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Grendel by John Gardner

Grendel (original 1971; edition 1989)

by John Gardner (Author)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,813921,460 (3.84)161
Authors:John Gardner (Author)
Info:Vintage (1989), 192 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

Grendel by John Gardner (1971)

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    Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (sturlington)
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    An Absolute Gentleman by R. M. Kinder (ehines)
    ehines: Another fine "from the monster's point of view" kind of story.
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    Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Classics retold to give voice to silent characters important to their plots.
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    Mickelsson's Ghosts by John Gardner (stellabymoor)
  7. 00
    Beowulf by Beowulf Poet (sturlington)
    sturlington: Grendel is a retelling of Beowulf from the monster's pov.
  8. 11
    The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (fugitive)
    fugitive: Another brilliantly retold classic by a modern author.
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    Gojiro by Mark Jacobson (fugitive)
    fugitive: Another autobiography of a real monster.
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    Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright (infiniteletters)
1970s (86)

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Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
Probably best read after you have read some version of the original Beowulf. Grendel is a fascinating character in line with Milton's Satan in Paradise lost and Shelley's portrait of Frankenstein's monster, sharing some family traits with Tolkien's Gollum - man makes the monster and the monster makes man. The dragon is an ironic commentary on the strain of godly knowing-it-all. The novel is philosophically minded and stylistically interesting, treating the relation between the singing of stories and the world of men and monsters as it unfolds. ( )
  alroe | Apr 6, 2019 |
In [Beowulf], the mythic epic of battles in ancient Scandinavia, Grendel is a grisly monster that terrorizes the kingdom ruled by Hrothgar. Grendel is without thoughts, character, ethics; just a horrible creature that lives deep underground, venturing out to feed on wildlife, cattle, and humans, collecting bodies to drag into any secluded spot, then crunching them up, hair, bones, flesh, and all.

John Gardner, in this novel published in 1971, gives Grendel a life beyond mere animation, as well as a voice. The story, as he tells it, is unlike that of the poem. Men are not very smart and they are not fearless warriors. For his own part, he's bored and puzzled by his own existence.

…"Why are we here?" I used to ask her [his mother]."Why do we stand this putrid, stinking hole?" She trembles at my words. Her fat lips shake. "Don't ask!" he wriggling claws implore. (She never speaks.) "Don't ask!" It must be some terrible secret, I used to think. I'd give her a crafty squint. She'll tell me, in time, I thought. But she told me nothing…

He speaks of his discovery of a sunken door that allows him to escape the den and explore the outside. "I played my way further out…, cautiously darting from tree to tree challenging the terrible forces of night on tiptoe." His first confrontation with men happens when he catches his foot—inextricably—in the crotch of a tree. He survives an assault by a bull, though one leg is gored and ripped. He sleeps. Awaking, he sees and hears men, and realizes he can understand that they are saying. What follows smacks of a Monty Python sketch, in which Grendel is judged to be a fungus growth on the tree that must be chopped away to save the tree. Then he's seen to be a spirit, a hungry one, hungry for...pig! Yes, but also a scary spirit. The men hurl spears and like weapons at him. When his mother appears, coming over the ridge to save her baby, the men run away.

As he continues to grow and mature, Grendel spends most of his time observing the humans, hiding himself in the treetops or outside the huts, peeking through and listening at gaps between logs.

In the beginning there were various groups of them: ragged little bands that roamed the forest on foot or horseback, crafty-witted killers that worked in teams, hunting through the summer, shivering in caves or little huts in the winter, occasionally wandering out into the snow to plow through it slowly, clumsily, after more meat. Ice clung to their eyebrows and beards and eyelashes, and I'd hear them whining and groaning as they walked. When two hunters from different bands came together in the woods, they would fight until the snow was slushy with blood, then crawl back, gasping and crying, to their separate camps to tell wild tales of what happened.

The time comes when Grendel emerges from hiding.

...I come through trees and towns to the lights of Hrothgar's meadhall. I am no stranger here. A respected guest. Eleven years now and going on twelve I have come up this clean-mown central hill, dark shadow out of the woods below, and have knocked politely on the high oak door, bursting its hinges and sending the shock of my greeting inward like a cold blast out of a cave...The thanes in the meadhall blow out the lights and cover the wide stone fireplace with shields. I laugh, crumple over; I can't help myself. In the darkness, I alone see clear as day. While they squeal and screech and bump into each other, I silently sack up my dead and withdraw to the woods. I eat and laugh and eat until I can barely walk, my chest-hair matted with dribbled blood...

Then Beowulf enters the story...
  weird_O | Apr 4, 2019 |
On the one hand, I wish I'd discovered this in my teens, because I would have connected more strongly to Grendel then. On the other hand, it's such a wonderful complement to Beowulf, in particular if read after, that I'm glad found it later as I wouldn't have fully appreciated either Beowulf or the relationship of the two books at that age. ( )
  Zoes_Human | Dec 29, 2018 |
Wow. I feel like much of this book just went over my head... but what I did grasp (or at least what I think I grasped) took my breath away.
This novel is more philosophical than plot-driven, and these thoughts could have been expressed by any character. So why did John Gardner choose Beowulf's Grendel?

"Poor Grendel's had an accident... so may you all." ( )
  bookishblond | Oct 24, 2018 |
I could not get enough of this book when I read it. ( )
  Katie80 | Oct 8, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (10 possible)

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

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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
For Joel and Lucy
First words
The old ram stands looking over rockslides, stupidly triumphant.
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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Wikipedia in English (1)

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
Haiku summary

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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:47 -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.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 6 descriptions

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