demigods,

of

of a

protean

shapes

logical rules;

Balder

Odin three

heroes

heroes of a prehistoric age;

age;

prehistoric

Odin, Balder or

Odin,

Siegfried.'

Siegfried.'

But all of this is rather vague.

vague.

But all of this is rather

It is of some interest to note that

It is of some interest

to note that Blake refers to

Blake refers to Odin three times,

times,

five times.

to Frigga four times, and to Thor five times.

to

to Odin is to Wodan; and Frigga's name is spelled Friga

Friga

to

Frigga

Odin

is

four

to

times,

Wodan;

and

and

to

Thor

Frigga's

One of the

of the

One

name

is

spelled

references

references

in all four

in all four

instances.

instances.

how-

The contexts

The contexts in which these three names occur do not, how-

in which these

three names occur do

not,

ever, make it evident that

ever, make

it evident that Blake had more than a

knowledge

Blake had more than a very general knowledge

very

general

of Norse

mythology.

of Norse mythology.

several

Of more

Of more importance is the fact that Blake seems to adopt several

importance

is the

fact

that Blake

seems

to

adopt

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