Grendel Strikes in Orlando

Grendel from the 2007 film version of "Beowulf"

Grendel from the 2007 film version of “Beowulf”


In what has become a grim tradition for this blog, I run the same post, slightly amended, whenever we have another major mass shooting. I have had to add the qualifier “major” since if I included those mass shootings where the victims “only” number in the single digits, I would run this post continually. The shooting in the Orlando gay bar, unfortunately, involves many more than that. The New York Times and others have labeled it the “worst mass shooting in American history.”

The responses never need much updating. President Obama himself acknowledges that he is repeating himself. Each time he sounds more like desperate King Hrothgar in Beowulf, who is flummoxed by the fact that Grendelian violence continues unabated. As I understand Grendel, he is the blood feuds instigated by Denmark’s own resentful warriors that ravaged Anglo-Saxon society. In other words, the violence comes from within, not from without.

Here’s The Washington Post reporting on Obama’s response following the Umpqua shooting this past October:

Obama bemoaned the fact that these tragedies have become so frequent, he said, that they no longer shocked the public. He urged media outlets to list the number of Americans who die each year from terrorist attacks against the number who are killed by guns, to show how much greater a threat gun violence poses to the country.

“Somehow this has become routine,” he said, looking a bit incredulous at the prospect. “The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine.”

Rather than listing the numerous tragedies that have occurred during his time in office — in Newtown, in Charleston, S.C., where a gunman killed nine parishioners in an African American church in June, and in countless other places — he noted that during an interview in July he lamented that the United States was the “one advanced nation on earth” that has not adopted “common-sense gun safety measures” in the face of multiple mass shootings.

“And later that day there was a mass shooting in a movie theater in Lafayette, Louisiana. That day,” he said, his voice strained.

At times, his tone turned combative. “Right now I can imagine the press releases being cranked out: ‘We need more guns,’ they’ll argue. ‘Fewer gun safety laws.'”

“Does anybody really believe that?” he said. “There are scores of responsible gun owners in this country, they know that’s not true.”

Whenever another shooting occurs, I feel like the grandmother in Leslie Marmon Silko’s novel Ceremony following another eruption of violence on the reservation. “I guess I must be getting old,” she says,

“because these goings-on around Laguna don’t get me excited any more.” She sighed, and laid her head back on the chair. “It seems like I already heard these stories before…only thing is, the names sound different.”

Few works of literature capture so powerfully the social violence that strikes from within as Beowulf, especially in its depiction of the resentment-crazed Grendel. If Omar Mateen follows the pattern of previous Grendels, it will emerge that he nursed “a hard grievance” and saw others partying in the Great Hall while he felt left out.

Here’s the passage of King Hrothgar helplessly surveying the devastation and feeling incapable of doing anything about it. It doesn’t matter that Denmark was the reigning power in medieval Scandinavia, just as we are the most powerful country on earth.

So Grendel ruled in defiance of right, 
one against all, until the greatest house
in the world stood empty, a deserted wallstead.
For twelve winters, seasons of woe,
the lord of the Shieldings suffered under
his load of sorrow; and so, before long,
the news was known over the whole world.
Sad lays were sung about the beset king,
the vicious raids and ravages of Grendel,
his long and unrelenting feud,
nothing but war…
All were endangered, young and old

were hunted down by that dark death-shadow
who lurked and swooped in the long nights
on the misty moors; nobody knows
where these reavers from hell roam on their errands.

In his remarks after the Charleston shooting, Obama spoke of his “deep sorrow,” and of “the heartbreak, and the sadness, and the anger.” The Bewulf poet writes that “these were hard times, heartbreaking for the prince of the Shieldings.”

None of us knows when and where the next reaver of hell will strike. We only know that he will.

Further note: To put numbers to the number of mass shootings, there have been 133 so far in 2016 alone. There have been 1001 since Sandy Hook. The shootings have killed at least 1,141 people and wounded 3,943 more. A mass shooting is “an incident involving multiple victims of gun violence.”

Previous Posts on Mass Shootings

This Time Grendel Chose Umpqua

Grendel Violence Never Ends 

Grendel in Paris

Pennywise Kills North Carolina Muslims

The Killer Always Comes Back

Grendel as a Norwegian Christian Fascist

Dostoevsky and the Arizona Shootings 

Lost Paradise Syndrome in Tucson

Analyzing Loughner’s Booklist

Satan Strikes Again, This Time in Aurora

Grendel’s Invasion of Fort Hood

A Modern Grendel on the Rampage

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