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Grendel (1971)

by John Gardner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
5,5231031,544 (3.83)179
The first and most terrifying monster in English literature, from the great early epic BEOWULF, tells his side of the story.
  1. 90
    Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton (sturlington)
  2. 30
    An Absolute Gentleman by R. M. Kinder (ehines)
    ehines: Another fine "from the monster's point of view" kind of story.
  3. 30
    Little, Big by John Crowley (sturlington)
  4. 20
    Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Classics retold to give voice to silent characters important to their plots.
  5. 10
    Beowulf by Beowulf Poet (sturlington)
    sturlington: Grendel is a retelling of Beowulf from the monster's pov.
  6. 21
    The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (fugitive)
    fugitive: Another brilliantly retold classic by a modern author.
  7. 10
    Mickelsson's Ghosts by John Gardner (stellabymoor)
  8. 10
    Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West by Gregory Maguire (mcenroeucsb)
  9. 11
    Gojiro by Mark Jacobson (fugitive)
    fugitive: Another autobiography of a real monster.
  10. 01
    Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright (infiniteletters)
1970s (40)
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» See also 179 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 102 (next | show all)
The author has stated that this book is intentionally a philosophical book meant to poke fun at society at the time. Because of this, the book is incredibly confusing and isn't at all a good read if you are looking for a good story. ( )
  Michael_J | Jun 2, 2022 |
A retelling of Beowulf from the viewpoint of the monster.
Retellings are a tricky business, I think. You have to stay true to the spirit of the original while also making the story your own and using it for your own purposes. I know this one has received high acclaim, and while I started out with high hopes, in the end it just didn't work for me. Gardner is clearly using the tale to engage with Big Philosophical Ideas (I mean the whole thing is lousy with Sartre), and that's fine, of course, but it just feels like the story gets lost somewhere along the way and there's more interpretation and metaphor than retelling, or for that matter, telling at all. Plus, it's so very grim. It's dark without the depth of actual feeling of the original, which mean we're left with just dreariness. ( )
  electrascaife | Apr 3, 2022 |
Grendel by John Gardner takes the Beowulf story that some of us read in high school and turns it on its head.
If you think you know who is the hero here, keep reading.

Grendel is an articulate monster, curious about life and art and his role as "Brute Extant" and mead hall wrecker. He wants to fit in, He wants to understand. He's lonely.

The Shaper - the King's blind harper - sings of a world of noble warriors and a benevolent God. Grendel knows better. He sees the world as a place of random violence and greed and lust and savagery. He's not the only "Monster" here.

The Thane's government, seen as wise and merciful, is just the way that the rich and powerful STAY rich and powerful. Sound familiar?

There is a curmudgeonly and know-it-all dragon, who pokes holes in all of Grendel's illusions, and Beowulf himself, who shows up late in the book to carry out his assigned role in the history. (Free will? Or pre-destination? You decide).

It's a advanced seminar in Existential Philosophy wrapped up in breathtakingly beautiful poetry, asking questions that are still valid and still important. Who shapes society? The Poets -- who lie? Or the monsters -- who by being "evil" teach men how to be "Good".

You want Answers? Talk to the dragon. ( )
  magicians_nephew | Dec 9, 2021 |
My Beowulf journey continues. I first read this book in the late 1970’s and loved it then. I thought the idea of telling the story from Grendel’s point of view was brilliant. And It was my gateway to reading many more of Gardner’s works.

And in my re-read of it now, I love it even more.

I’ll leave it to others to explicate how Gardner wove the 12 Zodical signs into its structure (e.g. read The Twelve Traps in John Gardner’s Grendel), or infused Satrean nihilism into it. (Love the dragon: “Know how much you’ve got and beware of strangers!” [P.S. advice Grendel ultimately ignores]). And it seems a thorough exploration of Macbeth’s “life’s…a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

But in connection with the poem Beowulf, I appreciated the perspective of a sentient being trying to make sense out of the customs and artifacts of what was to it a foreign community. Not unlike the archeologists trying to make sense of the culture found in artifacts discovered at Sutton Hoo.

So I think I’ll add the audiobook reading by George Guidall others have highly recommended to my list. I need to mull whether I’ll add Sartre’s Being and Nothingness to that list.

Update: re-read Andrew DeYoung’s “Grendel at 50”.
Lithub. And gmail. ( )
  jimgosailing | Nov 18, 2021 |
"Tedium is the worst pain."

Gardner gives Grendel a voice that is difficult to ignore. It drills away slowly into your conscience, working its way deep into your subconscious and making residence there. His voice is sharp, eloquent, and persuasive to an offensive degree, to say the least.

I highly recommend this book for literary nerds (and Beowulf fans). For others, I suggest you read a chapter (on Amazon or elsewhere) before deciding to dive into it. ( )
  bdgamer | Sep 10, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 102 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (9 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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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.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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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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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