Rebecca Wolfram

Ancestral Crime - The Story of Grendel's Mother
The poem of Beowulf is told, of course, from the point of view of the heroic humans, the Geats and the Danes. My personal interest was always in the monster Grendel; most intensely, as a morbid child, in the scene where Beowulf rips off Grendel’s arm and he staggers away to die in his underwater cave. Grendel’s mother is a surprise in the poem, showing up totally unexpectedly to take revenge for her son’s death. Beowulf must pursue her into the depths of the monster-filled lake and has a lot of trouble killing her.

Having rediscovered Beowulf, I became drawn to Grendel’s mother, and began this series of drawings to illustrate her life. The Grendel family is referred to in the poem as the “accursed race,” because they are descendents of Cain. They are humanoid monsters and have a problematic relationship with the full-fledged humans. My narrative starts with Grendel’s mother as a girl, enjoying her life in nature, with the beasts. Her monstrousness blossoms as she reaches puberty; then she unites with Grendel’s father and becomes pregnant with Grendel. After scenes of his childhood, the drawings illustrate the Beowulf story, but from the point of view of the monsters.

The 45 drawings, if hung with no space
between them in a cartoon-like sequence, cover an area about 14 feet long and 4 or 5 feet high. They are best exhibited in a semi-darkened enclosure, with a flashlight provided to view them in detail. The effect is cave-like and intimate. On the occasions that they have been exhibited (at Calles y Sueños Art Center in Chicago, the Illinois State Museum, Chicago; and the Casa de la Cultura in Oaxaca, Mexico) the area was separated from main gallery or space by a floor-to ceiling partition of brown paper with a large sketch and circus side-show style sign on the front.