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Grendel by John Gardner
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Grendel (1971)

by John Gardner

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My favorite thing -- not book, thing! -- in the entire world is Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, which takes the myth of the Herakles-slain monster Geryon and turns it on its head, creating an epic romance instead of an epic myth. Consequently, I've always had a soft spot for mythical monsters turned into protagonists, and I've wanted to read Grendel for a while... and I finally did. Thank God! I've also had the joy of reading Gardner's The Art of Fiction, and something from that book that has stuck with me is Gardner's emphasis on the sound of prose lines, which he scans as if they were poetic... and it's so obvious in this book that he walks the talk, too. Some phrases in this book -- like "this one frail, foolish flicker-flash in the long dull fall of eternity" -- literally make me pause to savor their sounds. Grendel is your typical monster, complete with unabashed killing of various living things, though he's also well-educated, introverted, sensitive, and Existential. This may perhaps say a bit more about me than I should, but I really identified with him, perhaps even more than with Geryon -- except on the killing people thing, you know. Ultimately, Grendel won't replace Autobiography as my favorite anything, but I will have to get two cats now, once I officially become the local crazy cat lady gay man -- one to name Geryon and one, of course, to name Grendel.

Why I Finished: Uh... because it was freaking awesome?!? And way too short. And tragic at the end, since I liked Grendel more than anyone else in the thing... though I always tend to like the villains better in the books. That's why they're villains. ( )
  inpariswithyou | Apr 21, 2014 |
Interesting read. This was a heavy book to get through, deep with philosophical thinking. Gardner gave a very in-depth look into Grendel's mind in this retelling of Beowulf. Overall, it was good. I would have liked to see more action in the text. For the most part, Grendel mulls over life, but nothing really seems to happen on the whole. The text is interesting to read as it combines stream of consciousness with aspects of poetry and plays. Profoundly intriguing book. ( )
  CareBear36 | Apr 14, 2014 |
A retelling of the Beowulf saga from the point of view of Grendel. In the novel, Grendel is portrayed as an antihero. The novel deals with finding meaning in the world, the power of literature and myth, and the nature of good and evil. ( )
  jwhenderson | Jan 28, 2014 |
Grendel Review
Alex Reidy

This peculiar book by John Gardner is from the viewpoint if the first monster Beowulf slays when he arrives from Geatland. The book follows the years of his life from the finding of his cave where he and his mother lives, to his discovery that his conversation with a dragon (Yes he talks to a dragon) blessed him with invincibility to steel to his final fate at the hands of Beowulf. The journey starts with Grendel traveling throughout the forest smashing bushes trees in anger, he hates the world and how it has cursed him. He sits down and reminisces about how he had come to where he was,fighting a ram, htm finding a pool of fire snakes and then becoming stuck in a tree and having a bull charge at him until he fell asleep. But when he awoke he had his first encounter of men. They poked and prodded him not knowing what he was until he swung at them and they now saw him as a threat and went for the kill. But just then his mother came and saved him even though she is mute.
The book then goes on to explain the rise of Hrothgar and the Danes, the rise of civilization and the growth of a empire. After a few years and the dominance of Hrothgar and his Danes a blind appears named 'The Shaper'. He sings if beautiful hymns and songs and it enraptures both Grendel and the Danes. This turns Hrothgar into a more peaceful and justified kingdom. This effect also is on Grendel but when he sees two lovers corpses juxtaposed he drags them to the hall as a peace offering but is rejected and attacked. He flees to his cave where he cannot relate to anyone and falls into the sea, while in the sea he talks to a dragon about the world and it's existence. Once exiting the sea he returns to listen to the shaper, but he is spotted by sentries, and it's attacked, but he soon figures that as the blades bounce off of his , that he is invincible and the dragon has blessed him. This gives him the confidence to attack thus Danes constantly. Many challenge him but he kills them or leaves them to live out their miserable lives, notably Urferth.
During the second year of war, a new threat has almost toppled Hrothgar, Hygmod, and they were charging in a last attempt to defeat them. But instead of crush Hrothgar on the battlefield he give him his sister, Wealtheow, a beautiful maiden who Hrothgar accepts.
Soon Hrothgar's nephew Hruthful who is slowly becoming a anarchist but is of no threat to Grendel, the shaper dies, his mother almost talks, and Grendel is sensing something bad when he talks to a preacher about religion and the world. Slowly Grendel becomes paranoid and his feeling something he had never felt ever, fear. But it washes away when a new prey arrives from the sea. He listens in on their conversations on in the hall, and hears of the stories this non bearded man is saying. They seem legendary and Grendel becomes excited and attacks at nightfall. But when he attacks he realizes that it was a trap the whole time and the man was waiting for him. This man is Beowulf but is never named, and they fight in a fierce struggle and ultimately Beowulf wins and tears his arm off. Grendel runs away in defeat and dies in the sight of all the tormented animals of the forest.
Overall I thought it was a great books, with at times some confusing narrative form Grendel, some odd philosophy, and difficult weaving explanations and dialogue. But it makes up for it with the great retelling of a classic tale, and from an unprecedented new viewpoint. ( )
  br14alre | Dec 6, 2013 |
“Grendel” is, of course, John Gardner’s wonderful re-telling of the great Anglo-Saxon (i.e., Old English) poem “Beowulf” (c. 675-1025 CE). It is one of the few truly successful parallel novels – the literary form that reconfigures the action of a story that the audience is already presumably familiar with – that I have ever encountered. Gardner was a medievalist by training, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was familiar with the Anglo-Saxon of “Beowulf,” too. The book makes it clear that he has lived inside and with the character of Grendel for a long time, which only results in a richer, fuller reimagining of Grendel’s sense of deep curiosity and existential despair at his own position in the world.

This could have been a simple, straightforward narrative account of the action of “Beowulf” through Grendel’s eyes, but Gardner imbues Grendel with all the philosophical wonder and bewilderment of a human being, which makes him all the more poignant. When Grendel sees the Shaper (a literal translation of “Scop,” the Anglo-Saxon bard who sings in Hrothgar’s mead-hall) sing songs of heroic victory, he becomes incensed at how the Danes contort reality for their own purposes in their songs. “Why do they lie to themselves like this?” he asks. He encounters a brilliant dragon who happens to have a keen grasp of medieval Scholastic philosophy who explains to him that the job of the Shaper is to convince humans that their reality is in fact real. Out of this conversation comes some beautiful revelations about the art of mythopoiesis, the nature of storytelling, and art itself. When Grendel is unable to accept the dragon’s fatalistic view of the universe, he characteristically storms off, angered, confused, and in denial.

Since raw, brute power plays a not insignificant role in the Anglo-Saxon world, it’s no surprise that there is a discussion of political philosophy, too, in which the Hobbesian view eventually wins out. Grendel defends his relentless attacks on the mead-hall by saying that he is the force in their lives which gives them meaning, and therefore it is only his continued carnage against the thegns of Hrothgar’s hall that continues to let the Shaper sing the stories he sings, and therefore allows them to remain human. Regardless of what you think of this rationalization of violence, you have to admit that it has a sheer logical force of its own. To think that those in the mead-hall only feared his strength and size when they should have feared his power of reason makes for a truly formidable monster. Later, there is another conversation on the nature of religion with a priest, which again fills Grendel with a sense of existential dread.

Behind all of these characters rests Grendel’s mother – a minor but wholly compelling figure - holding down the marshy fen as only a protective mother could and whose inability to speak frustrates her son, reminding him of his distance from humanity, yet of the persistence of his reason.

I waited until I read “Beowulf” to read this, and while “Grendel” would be enjoyable for anyone, it will be more wonderful still to someone who has invested themselves in a careful reading of the original poem; it provides a narrative framework which allows the reader to focus less on the action of the story – really not the most important part of Gardner’s version by far – and instead focus on the tender, passionate humanization of Grendel himself. ( )
2 vote kant1066 | Sep 29, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Gardnerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Antonucci, EmilIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kassner, WendyCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leonard, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Penberthy, MarkCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Epigraph
And if the Babe is born a Boy
He's given to a Woman Old,
Who nails him down upon a rock,
Catches his shrieks in cups of gold.
-- William Blake
Dedication
For Joel and Lucy
First words
The old ram stands looking over rockslides, stupidly triumphant.
Quotations
I touch the door with my fingertips and it bursts, for all its fire-forged bands--it jumps away like a terrified deer--and I plunge into the silent, hearth-lit hall with a laugh that I wouldn't much care to wake up to myself.
The sun walks mindlessly overhead, the shadows lengthen and shorten as if by plan.
And so begins the twelfth year of my idiotic war. The pain of it! The stupidity!
I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against, blindly—as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back.
What was he? The man had changed the world, had torn up the past by its thick, gnarled roots and had transmuted it, and they, who knew the truth, remembered it his way--and so did I.
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Book description
Grendel is a 1971 parallel novel by American author John Gardner. It is a retelling of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf from the perspective of the antagonist, Grendel. The novel deals with finding meaning in the world, the power of literature and myth, and the nature of good and evil.

AR 5.9, 6 Pts
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679723110, Paperback)

Grendel is a beautiful and heartbreaking modern retelling of the Beowulf epic from the point of view of the monster, Grendel, the villain of the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon epic. This book benefits from both of Gardner's careers: in addition to his work as a novelist, Gardner was a noted professor of medieval literature and a scholar of ancient languages.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:06:32 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The first and most terrifying monster in English literature, from the great early epic BEOWULF, tells his side of the story.

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