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Introduction: Fish wrote: "At the time of joining the band I was asked to provide lyrics for a long track the band had written with bits that had originally been in a song called The Tower etc. I was obsessed with a book called Grendel by John Gardner and the way that it points out that anything ugly is instantly scorned upon and seen as wrong.

"Hence a classic was born! The lovely thing about the piece is the way the music conjures up exactly the right mood; 'ocean fogs' with its echoey vocals and yawning guitars, and forest quagmires with its bubbling keyboards (especially when it was done live)."

In an interview for Marko's Marillion Museum, Diz Minnit revealed more about how the lyric was inspired. "
When Fish and I were playing in the Stone Dome Band the guitarist, Chris Smith, was an English Literature enthusiast. The original plan was that Chris would join us in Cambridge once we got settled but this never happened. He subsequently went back to university and studied English Literature in Wales and, when I was last in touch (probably around 1982) he was living in the Gower area in Wales. Why is this relevant? Well, as part of his passion he studied the Anglo Saxon stories... including Beowulf and so he came across the book by John Gardner, telling the story from the perspective of the antagonist, Grendel. Chris told me about the book and, when he had finished reading it, he lent it to me just before Fish and I set off on our journey to Cambridge, planning to get it back when he joined us there."
In an interview entitled Fishy Tales
published in Melody Maker, 27 Nov 1982, Fish said, "It's like a psychoanalysis of the monster rather than writing from the hero's point of view. The idea intrigued me that anything that's ugly is automatically considered evil whereas, in fact, the Grendel monster had more right to be on the earth than the humans did. The most powerful meaning I see in our song adaptation is the futility of religion, how man goes out murdering, pillaging and raping and comes back, prays to God saying 'Forgive me for doing this,' and everything's okay.

"Then the monster comes along and, because he's considered evil, they say 'Please God, help us against the monster'. Meanwhile, the monster, who's done no wrong, is praying to exactly the same God saying, 'Please help me to destroy man,' because man is basically a little creep.

"Both sides are praying to the same god to help them kill the other one when one of the main things is 'Thou Shalt Not Kill' - that came up in the Falkands too, when the priests in Argentina were praying for help against the British invaders and the same thing was happening here!"

Trivia: The helmet that Fish wore on stage while performing Grendel, as seen in the video Recital of the Script, is a replica of the one found at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, which is the burial ground of one of the first Christian kings of England.

Note: Vast swathes of what follows are by Torch, a member of the Freaks mailing list in its early days. His material appears for a number of these early Fish-era songs, and will be indented to distinguish it.
Torch said: "Actually a pretty heavy plagiarism of a book called Grendel by John Gardner, a very good book that is listed as one of the top 100 horror novels of all time in the so-named guide. Gardner disliked such genre labels, mind you.

"The character of Grendel comes from the medieval epic poem Beowulf; sorry for stating the bleeding obvious to those who know this; he is a beastie who everyone hates and who marches of to kill Hrothgar the good guy and gets slaughtered for his pains. That section occurs quite early in the story. Beowulf is a wonderful bit of fun for anyone who hasn't read it, by the way! Anyway Gardner changes things around a bit quite ingeniously... he makes Grendel the hero of the novel, commenting that the story draws parallels with modern hypocrisy in society; the way we cast out the ugly and disturbed so righteously when we are in the wrong. The old idea of the humane monster and the inhuman human etc. The novel is filled with gorgeously colourful language which the song borrows heavily."

'Midnight sun bids... Signal ending tasks'
Torch said: "The midnight sun occurs on the longest day of course, especially in the part of Scotland I write from, when it can be seen on the Banffshire coast setting and then visibly rising again, so keeping the world lit all night... hence the belief that the midnight sun keeps away evil. However in the song the sun is setting, saying goodbye to the moors and dusk charges; it retreats as the oncoming night is so scary. People get frightened in the dark! Mountains perhaps echo as Grendel awakes and bays, or just because weird noises occur at night. Curfews bell, i.e. the bell tolling to tell everyone to get indoors to safety. As the bell tolls, the days work ends immediately and people lock themselves up in their homes, placing faith in oaken doors."

'They place their faith...As Grendel stalks the night'
Torch said: "At this point in the book, Grendel hasn't infiltrated anyone's homes tonight, so the line about bloodstained floors could refer to earlier deaths, or to the cowering hypocritical people with 'bloodstained hands'. Grendel is on the move."

'Earth rim walker... fear within their eyes'

Torch said: "He is a subterranean monster hence 'earth rim walker', a concept the book develops more. As it is a foregone conclusion that there will be murder done, 'prepare the funeral pyres', i.e. for the dead. A 'shaper' was a medieval storyteller who would sing to the villagers at night to make them feel easier in their beds and not scared. The practice still exists in South America to keep people happy and not disruptive or frightened. But the shaper is lying as we find out, and the villagers really are in danger, as they are coming to realise, so he can no longer heal their fear."

'Wooden figures, pagan...saviours born of dreams'
Torch said: "The old idols stare blindly... they are no help and can save no-one from Grendel. The saviours are wishful thinking... there is no hope. The ocean fogs like the charging dusk certainly will not help."

'They know their lives... flinch in Grendel's name'
Torch said: "They are exposed of all their hypocrisy by Grendel and bow in shame. They are too ashamed to face their people who are begging for help. Things are not good for the humans..."

'As Grendel leaves his mossy home... moonbeams haunt the sky'
Torch said: "He heads from his subterranean home to meet his foe, Hrothgar, the goody goody ruler. He is far stronger than him and out for vengeance. The night helps him as moonbeams haunt the sky and dusk charges; we always view night as hostile when we are scared. Then comes the creepy, sly section as Grendel crawls the forest."

'Silken membranes span his path Fingerprints in dew'
Torch said: "He must be crawling if his fingerprints are in the dew... silken membranes... cobwebs???"

'Denizens of twilight lands humbly beg him through'
Torch said: "The dwellers (denizens) are so scared they beg him through; alternatively 'denizens of twilight lands' could be night creatures, other beasts, of which he is the greatest, so they beg him through...this makes more sense as he hasn't encountered any people yet."

'Mother Nature's bastard child... solace within dreams'
Torch said: "Ill treated and despised by all that is pleasant, a natural perversity, he has brooded alone for too long, the shapers stories deriding him."

'The Shaper's lies, his poison tongue Maligned with mocking harp'
Torch said: "The Shaper fools them all with his sweet music and a harp mocking by its silvery tongue spreading lies floating on its notes."

'Beguiling queen, her innocence, Offends his icy heart'
Torch said: "He is a base beast who is offended by the assumed 'purity' of the ideal epitomised by the queen, who is beguiling because it is a false tirade her tiara crowns (sorry!) just as our royals are not nearly as fairy tale and reverent as we pretend. It offends him to anger. The organ sounds his arrival at the entrance to the hall. Brilliant music over the next section-so powerful!!! Time for him to work some natural magic..."

'Hounds freeze in silence...the grassy dell'
Torch said: "Smokes appears around him (his eye was on the potential this had live it seems!) and the dogs at the door freeze in fear. Sorry Fish, but things can't pervade ROUND, only through something!"

'Hero awaits him like lamb... children's cries'
Torch said: "There is a guard ready to slay this intruder who is a lamb to the slaughter, as Grendel will kill him easily."

'Screams are his music, lightening his guide Raping the darkness, death by his side'
Torch said: "Children scream and cry but the heavens and pagan gods are helpless, as are the shaper's words of comfort. He rapes the darkness (great image!) as he forces into it and defiles all with his progress. Death rides with him."

'Chants rise in terror... Hearts must know'
Torch said: "Already the slaughter has begun and the fire illuminates the bloody bodies scattered everywhere. The guards move in bravely but their inevitable deaths are futile; their efforts to stop him are mere sacrifices for no cause, and they must be aware of this."

'Hero's delusions... cares not for the brave!'
Torch said: "The guards are deluded and are already dead men, hence feet in the grave. Grendel is the lurker at the doors of the Hall, and it is time to dispose of the brave... he kills the guards as the music flares up. A quiet interlude as he dwells over the bodies, and all in the Hall await with baited breath. Then the doors burst open and there he stands, his furious speech ringing out."

'So you thought that your bolts...putrid blue eyes!'
Torch said: "The slanders being the shaper's songs. Things don't look too hopeful for Hrothgar and his cronies!"

'Why should I feel pity... gonna take no blame!'
Torch said: "So we find out that they are far more evil than he, killing and then washing the blood off there hands, even blaming him as we now learn..."

'So you say you believe... sharpened knives'
Torch said: "An unnatural, greedy act!"

'When your hoards... the feet of your pagan gods!'
Torch said: "The victors after a war??? Mmm, social comment!"

'Then you try to place...distort the truth'
Torch said: "So he is made the scapegoat and thus hated."

'Well I've had enough... let the blood flow!!!'
Torch said: "The parallels with politicians and social attitudes to crime are there for all to see, my job is done. Live, Fish would often pluck a fan out and have him up dancing with him, or even for the orgasmic guitar solo at the end pull out an audience member and mime ripping him apart and tasting his blood while Fish wore a medieval battle helmet. See the video EP of the song live. Of course the big bastard looks so right to carry it off live."
Literally, the 'Hall of the Stag', named because of the antlers that adorned the door. It forms the root of the English word for a male red deer 'hart', the traditional prey of royalty whilst hunting.

The shaper is a sort of tribal mystic/ bard who would sing to conjure his spells.

'His charm will testify' & 'reptile spell'
Grendel is given a spell by a dragon that will keep him hidden as he approaches the hall, and which makes him immune to normal weapons.

'Lurker at the Threshold'
Lurker at the Threshold is also the name of a novel by HP Lovecraft and August Derleth. Lovecraft commenced the book but died before its completion. Derleth completed (and many would say, ruined) the book. Lovecraftian horror stories were concerned with a panoply of monsters and gods whose main purpose in life seemed to be to demonstrate the insignificance of mankind.

Songs with a link have explanations.

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  1. Stumbled on your website and really enjoyed it having been a fan of Marillion since I saw them play The Bell in Maidenhead back in 1980. One thought on one of the interpretations here:

    'Silken membranes span his path Fingerprints in dew’
    Torch said: "He must be crawling if his fingerprints are in the dew... silken membranes... cobwebs???"

    I think this is actually Fish's poetry in action. 'Fingerprints in dew' describes the cobwebs. If you see them in the early morning they drip with dew and the pattern could be described poetically as fingerprints.

  2. Yes! Wholeheartedly concur.


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