Title: Grendel's Mother
Author: Diana Stout
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Set in the late-5th, early 6th century in Denmark, Grendel’s Mother is the journey of a girl who dreams of freedom, with a desire to marry the young many she loves, when her father tells her that she'll wed a widower with young children instead. Then, a horrific event changes her life forever. Pregnant and having brought shame to her family and community, she is sacrificed to the dragon for death, but the dragon saves her instead, unbeknownst to her family and the community.
Grendel’s Mother is the story of social injustice, a girl’s love for Nature where she discovers special skills that enable her to survive, to give birth, and to raise a baby—deemed a monster—in the wild, entirely on her own. From his birth, she battles to keep Grendel safe from himself and, then later, from others who would do him harm.
That child is Grendel, and she is Grendel’s mother.
All journeys begin with a single step. I could say my journey began when I was made dead, a no-name ghost in the woods. Or when I first met the dragon when I was too young to be afraid. Or maybe my journey began when the pains started, soon after the last thread of light disappeared in a horizontal sliver crushed between dark ominous clouds fast filling the sky and the earthly boundaries of both my chains and comfort as deemed by the gods: the raw wilderness. Was it only less than a year ago that I was a naïve child, believing that the life ahead of me was mine to choose? So innocent. So lost in my own little world of supposed freedom. Self-centered as only a child knows at the time. What a difference a year makes.
At the moment, I am working within my wilderness, attempting to catch a wild pig. The temperature has dropped, with late, major winter storm clouds moving in too quickly. I need major sustenance for the next couple days, if not weeks, and this yearling can satisfy that need. My spear is ready. I hold my breath, waiting. Now, all I need is for the pig to turn parallel to me, so that I have a broader target, where I can hit a major organ.
I’m cold and don’t relish hunting in the dark but I have no choice. I let go of my discomfort. Up until now, I’ve been able to ignore the pains, the tightening of my mid-section. Thankfully, the clouds aren’t covering the full moon high in the sky . . . yet. The moon provides enough light for me to hunt. My hands, face, and any other exposed skin are blackened with mud, and I wear enough fur that I smell like the forest and the animals within.
The pig turns. I throw my spear. It hits right where I aimed—its heart. It squeals loudly, takes a couple steps, and drops. I get up from my kneeling position, where I was hidden in the tall grass, moving far slower than I want. My huge belly makes me awkward and slower than I like. I gasp as my belly tightens, again. Mentally, I count. Finally, the muscles relax. I need to hurry.
Nearly at the pig, I walk around it so that its back is to me, just in case it is still alive. If it were to get up, it would not be facing me. I grab the top of the spear that stands straight up to the sky and wiggle it, so I can see the belly . . . a female. She is dead.
Good. I don’t want to have to stab her again. Slowly, I drop to my knees and pull out my knife. In just a few minutes, I have her disemboweled, dressed as much as I can perform in the shortest of time. The dressing is sloppy compared to my usual precise cuts, but I don’t care. Time is my priority, right now. I am initially saddened to discover she is pregnant, but the reality is that it is either her or me with no food for the next couple weeks. Normally, when I see a pregnant pig, I leave her alone, to live another day, but there wasn’t any sign she was pregnant. The piglets are barely formed. Normally, I would take the whole pig back to the cave and gut it there. Nothing is ever wasted. Today isn’t a normal day, though. I need to get back to the cave quickly and I can’t carry a whole pig with its innards today. I stand up and gasp.
The realization of what is happening hits me hard. When did I allow this child to enslave my future? To reduce me to hunting in the freezing cold like this, to put all my creature comforts aside? That’s a laugh. When was the last time I had a real creature comfort? When I suckled at my mother’s breast?
Another pain clenches my middle, creating a new kind of tightness. I make myself breathe through the pain, having nothing to lean on, to grab hold of. The spear lay on the ground. Finally, the pain lessens. I retrieve the spear and walk over to the nearest tree, leaning the spear against the trunk. I retrace my steps, bending over as best I can, grabbing her hind legs. I lift her over my shoulder awkwardly, not liking that I can’t maneuver her around my neck as I would have normally. I do the best I can.
I grab the spear and head for the cave. Far too soon, I feel the burning in my back and shoulder muscles begin. Fortunately, I’m not far from my destination.
There was a time when I thought I had been one with the earth. A time when I had honored the seasons by tradition. How little I knew back then. How young I was. My time with Nature then had been equal to tiptoeing across a room, minimum and shallow with little effort.
It wasn’t until I was forced from everything I knew, by the hand of my father and mother who didn’t object in any way to my ostracization and execution, that I become one with Nature.
In truth, my journey began much earlier, an earlier day and its night, when my world was turned upside down.
What makes this book a must-read and/or what inspired you to write this story:
I had returned to school and had studied Beowulf in three different classes. Then I had an opportunity to teach as a grad student in the Women's Studies department teaching a survey class. We were reading books about women but noticing that most of the women, even the main characters, didn't have a much of a voice. One night while driving home, I thought, Grendel's mother doesn't have a voice! That night I wrote 20 pages and knew I had a solid book idea. The writing took place in pieces and parts, with a huge stretch—five years while in school for my final degree—of no creative writing, but I was always thinking about it, talking about it. Ten years in the making, it was published to great reviews and readers telling me they now wanted to read Beowulf. Additionally, Grendel's Mother became a presentation topic at the 2018 International Conference of Medieval Studies, which thrilled beyond measure.
I believe it's a must-read for anyone who wants to see how a young girl discarded by her community came to thrive in the world she loved—Nature. I wrote the book as both a stand-alone book but serves as a companion book for Beowulf, as well.
My hope is that it will become a companion book for high school or college classes studying Beowulf.
When telling New York agent Donald Maas about the book when he asked what I was working on, he paused and said, "You're doing a John Gardner."
Indeed I was. Gardner had written Grendel in 1971 and what Gardner did for Grendel, I designed to do for Grendel's mother: giving her a voice and telling her story from her point of view.
The readers have been divided having had no prior knowledge of Beowulf, some having read it but not remembering much of it, and those who are fans of the book. One reader said that she never thought she'd be "rooting for a character I had always thought of as menacing."
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Diana Stout, MFA, Ph.D. is an award-winning screenwriter, author, and former English professor, whose writing led her into academic teaching, then creating a production company. Published in multiple genres, she has written romances, magazine articles and short stories, is a former magazine and newspaper columnist, optioned a Hollywood screenplay, and had two short plays produced in New York city. She’s served as a judge for various screenwriting, romance, and academic contests. When not writing and helping other writers, she enjoys reading, watching movies, bird watching, researching new topics, jigsaw puzzles, and visiting family and friends.
Social Media Links:
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/writerDianaStout
Twitter: ScreenWryter13 or https://twitter.com/ScreenWryter13
Only for the Brave writing blog: http://wryterinwonderland.com/
Into the Core intuitive blog: http://dianastout.com/
Behind the Scenes: http://dianastout.net/
Behind the Scenes with Diana Stout and Featured Guests: https://dianastout.org/