Debbie Notari received her Bachelor’s degree in English and M.S. in Education Literacy and Learning for Grades 6-12. Debbie has over 28 years of teaching experience, teaching a variety of grades for courses like English, Reading, Music, and more.
So, what is a hrunting sword? In order to understand fully, we must review the story of Beowulf. Beowulf is from the tribe of the Geats, the land of Geatland, and he is a hero. He hears about Grendel, a terrible swamp monster who haunts the halls of Hrothgar, a mighty Danish king. Hrothgar builds a magnificent hall named Heorot for his warriors to enjoy, with great banquets and music, but Grendel dislikes the noise that comes from the hall, and he is a tad jealous of the festivities, as well. This 'man cave' extraordinaire, as it were, ignites the rage of this monster, who proceeds to drag 30 of Hrothgar's warriors away, killing and eating them, and for the following 12 years, Grendel attacks Hrothgar's subjects at will, feasting and plundering viciously.
Hrothgar despairs, but help is on the way, as Geat King Higelac's champion warrior, Beowulf, hears of Hrothgrar's situation and decides to help. Beowulf takes 14 of his trusted friends and journeys by boat to Heorot. When Beowulf arrives, he makes a strong, favorable impression on the Danes; he looks strong and fearless, dressed as a hero. He introduces himself to Hrothgar's officer and offers his assistance, saying that he can defeat Grendel. However, the soldier replies that it is easier to say something than to actually do. Hrothgar's people have suffered for so long that no one believes Grendel can be defeated. Eventually, Beowulf meets Hrothgar, who is also impressed by Beowulf's prowess. Also, Hrothgar sees Beowulf, who was reputed to be as strong as 30 men, as sent by God to defeat Grendel.
Beowulf decides to fight Grendel alone, and since Grendel never uses weapons, Beowulf claims that he will fight him bare-handed as well. He then asks Hrothgar to bury him should he be killed in the battle with Grendel, and to send his armor back to King Higelac. Even though Hrothgar believes Beowulf has been sent by God to defeat Grendel, he has seen champions come and go, so he suggests that all sit down first for a decent meal, where there is much singing and feasting before Beowulf tries to defeat Grendel.
During the feast, one of Hrothgar's men, Unferth, reveals that he is jealous of Beowulf. Unferth is one of those characters who cannot stand to be outdone by anyone else. Although Beowulf describes how he once defeated a sea monster, Unferth scoffs at the idea that Beowulf can defeat Grendel, but Beowulf accuses Unferth of being confused and drunk. He goes on to inquire why Unferth, if he is so great a warrior, has not been able to defeat Grendel, himself? One could almost see Beowulf rising at this point, sword raised to the sky as he boasts that although Grendel does not fear the Danes, he will certainly fear the Geats hereafter! He states that he will either kill Grendel or die trying!
That night, the bloodthirsty Grendel approaches Heorot, thinking to once again snatch warriors for his dinner, but he doesn't expect to meet Beowulf, who is wide awake, waiting. After a fierce battle, Beowulf defeats the monster, bringing joy and celebration to Hrothgar and his people. In fact, Grendel's arm is hung on the wall as a trophy! Beowulf receives many gifts and rewards for his valorous feat, and it seems that all is well.
But, no one can predict the wrath of Grendel's mother. She is not given a name. One can only imagine her fury at losing her monsterous son, and she is bent on revenge. Entering Heorot one night, Grendel's mother attacks a soldier, Aeschere, a close companion of Hrothgar, who is deeply grieved as a result. Grendel's mother then returns to her evil swamp. Beowulf sleeps through the attack, but Hrothgrar sends for him. Both Hrothgar and Beowulf mount their horses and seek to avenge Aeschere's death by killing the monster, and both are deeply grieved when they actually come upon Aeschere's head discarded by the side of the road. As they reach the lake, two sea monsters confront them, and Beowulf deftly kills one. He turns to Hrothgar, once again stating that he, alone, will confront the monster. Somehow, Beowulf travels to the bottom of the swamp and is then dragged into Grendel's mother's lair.
It is here that the hrunting sword comes into play. Although Unferth and Beowulf are rivals, they are also both strong warriors, and there seems to be some camaraderie and mutual respect between them. As a result, Unferth loans Beowulf his hrunting sword, a sword that had never failed him in any fray. But unexpectedly, the hrunting sword proves useless in defeating Grendel's mother. As predicted, the mighty Beowulf would rather engage in hand-to-hand combat with Grendel's mother, whom he defeats with yet another sword he finds in her lair.
Two monsters are defeated, and the epic tale lives on. One can imagine Beowulf being told throughout the generations, captivating audiences then as it still does today.
Once you are finished, you should be able to:
- Summarize the story of Beowulf
- Outline some of the main points of the story
- Describe the characters of Beowulf and Unferth and the conflict between them
- Recall what the hrunting sword was
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