What is Grendel?

We start with a walk, that first walk in thick fog to Thursbitch.  A sense of gloom, of haste, of danger hangs over the trip. The escarpment to one side is lost in the low cloud, Towards Thursbitcha myst-hackel huge as the Gawain poet puts it, and perhaps from experience.   What we miss in the dark grey cloud is Thoon, what Alan Garner describes as “the bump on the horizon.” Mat and I are pressed for time by a need to get home, but also something else, by a sense of trespass in a sentient landscape that Garner also expresses in his novel , and that I have referred to before: “This place has had enough of us.” And when we left, the exertion – and the haste – left such an impression on me that I felt for weeks that, like the luckless characters in M R James, I was being pursued.  Our next visit in 2017 (again, I have discussed this before, although that page was unfortunately lost at the migration of the blog) has easier weather, and I could almost have felt the matter closed but for the texts that return to me – as they did today. Today, nearly a week after the end of September, I sat in the comfortable scriptorium of the Bodelian and picked up the EETS text of Gawain. Like some medievalist’s Sortes Biblicae, this was the text that the book opened on: ”

Shining Tor

Til Meȝelmas mone

Watz cumen wyth wynter wage;
Þen þenkkez Gawan ful sone
Of his anious uyage.

Until the Michaelmas moon
has winter’s bodings brought;
Sir Gawain the full soon
of his grevious journey thought.
And I am back here in my mind on the high road from Saltersford above Thursbitch, past Thoon – and really, really drawn to go back, to walk, maybe from Cat’s Tor to Shining Tor and then on to Gradbach and Ludchurch. As I explained to Mat, I could almost have looked up trains to Congleton there and then.
And so to the business of the morning: Beowulf and my search for a depiction of the monster, something I hope to write about in another forum.  It is testimony to the power of Alan Garner’s storytelling (rather than any claim that this is the setting for Beowulf!) that I think again of the misty, uncertain descent into Thursbitch in 2016 when I read

Then came from the moor      under the misty cliffs
Grendel walking,      God’s wrath he bore;
The vile ravager meant      from mankind
A sample to snare      in the high hall…

Ðá cóm of móre      under misthleoþum            
Grendel gongan·      godes yrre bær.

Long Lankin. The outcast, the destroyer, the eoten. The neighbour from Hell.  I am back with my woodwoses., Scaduhelma…wan under wolcnum  Shadow-helmets, dark under the skies.