Grendel Chapter 8
In verse and play-like scenes, the story is told of how Hrothgar's brother Halga was killed, and his son, fourteen year old Hrothulf, came to live with Hrothgar. Wealtheow takes him in graciously, but Hrothulf seems sly and sarcastic. Grendel has a theory that "Any action (A) of the human heart must trigger an equal and opposite reaction (A1)." Chapter 8, pg. 113 He is thus pleased to see that as Wealtheow and Hrothgar welcome their nephew, he seems to dislike them. Hrothulf talks privately: he thinks the peasants are stupid for following the king when he is so rich and they are so poor. They think the king cares for them, but he is really just getting rich off their labor. They think they are happy, but they are deluding themselves. The world is still violent and vicious--now it's just brutality in the name of the king. Hrothulf wishes the peasants would think about the injustices they suffer at the hands of the king. In the woods, Hrothulf speaks in poetry about the tree he stands under. Should he hate it because it kills every plant beneath it with its shade? Of course not. "The law of the world is a winter law, and casual." Chapter 8, pg. 115 He says that he can be as tough as his uncle, striving for power above all things. He thinks about his aunt: she seems to care for him, but he wants something more stable than love. Everything around him seems as dead as the ground beneath the tree.
Wealtheow watches Hrothulf sleep, amazed at how sad such a young man is. She murmurs that he will grow sadder still: his young cousins, who he loves now, will one day take the throne, and rule over him. He will not feel so close to them then. She herself used to be calm and loving, but now that she has grown up, she does not sleep well anymore.
Grendel watched Hrothulf get sadder and angrier. He never spoke, except to an old peasant who was his advisor. Grendel hated this old man: he was deaf and so yelled at everyone, and he smelled bad, and spit when he talked. Grendel listened sometimes to the two of them talking philosophically. The old man talked about revolutions: violence occurs when current events make it unavoidable, and then violence becomes heroic. He saw this as natural and good--it is sometimes the only way to change things. "If the Revolution comes to grief, it will be because you and those you lead have become alarmed at your own brutality." Chapter 8, pg. 117 Hrothulf fell down, but the old man didn't notice. He continued, telling the young prince that kingdoms exist to protect those in power and pretend to protect the poor. Hrothulf was upset by the injustice of such a system. The old man said that revolutions are equally valid but no more just forms of controlling people: each is just a different way of gaining power for some and keeping others down. Hrothulf protested: it didn't have to be like that, he said. He got angry, not realizing that he was revealing his own powerful status: as the prince, he had a right to get angry, but the peasant did not. He cried that no one would say that violence is good, no matter what the result of it was. The peasant disagreed: that's just what he believed. "All systems are evil." Chapter 8, pg. 120 He said he didn't believe in justice. Hrothulf said nothing, looking thoughtful.
Hrothulf is kind to his cousins, who are both toddlers. He is awkward around everyone else. Everyone in the meadhall knows that one day these boys will grow up and become violent rulers, but no one can really believe it--except Hrothgar, whose sad life, tortured by Grendel, has made him wise. He was once a great man, but now he can only use his wisdom to wonder when Grendel will attack next, and about which other kings are ready to overthrow him. He looks at Wealtheow, knowing that she is too young and beautiful for him, knowing that she knows all his fears and worries, which makes them worse. Grendel says, "How, if I know all this, you may ask, could I hound him--shatter him again and again, drive him deeper and deeper into woe? I have no answer, except perhaps this: why should I not?" Chapter 8, pg. 122, Grendel claims that nothing he could do now would make him and the king friends. In fact, he has made the king the wise, noble man he is today. He adds that he is simply what he is: a monster, driven by blood-lust, so he acts like one. But he cannot believe that all of the pain and confusion, on both sides, could lead to nothing. He gives Hrothgar what he calls a horrible dream, about their first meeting, when Grendel was stuck in the tree trunk and Hrothgar threw an axe at him.