Saturday, 4 April 2015

'For you have supped your last Grendal...'

The words of the title of this blog were written by Eleanor Farjeon, and it comes from a book she wrote in two volumes for children in the 1920’s called ‘Mighty Men’.  The book is an introduction to the stories of the great heroes of history and legend, the first in the second volume being the story of Beowulf, which Farjeon entitles ‘Grendal the Monster’.

Eleanor Farjeon.  1881 - 1965    Public domain.
 In this story Farjeon gives a simplified retelling and ends as with all the other stories in the book with a short poem, which sums up all that has previously been told.

The last verse:

Grendal fled from Heorot
With golden splinters strewn,
But the fair hall stood without a blot
Before the next night’s moon.
Now clear and strong rose sounds of song
Instead of sounds of wrath -
“For you have supped your last, Grendal!”
Said Beowulf the Goth.

Thrilling stuff when you’re six or seven years old.  In the book there were illustrations by an artist unknown to me named Huge Chesterman, and the one showing Grendal seriously put the frighteners on me when I was small.  I remember I used to turn two pages over to avoid seeing it.  Here it is in all its scary glory.

Drawing by Hugh Chesterman.  Public domain.

 Well, as an adult I’ve stopped trembling now and can look at it in a more subjective way as a picture and an illustration.  It was certainly effective on children, but now I don’t think it’s a particularly good image of Grendal.  Why?

Well its too Greek for one start, too classic.  Grendal is shown as a satyr or Pan like figure which has nothing to do with the norse tradition, and he looks altogether too spindly, as if a strong wind would knock him over.  (I felt the same thing about the 2007 animated films depiction of the monster – too flimsy.)  Also, the background of Chesterman’s picture is reminiscent of a Greek or Roman setting with its classical temple buildings and tall cypress trees.

In the poem Grendal is obviously huge.  I quote from Michael Alexander’s 1973 translation of the poem: 

‘…he grasped on their pallets

thirty warriors…’ 

and these are not ‘take aways’, he doesn’t charter a bus to take them back to his home to eat, he eats them there and then.  Respect.  I vote Grendal top monster.

And later as Beowulf waits to ambush Grendal – Grendal bursts into the hall, snatching up a warrior and immediately eats him; the poem states that he chews on the bone joints, sucks on the veins, swallows huge gobbets of flesh and completely consumes the man – hands and feet.Now that’s what I call a monster.

You knew this was leading up to something, and yes, it’s my chance to show off – showcase is what I meant to say, work I’ve been doing on the theme of Beowulf.  I picture the hero in a sort of ‘selfie’ moment, posing near the door of an outhouse where the head of Grendal is being displayed to the people.  Its digital, and one of my more finished images, the original drawing was made large on paper with pencil and scanned before being digitally coloured.

Development of the Grendal head from drawing on extreme left to overlays of colour in middle to full colour.

The background needs a complete rethink (that's why there isn't any) as you start off thinking you have a plan, and then you change your mind.  The main figures are okay so I'll leave them, but I need to better think out interior details, and other figures that I had initially intended to put in. 
Beowulf drawing details.

 Yes, I accept it’s a work in progress, and the background is almost non-existent, and the sword is only a place saver for want of a better one.  But it gives me incentive, if I undertake to show the more finished work – to actually do that work at some time in the future.

Work so far.  The wood in the background is just to give him something to pose against.

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