The Foreign, The Familiar, and the Fantastic in the Middle Ages
Social deviation has the power to transform an otherwise normal individual into a foreigner. In fact, anxiety about the Other often stems from a society's fear of the foreigner as a threat not only to its stability but also to its ability to maintain normative control. This Other, however, must not necessarily come from some far-off, exotic land: sometimes, the most dangerous individual lives at home. Deviant individuals, whose perceived depravity and complete disconnection from normal social codes place them at the physical and moral limits of the societies that produce them, take on the parts of frightening monsters. Beowulf's Grendel provides an example of a frightening individual living in close quarters with normal society. A monster in the shape of a man, Grendel terrifies the Danish warriors not because of his ugly exterior, but rather because he understands the expectations of warrior culture yet chooses not to follow them. Similarly, in the Nibelungenlied both Brunhilde and Kriemhilde demonstrate the role that social norms and local expectations have in shaping ideas of foreignness, and creating monstrosity at home. Although all of these characters challenge in some way the norms established by their societies, still all these characters, by their express denial of social expectations, uphold and reinforce the codes of the familiar realms that have fashioned them.