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Long ago, in the land we know as Denmark, King Hrothgar ruled. He was loved and admired by his people. Hrothgar built a great hall called Heorot, with a splendid gold roof. Each evening he and his lords, called thanes, and warriors feasted, shared stories and listened to music. The great hall was filled with the sounds of harps and songs and merrymaking.
Everyone loved Heorot except two evil inhabitants of the land, the monster Grendel and his sorceress mother. Grendel was a fierce and loathsome creature who roamed the moors and despised all people and their pleasures. He was the enemy of everything pure and true, honest and kind. He lived only to make misery for others.
At night, when Grendel heard the joyous sounds from Heorot, he shuddered with fury. Bent on destruction, he skulked to the hall and carried off a sleeping warrior. In the morning, when the others woke and found one of their comrades gone, they wept with sorrow, but none felt strong enough to hunt Grendel and follow him to his faraway lair on the dank moors.
Again and again Grendel carried off a warrior, and before long the the beautiful hall was abandoned. King Hrothgar, growing old, despaired that his country would be ruined by the wicked monster.
Tales of Grendel’s evil spread across the sea and reached the ears of a young warrior prince named Beowulf. When he heard the story of Grendel, he vowed he would cross the sea and deliver Hrothgar from his enemy, for Beowulf feared no one. He believed that goodness could overcome any evil.
With a band of warriors, Beowulf traveled to Hrothgar’s kingdom where the king’s thanes met them.
“We have heard of the evil deeds of Grendel,” Beowulf said. “Take us to your king so that we may stop this monster’s destruction.”
The thanes gratefully welcomed Beowulf.
“I have heard wonderful tales of your Heorot,” Beowulf said to Hrothgar. “Let us go there to feast and to celebrate our new friendship. Such a place should not stand abandoned.”
The thanes were terrified at the notion. “Grendel will come,” they said, but Beowulf insisted, and so at last a party made its way to the hall. There they feasted and sang and told stories. When at last everyone fell asleep, it seemed that peace had returned to the kingdom.
But along the moors, Grendel stalked. His heart nearly burst with rage when he saw the lights of Heorot ablaze.
Inside the hall, Beowulf lay awake. He had put aside his sword and armor, for iron could not hurt Grendel, who was protected by a spell. Beowulf heard a rumbling roar outside the doors. His enemy had arrived.
Beowulf opened the great doors of Heorot, and when Grendel saw him, he seized the warrior. Beowulf grasped Grendel’s arm in a powerful grip and twisted it. The monster’s mind whirled. His body trembled. No one had ever tried to overcome him. No one had ever had such strength.
by Amy Friedman and Meredith Johnson