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Grendel by John Gardner

Grendel (original 1971; edition 1989)

by John Gardner

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4,293831,150 (3.84)145
Authors:John Gardner
Info:Vintage (1989), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, Expendable

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Grendel by John Gardner (1971)

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» See also 145 mentions

English (81)  Spanish (1)  All languages (82)
Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
this is a slim book, and not at all what a Lord of the Rings" fan would expect. It is slim but dense, and from the Epigraph by William Blake to the last sentence "Poor Grendel's had an accident," I whisper. "So may you all." I could not stop reading, or it seems draw a breath. Beowulf is an old story, and has had many imitators, but to tell the tale from the monster's point of view is unusual. By the end of the story, the straightforward hero tale is on its head, and quickly blowing away from us.
John Gardner has humanized the monster, and has made Grendel's vision of mankind starker, and more incisive than than the original author's intent. Both books are to be read in sequence, and we will be more compassionate people if we do read it that way. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 9, 2016 |
Loving Beowulf as much as I do, it was only natural for me to enjoy Grendel. It has been a while since I actually read the book, but I can still remember how hard the poetic language and beautiful imagery impacted me. It's one of those books that sticks with you, even if you aren't totally aware of the fact at first. ( )
  shulera1 | Jun 7, 2016 |
The monster has a name (Grendel) and a mother (no name given). Grendel, who has an artist's soul, is corrupted by the dragon (his name is Lucifer, it's kind of implied). This is the story, then, of one of Cain's outcast progeny, a monster, a demon, Grendel, the monster with a name.

Grendel comes to no good end (Beowulf rips off his arm and he bleeds to death). The really interesting story is how he comes to end up there, which is Professor Gardner's real imaginative triumph. Unferth the wannabe hero is played for great laughs (Grendel won't kill him, refuses in fact to kill him, and poor Unferth has to live out his unfortunately long life forever jealous of the heroic dead). Beowulf is played as an unworldly kind of half-angel/half-man, which is a kind of monstrous creature, from Grendel's perspective.

The novel Grendel is every bit as stirring as the epic, Beowulf.


I liked the book even more this time around. I understand the characters better -- all of them except for Beowulf (who remains opaque as ever); I understand their motivations. Wealtheow, Hrothgar's captive bride, a kind of Christ figure, has power to make Grendel both weep and rage. He weeps because touched by her self-sacrifice in service to Hrothgar, whom she appears to have grown to love, arranged marriage or no, the old warrior in decline; and Grendel rages because why should human's find happiness. The Shaper, the poet and harpist, incites most of Grendel's rage: the man has power to conjure heaven in his fingertips, to weave an upward stairway with words; and yet he, too, is limited and mortal and craven. All this beauty, all this grandeur, destined for death and oblivion. Grendel is shown by the dragon a vision of our Galaxy's end: a blackened sun, orbited by dead arachnids.

And yet despite the appearance of life as a brief, bright moment bookended by blackness, a kind a radiant cheer suffuses the novel. I think it has something to do with the ecstasy of art.


Still love this book. I'm sure I'll read it again. The Dragon parts are more meaningful now. "There is no absolute standard of magnitude. Any term in [the progression from small to large] is large compared to its predecessor and small compared to its successor."

Add to that Grendel's insight: "All order, I've come to understand, is theoretical, unreal -- a harmless, sensible, smiling mask men slide between the two great, dark realities, the self and the world -- two snake-pits." ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
Beautifully written. I will never think about Beowulf and Grendel in the same way. ( )
  Jaskier | Dec 1, 2015 |
Brilliant, beautiful book. ( )
  Michael.Xolotl | Nov 11, 2015 |
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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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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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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 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)

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