He had a strange face that, little by little, grew unsettling to me: it was a face, or so it seemed for an instant, from a dream I had almost forgotten. The eyes slanted downward, never blinking, unfeeling as a snake’s.
When the Geats first arrive, Grendel remarks on his first impression of Beowulf. The snakelike face indicates from the beginning that Beowulf is someone that Grendel should fear. And the fact that Grendel remembers his face from a forgotten dream hints that Grendel may know they were fated to meet. Even though Grendel was excited by the Geats’ arrival, he quickly feels apprehension about Beowulf.
His mind, as he spoke, seemed far away, as if, though polite, he were indifferent to all this—an outsider not only among the Danes but everywhere.
As Beowulf introduces himself to the Danish guard, Grendel notes how aloof Beowulf seems even though he is clearly the strong, brave leader of the Geats. Beowulf’s perceived indifference indicates that he operates more like a mechanical warrior than anything else even before he battles Grendel. Beowulf’s status as an “outsider” shows that he and Grendel are not actually so different.
And yet he was shrewd, you had to grant. Whether or not they believed his wild tale of superhuman strength, no thane in the hall would attack him again and risk the slash of that mild, coolly murderous tongue.
After Beowulf tells the story of how he defeated a pack of sea monsters, Grendel reflects on what a clever move this was by Beowulf. He may be lying about the story, but no one knows for sure and therefore no one will dare battle him. Like Hrothgar, Beowulf relies more on his wits than his physical strength to exert his power.
Now he’s out of his bed, his hand still closed like a dragon’s jaws on mine. Nowhere on middle-earth, I realize, have I encountered a grip like his.
When Grendel goes to attack those in the meadhall, Beowulf grabs and twists Grendel’s arm, demonstrating to Grendel his powerful strength. Grendel is taken by surprise by such an action, as no man has been able to hurt him before, and compares his grip to “dragon’s jaws,” showing the connection between Beowulf and the dragon.
He has wings. Is it possible? And yet it’s true: out of his shoulders come terrible fiery wings.
As Grendel and Beowulf battle, Grendel thinks he sees wings coming out of Beowulf’s shoulders. The truth of the matter remains unclear—does Beowulf have wings, or are the wings only in Grendel’s mind?—but either way, Beowulf appears as monstrous to Grendel as Grendel appears to the humans. The imagery of wings also might indicate that Grendel views Beowulf as the dragon he spoke to earlier in the story.