Read Grendel by John Gardner Online


The first and most terrifying monster in English literature, from the great early epic Beowulf, tells his side of the story in a book William Gass called "one of the finest of our contemporary fictions."...

Title : Grendel
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780679723110
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 174 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Grendel Reviews

  • karen
    2019-02-28 09:49

    this review may or may not contain spoilers. i assume that most bookish people are familiar with the basic plot elements of beowulf, either through high school required reading or that video-game-looking movie, or cocktails at the heaney's. if not - this could ruin everything! but it won't. ah, existentialism... when i was a young lass with my fontanelle as yet unfused; when i still liked the doors and books about manson, i dabbled briefly and emotionally in existentialism. "l'enfer c'est les autres" just sounds so good, doesn't it? and not just because it is french and therefore inherently sexified.but it sounds so romantically world-weary and byronesque. and when you work retail, the surface of that statement rings true every single day. but at its core, it is of course infantile and selfish. and this book was where i first realized this.what i love about this book, beyond just the gorgeous simplicity of gardner's prose (and, for some reason, the font) are its hidden depths. it isn't just a retelling, it isn't an apology or explanation - it does smooth out the rough warrior edges of beowulf (the work, not the character) and gives great powers of articulation to grendel with his almost genteel existential worldview, but there are subterranean caverns of philosophy tucked away in here. and i am not someone who digs on philosophy, but i do love the way it is explored here. there was some interview with gardner - must have been in the seventies, and someone was asking him about this book and "what it meeeeeeans", and gardner just sighed and said "there are twelve chapters. there are twelve zodiac signs. you figure it out". which is douchey, yes, but it makes me laugh. and, yes, of course there are the zodiac elements, and the nihilism of the dragon and so many other things happening in this tiny little book. but what stays with me, besides grendel's whole "i alone exist, i create the universe blink by blink" speech, is of course poor existential grendel losing his comfortable childish worldview and "growing up" as he is beaten with his own arm (why are you hitting yourself??) and being shouted at. "sing of walls, bitches!!" there are of course other stages of development at work here, but the one that affected me most powerfully at 17 was this renunciation of existentialism. i think it marked my entrance into womanhood, and it had nothing to do with menarche or penetration or tax forms. for me, the adult world became mine when i set aside childish things unexpectedly (and incompletely) in the wake of a monster's arm. grendel's had an accident. so may you all.

  • Stephen
    2019-03-01 06:38

    If I could ADOPT that big, lug of a monster, I would be signing the papers right now because Grendel really, really needs a friend something awful. That lonely, melancholy maneater gave my soul a migraine and his final "haunting" words spent me like loose change from the sofa. I can't tell you (though I'm still gonna try) how much I loved this book. It is definitely being added to my list of ALL TIME FAVORITES. I have rarely fallen so completely into a narrative as I did from the very first words of this retelling of the epic of Beowulf from the unique perspective of Grendel, to wit:The old ram stands looking down over rock slides, stupidly triumphant. I blink. I stare in horror. ‘Scat!’ I hiss. ‘Go back to your cave, go back to your cowshed--whatever.’ He cocks his head like an elderly, slow-witted king, considers the angles, decides to ignore me. I stamp. I hammer the ground with my fists. I hurl a skull-size stone at him. He will not budge. I shake my two hairy fists at the sky and I let out a howl so unspeakable that the water at my feet turns sudden ice and even I myself am left uneasy. But the ram stays; the season is upon us. And so begins the twelfth year of my idiotic war.The pain of it! The stupidity!‘Ah, well,’ I sigh, and shrug, trudge back to the trees. Grendel had me at hello "stupidly triumphant" and I was toast.Despite being less than 200 pages, this baby is multi-layered and subtle and is one that you will likely want to spend some time getting to know and savoring each delicious nuance of Gardner's poetic prose. The two overarching themes that Gardner raps about through his moody, meditative monster are: (1) nihilism & cynicism vs. optimism & belief and (2) the immense power of the artist and their art to shape humanity and give it the will to stretch beyond itself towards greatness. Gardner’s handling of both of these subjects is nothing short of breath-stealing. The story is told in non-linear fashion and uses a series of flashbacks to show the reader Grendel’s progression from an unthinking brute through his evolution as a philosophizing “reluctant” nihilist and finally to his embracing the role as “the monster” as a means of defining himself in the world around him and ending with his fateful encounter with Beowulf. (NOTE: In order to fully appreciate Grendel, you should be familiar with the story of Beowulf as Gardner assumes the reader’s familiarity with the original epic.) Gardner’s writing is so vivid and colorful and Grendel’s worldview and “voice” are so unique, that it's hard to convey the impact of the experience other than to say, it a one of a kind. Here's the not so skinny. Early on in the tale, Grendel develops the capacity to perceive the world around him as being separate and apart from himself. This is Grendel's “I Am” moment and it is where I took the quote at the top of the review. Once he's able to establish this distinction between himself and the rest of the world, Grendel begins trying to make sense of the world around him. However, he is continuously frustrated by what he experiences which appears to be nothing but a series of random, meaningless events without any deeper meaning. This budding nihilism is later intensified and given shape by Grendel’s pivotal encounter with a dragon (yes, the one from Beowulf but with a much bigger speaking part). The dragon has the ability to see and know the future and experience “all time, past and present” at once and this "gift" has given him a unique, and decidedly pessimistic, perspective on existence. According to the dragon, the entire span of human existence is so fleeting and unimportant in the grand scheme of the universe that man’s endeavor to give meaning to life through religion, poetry, history, etc., are meaningless. He ends his lecture by saying to Grendel, “My advice to you, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it.” I thought that was a great line. The dragon’s words resonate with Grendel but he continues to hope for a sense of meaning to the world. This conflict eventually comes to a head when Grendel encounters the blind story-teller (“the Shaper” as Grendel names him) who has arrived at Hrothgar’s hall seeking employment. In the Shaper, Grendel sees man’s ability to create reality and impose order on the universe. The Shaper, in trying to win a place at court, flatters Hrothgar with tales of Hrothgar’s ancestors and the great deeds they performed as well as the still greater deeds that Hrothgar is destined to accomplish. Grendel has seen the events that the Shaper speaks of and knows them to be false and yet the Shaper’s words are so passionate and convey such certainty that Grendel finds himself believing them. So he turns away, confused. Thus I fled, ridiculous hairy creature torn apart by poetry—crawling, whimpering, streaming tears, across the world like a two-headed beast, like mixed-up lamb and kid at the tail of a baffled, indifferent ewe—and I gnashed my teeth and clutched the sides of my head as if to heal the split, but I couldn’t.This frustration and conflict between what Grendel perceives and the reality that man creates for himself through his art remains the fundamental conflict throughout the story. Even Grendel’s acceptance as the personification of the evil man is meant to destroy is largely based on Grendel deciding that, in fulfilling that role, he will at least find a purpose, a meaning. I had become something, as if born again. I had hung between possibilities before, between the cold truths I knew and the heart-sucking conjuring tricks of the Shaper; now that was passed: I was Grendel, Ruiner of Meadhalls, Wrecker of Kings! All these events culminate in Grendel's epic meeting with Beowulf (who is actually never named).I loved this. Gardner has created an entertaining, beautifully written and powerful statement on the universal theme of “what’s it all about.” This one was a “life changer” for me. 6.0 Stars. HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION!! IMPORTANT POST SCRIPT: I listened to the audio version of this story read by George Guidall and his narration was the PERFECT compliment to the prose and I strongly recommend to those who listen to audio books to seek out this version. It is among the best productions I have heard and I have listened to quite a few.

  • Heidi The Hippie Reader
    2019-03-09 08:48

    Grendel is the ill-fated monster from the ancient story, Beowulf. This is his tale.There are very few details shared about Grendel in Beowulf. I thought that this story would be an opportunity for the reader to get to know him.Unfortunately, we spend most of the time in Grendel's mind, circling endlessly around the ideas of time, brutality, nature and the meaninglessness of existence.I wanted to know more about Grendel's mother, but there was very little about her.John Gardner wrote her as some kind of void-filled slug monster: "Behind my back, at the world's end, my pale slightly glowing fat mother sleeps on, old, sick at heart, in our dingy underground room. Life-bloated, baffled, long-suffering hag. Guilty, she imagines, of some unremembered, perhaps ancestral crime. (She must have some human in her.) Not that she thinks. Not that she dissects and ponders the dusty mechanical bits of her miserable life's curse." pg 10, ebook.Not like Grendel does, endlessly."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." pg 17, ebook.I think that was the biggest reason I didn't enjoy this read. I believe every moment in life is, or can be, filled with purpose, meaning and happiness. Grendel falls on the exact opposite end of the scale.In that way, Grendel is one of the biggest downers you could ever read. He believes that life means nothing. He acts and kills from this empty center.Out of this morass, the one part I kind of enjoyed was Grendel's conversation with a dragon in its hoard. The dragon lives for millennia and sees the world from a view so wide that it is almost outside of time. Again, there's a nihilist bent to his view, but the dragon brought a weird bit of humor to an otherwise bleak story."Don't look so bored," he (the dragon) said. He scowled, black as midnight. "Think how I must feel," he said." pg 43, ebook.Yeah, think how I must feel. All I wanted was the story of Beowulf from a unique perspective and what I received was a vague feeling of depression about the meaninglessness of it all.

  • Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
    2019-03-22 03:53

    Philosophies clash, along with monsters and men. This story of Grendel, told from his point of view, is an unusual amalgamation of Grendel's stream-of-consciousness thought (which becomes more clear and organized as Grendel grows and develops) about his loneliness and self-centeredness, his attempts to make sense of the world, and his cruelty and hatred toward men, while being drawn to them at the same time. Grendel watches the Danes at Heorot at night, eyeing the old king, his young wife and family, and his thanes (warriors), and listening to the heroic songs sung by a bard. Grendel seems to toy with different philosophies: nihilism, religion, existentialism, and solipsism all seem to be part of his worldview at different times in the story. It helps--a lot--if you're familiar with these and other philosophies. I'm really not; the only reason I can throw all those words around in my review is because I've been doing a little studying the past few days and reading some of the analyses of this book. :D I could tell a lot of the writing was going over my head. More erudite readers than I will probably get a lot more out of this book than I did.It will also help if you're familiar with Beowulf, or at least the first part of that old poem. I re-read it (well, the first 40% of it) in preparation for reading Grendel, and being familiar not only with the plot and the characters, but with the way people spoke and thought back then, was tremendously valuable in helping to understand and appreciate this book. But I still think that knowing more about various philosophical ways of thought would have been even more helpful.One cool thing was that each of the twelve chapters of this book takes as its theme the signs of the zodiac. A ram appears in the first chapter, a bull in the second. In the third chapter (Gemini) there is talk of animal twins and a two-headed beast, along with more symbolic discussion of double-talk and the bard's creation of a second (and false) reality through his songs. Along with re-emphasizing the cyclical reality of Grendel's life and life in general, it was just plain fun to track how each zodiac sign appeared and was handled in the text. It helped to amuse me when I was getting bored with the philosophical discussions. I'm kind of simple that way.I feel a little guilty for giving this book three stars. It's a brilliant book in a lot of ways; I appreciate it but I just didn't particularly love it. If this sounds like it might be your cuppa tea, though, I strongly encourage you to read it.ETA: A funny thing happened. A week or so after finishing it, Grendel is still creeping around in my thoughts, lurking in corners and jumping out occasionally to surprise me. And his final words continue to haunt me. So I've decided it deserves 4 stars.Content advisory: Lots of violence (it's Grendel, people). One or two F-bombs. Some crude sexual talk.

  • Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
    2019-02-20 09:39

    During a routine walk from the kitchen to the main room, he stopped mid-stride and suddenly realized that no actual speech had escaped his mouth in what was, sadly, many years. And even very few non-lingual sounds aside from occasional coughs and heavy, anxious breathing ever passed between his lips and the world. He scrolled through his long-term memory for the last time he'd spoken and before reaching a definitive answer he interupted himself with the realization that no matter what the specifics, it had been a very, very long time. This made him feel unspeakably dreadful. He decided that words needed to come out of his mouth right then and there. He parted his lips, did something instinctive with his throat and a little staccato "Ah!" sound sputtered forth and immediately halted. It was then that he grimly realized how foreign the process of speaking had become. Something within had atrophied. Suddenly he felt about as intelligent as a tree stump. This compounded the misery. This was supposed to be effortless but it no longer was. Then, as the purpose of language took hold, he expressed his fear, sorrow and frustration with perhaps the oldest language of all: unfettered screams and moans. All manner of such sounds came rushing out of him. Bellows, wails, shrieks, unhinged cackles, hoots, feral pitch-shifts, agonized AHHs and sickly, tattered OOOHs. Lunging and stumbling around the cavernous main room, he indiscriminately hurled the products of his rumbling diaphram and vocal chords at objects, at space between objects, at the thoughts piling up inside himself, sometimes feeling as if he might knock them over or obliterate them with the force of his emotions-becoming-sounds. He briefly envisioned himself as some monstrous, insane version of a symphonic conductor. He caught a glimpse of himself in a distant mirror on the other side of the room and this only amplified the tremendously unnerving cycle of storage and relief that was moving through him. He felt possessed by the sound. He felt that he possessed it. These alternating currents of channeling and being channeled through carried on for some time. His throat had become raw and sore, his lungs ached, felt aflame. He slumped upon the floor, back against the staircase. He heaved atop the first few steps with his eyes closed. He felt like weeping but no tears would approach. He decided that getting noise out of himself was something he'd need to do more often. He didn't exactly feel pleasant, but his head felt clear and his body lightened in a way it never had before and this was vastly superior to the alternative. It wasn't until then that he realized just how backed up with words he'd been. How much of an island he truly was. All he could think of after a while of laying there--covered in evaporating sweat, finally regaining a steady heart rate, now feeling happily emptied--was how he could make his noises louder.

  • Arianne Thompson
    2019-02-28 01:37

    Look, I'll be honest: I'm never going to win a triathlon. Yes, scrubbing floors and wrestling dogs keeps me stronger than your average sedentary librivore, but my ecological niche is definitely chair-shaped.Even so, I was surprised at how challenging this book was. Take this sentence, for example:I am aware in my chest of tuberstirrings in the blacksweet duff of the forest overhead.The first time is pretty much "bwah?" The second time, your brain starts to adjust to higher-altitude reading. You say, "okay, tubers are basically ground-plants, like yams and such, and maybe I only understand 'duff' as Homer Simpson's favorite beer, but the only place tubers can stir is in the dirt they live in, so he must be saying that he can feel the roots moving in the ground above him." The third time, you've done all the heavy lifting, so you can sit back and admire how pretty the sentence is, and pat yourself on the back for being such an enlightened reader.But let me tell you, doing that for an entire novel wore me right out.And maybe that's because I'm too long out of college, with Dostoevsky and the less-punctuated parts of Faulkner's oeuvre now six years in the rearview mirror. Maybe it's because so much of the rest of the great American bookshelf is the equivalent of a nice, leisurely walk, where we waddle along enjoying the scenery and congratulate ourselves for being so far superior to those teevee-watching schlubs who are even now forming covalent bonds with the butt-groove in the couch. Regardless, this book was a 200-page stairmaster marathon. I'm glad I read it, and I know it was good for me. If I read it another couple of times, I'd probably really enjoy it (I see it does not lack for enthusiastic praise from truly erudite readers!) But at the end of the day, my to-read pile is growing ever taller, and there wasn't anything in Grendel that makes me want to go suck out the marrow and wear its skin on my face.But let me not discourage you from doing exactly that: even my corn-fed intellect can tell that there is serious meat in these bones, for anyone willing to break a sweat cracking into them.

  • Rebecca
    2019-03-15 03:59

    I feel a little ambivalent about this book. It was definitely intellectually appealing, and the conversation that Grendel had with the dragon was very well done. But Grendel didn't really do what I expect novels to do: it didn't make me care about anything. Part of that may be because it's only a meager 174 pages - probably technically a novella - but I think even in 174 pages Gardner could have engaged the reader more.While I was able to scrape away a few enjoyable bits from this book out of sheer force of will and years of experience reading novels that take themselves too seriously (and my love of Beowulf helped, too), I definitely feel that this is the type of book that makes students hate English classes. Gardner's language, while sometimes engaging and original, usually sounded pretentious and deliberately mystifying to me. It didn't help that Grendel was completely unlikable. Not because he ate people or because he was the "bad guy," but because he was so whiny, narcissistic, and weak. He was also, to use one of his own phrases, "tediously poetic." Perhaps Gardner wanted to make Grendel unlikable, but I have the feeling that that wasn't what he was aiming for. He seemed to want Grendel to be some kind of profound, outcast poet-philosopher, but instead Grendel just came off as a cannibalistic English professor from the 1960s or a Beat poet who happened to occasionally go on murderous rampages. If I wanted to read about a character full of self-doubt, self-loathing, and pretentiousness, I'd read some Nabokov and have a better time of it.

  • Michael
    2019-03-23 03:50

    Every once in a while a book comes along that is so beautifully written it shames me to think I should ever consider putting verse to paper. This is one such book. -m

  • John Farebrother
    2019-03-15 02:40

    A curious yet compelling read. It tells the story of Beowulf, but from the perspective of the monster, Grendel. Grendel, whose only companion is his taciturn mother, is a lonely creature, and each chapter is an excerpt from his solitary musings as he attempts to make sense of the world and his place in it. As such he is psychotic, but he is also very young, an adolescent, which elicits a reluctant sympathy in the reader. He is fascinated by the world of men, with their coordinated purposeful activity and gregarious existence, and finds himself drawn to them despite himself. Thus his ponderings on the meaning of life are punctuated by violent episodes as the legend plays out, and he finally meets his match in his nemesis, the hero Beowulf. The author himself was killed in a motorbike crash, which I found influenced my reading of the book. Was he a loner, attempting to engage with an unwelcoming world by living dangerously? I found the book also challenges the assumptions we have about our world view being right. There are always at least two sides to every story, yet a single narrative tends to dominate society, irrespective of social media. Perhaps the message of the novel is that it's important to look beyond the official received wisdom, even if that means entering the head of a monster.

  • knig
    2019-03-20 02:53

    Beowulf is a an 11c heroic epic poem, written in England, in old English, by newly Christianised monks, but set in Scandinavia. If one can’t handle the Nowell Codex, the film does a pretty good raconteur job.Grendel (1971), of course, precedes both the film and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) which subsequently utilises similar techniques: interweaving highly theoretical discourse with quotidian and utilitarian undertakings.Effectively, Gardner takes up Beowulf a millennium post-partum and manages, without altering the ‘historical accuracy’ of the poem at all, to distil it through a 20 c kaleidoscope of notionality. This can be very dangerous territory for any author, but Gardner pulls it off with aplomb.In a ‘Thus spoke Grendel’ first person narrative, Gardner approaches what are essentially two dimensional characters in the original poem and plots them sensitively, and sympathetically, on a 3D narrative grid. Actions are parsed out and framed in an intricate network of emotional and philosophical weave. Grendel and his prey (the Danish thanes) transubstantiate from their black-and –white victim/perpetrator cardboard cut outs into a complex, symbiotic intra-dependence. They need each other in an achingly horrifying way, imbue meaning in each other’s existence. The destruction of either party would skewer the Gaia balance, and they seem to know it instinctively: men need heroes and just causes to fight for and monsters need to be acknowledged, if not worshipped.In this fracas its becomes difficult to discern who is man and who is monster and who is god. These three seem to conjoin conceptually in some grotesque Siamese Holy Trinity, with lashings of mutual adulation acting as the gelling agent. This is ultimately an intelligent, philosophical exploration of the dichotomy of life, poignant and hyperbolic in its own way.

  • Jordan
    2019-03-22 09:51

    After reading "Beowulf" in my Brit Lit class, I was turned onto "Grendel", by my English teacher. I truly love this book, and the way that John Gardner plays with the character Grendel, and the humor within the writing. After all Grendel was just a misunderstood pagan monster. What's a monster to do? : )

  • Warwick
    2019-03-16 02:44

    This smallish book, published in 1972, is an interesting exercise in examining a well-known story from an unexpected viewpoint – in this case it's Beowulf retold by the monster Grendel. It could have been a bit naff, like one of those awful ‘reinventions’ that certain novelists seem to knock off every couple of months, like Hamlet narrated by Ophelia. And actually I didn't really like it at first, for exactly the reason that it seemed a bit gimmicky. But by the end (and it's not a long book), it becomes clear that this has more substance than that, and the book's stayed on my mind since I finished it a couple of days ago. It's not a total success by any means. Gardner clearly knows the original poem well, and expects his readers to, but his attempts to adopt an Old-English alliterative stylee are not very convincing. His sense that he is working from an epic poem also tempts him to get a bit overblown at times:Space hurls outward, falconswift, mounting like an irreversible injustice, a final disease.Blimey – it's just the sky. But if the language isn't quite there, it does at least have its own sort of momentum, so that by the end it's started to sound more reasonable, and build up some force. More to the point, Gardner's grasp of what Grendel means in the world of Beowulf is excellent. One by one, we see a series of descriptions or explanations of what it means to be a human being, with Grendel always used to provide a logical opposition to every aspect of ‘humanity’. Men seek companionship and sexual partners; Grendel's all alone. Men worship gods and invent abstract moral codes; Grendel, a born nihilist, sees that the world is meaningless.If that sounds a bit cerebral, it's really not. It's actually quite tragic – Grendel can't help being the way he is. He hates humans primarily because they have hope for the future, whereas he does not. The more he kills them to try and break down their naïveté, the more they continue to put their faith in things like heroic ideals and the power of love – things which, to Grendel, are patently absurd. The fight with Beowulf himself – who is never named in the novel – is a clash of ideas for Grendel. He doesn't want to die exactly; but if a hero defeats him, then maybe it would mean humans have a point, after all, with their talk of heroism and justice? And secretly, wouldn't he love for them to be right and him to be wrong…?The end, which we all know is coming, proves to be unexpectedly moving, and the last lines of the book linger. I would definitely recommend this one if you can find a copy of it.

  • Connie
    2019-03-23 08:03

    "Grendel" is a retelling of the epic poem "Beowulf" from the point of view of the monster, Grendel. The poem was written in Old English sometime between the 8th and 11th Century. The monster had been attacking the Scyldings in the mead hall of Hrothgar, the king of the Danes. The hero Beowulf, a Geat, destroyed Grendel. Although the poem "Beowulf" also tells of further adventures of the hero, the retelling ends with the death of Grendel.In "Grandel" the narrator-monster has been living in a cave with his mother. He ventures out to observe the savage humans populate the area, and finally form a complex civilization. He hears the Shaper, a blind harpist-poet, tell beautiful mythical tales about ancient warriors, which inspire Hrothgar, although the stories have little factual basis.When he reaches adulthood, Grendel asks philosophical questions of the Dragon, who has a fatalistic view of life. This confuses Grendel who has been hearing the Shapers' imaginative heroic view. The Dragon gives Grendel a magical gift--weapons could no longer penetrate Grendel's skin.The Shaper tells the tale of the two sons of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel. Cain is the ancestor of Grendel, while humans are the descendants of Abel. Although they look different, Grendel and the humans had a common language, common ways of thinking, and a shared heritage. Grendel felt isolated and lonely, and found life tedious because he had no companions to talk with.Grendel would spy on the Scyldings in the night, and attacked them for twelve years. Boewulf and a group of Geats eventually arrive by boat to help the Scyldings destroy the monster.The story was written in beautiful poetic prose. Even though Grendel committed terrible deeds, he also had a sympathetic lonely side to him and an appreciation of beauty. One could see life through the monster's eyes. The book was also nicely illustrated by Emil Antonucci with wonderful woodcut prints of Grendel's head.

  • Peter Watson
    2019-03-14 04:07

    Grendel is John Gardner’s endeavor to squeeze as many schools of thought (nihilism, existentialism, solipsism, you name it) into 174 short pages. The result is an intense and quirky philosophical treatise on beauty, evil, culture, love, and humanity’s search for meaning (or meaninglessness) that raises several uncomfortable questions — why do I feel compassion and empathy for a bloodthirsty monster? Why are some people “good” and others “evil”? What makes an action or character moral or immoral? What gives life meaning? The book doesn’t quite answer all the bewildering questions it raises. Instead, it asks the readers to look within their own souls and find their own answers. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys experimental narrative structures, alternative perspectives on well-known stories, and/or heavy philosophical conundrums.

  • Terry
    2019-03-14 02:02

    (my thanks to Rich for the Christmas gift)It's sort of weird that I've never read this book before. Having grown up with an English teacher for a father, I've known the story of Beowulf ever since I watched an 8mm film project one of his students made, the chief special effect of which involved flushing a yearbook photo of the boy who played Beowulf down the toilet in order to simulate the hero's diving into the haunted mere. I've known about John Gardner's retelling of the story from the monster's perspective since studying the Anglo-Saxon epic in high school. I've been teaching Beowulf almost every year since Heaney came out with his translation, and every year I've thought of reading Grendel, but for some reason I hadn't until this year.The problem with reading a book that you've been hearing about for twenty years is that you think you already know what it's going to say. And maybe one of the reasons I'd never got around to reading Grendel is that I was afraid it would turn out to be one of those by now trite demonstrations that all monsters are really just the misunderstood victims of the majority's prejudice. Since Gardner came out with his book, there is almost no literary monster--from the big bad wolf to the wicked witch of the west--who hasn't had her case re-examined and the evidence against her overturned.But Gardner's Grendel is more than just a victim pleading for our sympathy. His sense of alienation has passed beyond blame to a kind of existential indifference that is more like Camus' Stranger than the Cookie Monster. The result is an enemy who is no less frightening for his being rendered more human. In fact, everything becomes more frightening: King Hrothgar, heroic Beowulf, the relentless progress of a barbaric civilization. Such depiction doesn't so much turn Beowulf inside out as reveal what has always been implicit in this most pessimistic of epics: the relentless way in which violence begets itself, the sense that chthonic forces hover ever at the margins where the firelight fades into darkness, the understanding that enemies are complicit in creating one another.This last insight seems particularly relevant in our current context: a lesson for presidents and political rivals and archbishops alike to consider.

  • SatouCeesay
    2019-03-13 05:41

    This book was one of great self discovery. John Gardner takes us through the “highs” and lows of a beings life that has been forsaken by society. Taking philosophical ideas as a guideline, Grendel struggles with the thought of existence and meaning in his life. With two different kinds of influences pulling at him from both directions, Grendel must find the side where he belongs the most. I think the book could relate to people’s own struggles with meaning and that even though the book was written in the 70’s, it is still highly prominent today.

  • Dracostellarum
    2019-03-04 08:57

    I'm not sure of what to think of this book. The style shifts a lot, and clearly Gardner put a lot of work and thought both to its narrative construction and to the themes he was covering in the book. That being said, I was more aware of how the book was written rather than why. The words and the construction of the narrative got very much in the way; I was too aware of them. It seemed very skeletal, not a whole lot of flesh or life to it. There is a lot of philosophy, and its introduction seems forced. It would be a fascinating book to sit and pick apart for hours and hours, but as its value as something readable...not entirely sure of that.

  • GiuliaMazz
    2019-03-09 07:40

    The novel opened as a wittily irreverent light read. "174 pages of a cynical monster," I thought. "How bad can this be?" Little did I know that John Gardner would soon give my mind an "obscene little kick" and that I'd be unceremoniously thrown headfirst into a philosophical powerhouse. Grendel's strength lies not in the complexity of its prose (although the two UNCLOSED PARENTHETICAL ASIDES still infuriate me to no end), but rather in its capacity to force readers to reflect on themselves, their roles in society, and the dangerous allure of nihilism. In conclusion: if you're not a fan of ambiguous endings and the existential crises that arise when staring into the void, this is not the book for you. However, I got a lot out of Grendel; "so may you all".

  • Alex O'Brien
    2019-02-25 06:45

    'Grendel' is a brilliant retelling of the Old English poem 'Beowulf' from the perspective of the monster. Immediately, Gardner's first person voice enticed me into the story, and his lyrical prose, poetic sensibility, and articulate language kept me reading, as did his breath-taking existential meditations on the nature of good and evil, the power of art and story-telling, our constructions of religion and heroism, and the meaning of life. This short book has jumped onto my list of favourites, and it has inspired me to read Gardner's 'The Art of Fiction,' which I have often heard quoted. I definitely want to learn more about writing from someone who creates such wonderful prose.

  • Brian Symons
    2019-03-21 01:49

    John Gardner’s Grendel takes readers on a journey for meaning. Grendel, the protagonist, uses the plot of the novel to find a purpose in a world that has left him alone and isolated. However, Grendel is not alone, Gardner teaches readers that everyone has trouble finding meaning in a sometimes-cruel world. It’s not only the low-life (Grendel), it’s also the elites (Hrothulf). Gardner leaves readers with the same question, what is our purpose in life? Why are we here? In all, Grendel is a compelling novel that leaves readers with different, often conflicting thoughts, regarding certain events throughout the story. However, Gardner often uses hidden meanings throughout the story, which could make it a confusing read.

  • Avaciavolino
    2019-02-23 03:56

    John Gardner's Grendel dives head first into the world of existentialism and attempts to answer the age old question of what is the meaning of life. Readers are taken on a journey to seek this answer through the epitome of an outcast, the monstrous Grendel, who wrestles with grasping his own identity in the world. The struggle between nihilism and the existence of a meaningful purpose in life is clearly on display through the trials and tribulations of Grendel's life. While the premise of Grendel's search for an identity is an excellent topic of discussion, I felt that at times the way in which Grendel contradicts himself over and over can get quite exhausting. I do commend Gardner for tackling such a complex theme and presenting it in the way that he did, however, I feel that Gardner could have framed the story of Grendel with less contradiction because i feel like the constant tug of war took away from the actual ideas that Grendel viewed. With the overstated war between philosophies, there wasn't as much description as to what Grendel felt, it was more just the bare expression of nothing or just the notion that maybe there is meaning, but no explanation of the meaning. I do believe this is a good novel nonetheless because it creates for interesting discussions.

  • Adam Ginsburg
    2019-02-21 05:42

    Grendel, John Gardner's complex brainchild, is a philosophically deep novel that delves into many of the avenues of contemporary thought. This Beowulf spin-off deftly explores what it means to be human, but at times it feels as if Gardner goes out of his way to be overly philosophical. At the risk of providing a spoiler, was it necessary to insert "nihil ex nihilo" at the end of a chapter? The actions of that chapter proved that 'nothing comes from nothing,' but the insertion of that phrase illustrates an overtly philosophical effort on the part of Gardner to prove his point about nihilism. Overall, still a thought-provoking read, especially when considering the relationships that humans have with one another. When we take a step back and look from afar (preferably from the perspective of a non-human creature like Grendel), why do we, as a species, derive meaning in killing one another? Are the acts of being a "brother-killer," of raiding other communities' 'mead-halls,' part of our search for meaning? Or are they purely senseless? Through Grendel, the self-destruction of our own fellow humans is one of the many topics brought into stark relief.

  • Sophie Mcintyre
    2019-03-21 09:40

    Gardner's retelling of Beowulf not only alters the lens on the classic hero, but on humanity in its most complex form. Tackling the way we define "evil", Grendel's unconventional, antiheroic journey has readers shamelessly rooting for a blood-thirsty monster. Gardner crafts a careful tale of death and redemption, but takes on such a swirl of conflicting ideals, nihilism, existentialism, solipsism, even the human condition, that it becomes hard to keep up. Poor Grendel grapples with the consequences of isolation throughout the story, ultimately leading to his "accidental fall to grace". This ending was a problem for me at first, I couldn't help but seeing it as a bitter end, as I initially failed to see the redemption behind the fall. It took Gardner's explanation and plenty of talking through for me to finally get it, how tragically satisfying it is to see Grendel's nihilistic views die with him. All in all, the novel presents ideas that turn the mirror on readers, forcing self-reflection. And according to Gardner, that's what any work of "real art" does.

  • Arun Divakar
    2019-03-13 07:37

    History could very well be interpreted as a stream of stories penned by victors. There have been battles,coups and epoch changing events and almost all of which have been stories told by those left alive or those left on the winning pedestals. Did anyone tell us much about Ravana's thoughts as his entire kingdom was ground to dust by a man and his army of simians ? What of Ernst Blofeld whose plans were doused in hot water by a dapper Brit ? I could go on but the point I want to convey is that everyone is a hero to him or herself ensconced when they are in their little worlds. This could be the premise where John Gardner began to base his work upon.Gardner chooses a very fertile landscape to base his story upon : The myth of Beowulf & Grendel. One of the most ancient hero-quest legends (I borrow this lovely phrase from Joseph Campbell!) is taken and is twisted to a different shape with the monster named Grendel occupying the center stage. Grendel makes a very interesting character study for he is quite obviously a monster not at peace with himself. He is a creature prone to depression which fuels illogical acts of violence and destruction. These bouts of depression seem to trace their beginnings to a fateful run in with human beings and the increased encroachment of man into the forest where the beast makes its home. There are countless things that drive him over the edge almost all of which has to do with human beings. Ah ! Humans, those apes that walk on two legs who drove Grendel away like a penguin in a land of peacocks when he approached them as a friend ! Things go hurtling past then and the inevitable outcome which any one can easily guess comes into being.These being said, I must say that my reading experience was greatly enhanced as I have not read Beowulf. The most interesting fact is that someone by the name Beowulf never appears even once in the tale. There is but Grendel, a deeply flawed and close to human monster. A bundle of angst,depression and murderous levels of psychotic rage and at the same time a lonely and wretched lifeform. His loathing and subsequent extinguishing of humanity is very methodical for if he kills them all off, then there would be nothing left to live for. Here we find the hunter and the hunted interlocked in a danse macabre which builds all through the seasons of the earth. And...Oh yes, I must not forget the dragon ! He is a magnificient creation and Tolkien's Smaug seems to pale in comparison here. Gardner's dragon has a mind sharper than many I have come across in the literary world and a wisdom worth many generations. He has seen civilizations rise & fall, he can read your mind and he knows the future, even his own and all these make him cynical beyond measure. I must also add here that his dealings are as straight as a hairpin bend on a mountain trail. I loved this character !Coming to the writing style, it takes some time to get used to. It's like water flowing down a path paved with pebbles and while at some places the liquid flows quick, at others it slows down to a crawl. Not exactly my favorite kind of a writing style. Also evident is his effort to bring in the icons of modern life into a pre-medieval tale. His characters talk of police & the army, his monster mouths the wordfuck youand there are discussions on the relative merits of an agrarian society and how the working class can overthrow the ruling elite. We must not forget that this story happens in a time when man was learning to organize into a society and live an organized life ! I believe Gardner was an atheist or he had an axe to grind against organized religion. There is too much bashing of religion and icons throughout the tale and so is there a very concentrated effort on dismantling the entire gamut of heroism and noble ideals. While the work shows flashes of brilliance at a lot of places, I could equate this to the mutterings of a very bitter man. Also for a tale of fantasy, there is far too much philosophical gore spattered on the pages !

  • Rob
    2019-03-10 05:38

    Something I had forgotten in the 20 or so years since last I'd read Grendel, was that it is not a necessarily a book about the solipsism of "the monster". No, Grendel is largely unconcerned with whether/not the Scyldings exist; his struggle is not with existence [1] but rather one with alienation and isolation. In some ways, he is the ultimate outsider: not human enough for the Scyldings, too human for the animals -- the only ones that will speak with him are an aloof dragon [2] and a senile/deranged priest. [3] Grendel is not evil so much as he is an introspective nihilist.---[1] Making it "not really" an existential novel?[2] Who further isolates him by granting him an apparent albeit apparently tenuous invulnerability.[3] It is hard to count the conversations with Unferth and "the stranger" (Beowulf, the Geat); those challenges are more like lop-sided dueling soliloquies.===original mini-review, per original reading (approx. April 1997):Incredible work. Helped shape my goals as a writer at a pretty early age. For better or worse.

  • Zach
    2019-02-23 03:37

    Grendel can't settle on a single idea or voice. Whiny, self-involved and "tediously poetic," this retelling of the epic Beowulf from the monster's point of view is full of existentialist pity-parties (the dragon gives a tiresome lecture on the brevity of the universe) and anachronistic outbursts (Grendel suddenly gives the empty sky an upraised middle finger). Eventually the rapidly shifting topics and themes blurs together into an unholy literary drone. Blah blah blah nihilism blah blah blah mythology blah blah blah monsters can have mommy issues too. I wanted to sympathize with the creature Grendel, but while some "monsters" can inspire awe (Milton's Satan) or terror (Frankenstein's creature), Gardner's Grendel inspires nothing but disdain; one of the original monsters reduced to a collection of petulant tantrums and tenuous philosophical claims. Thankfully, this terrible book only lasted 170 pages; unfortunately, that is the best thing I can say about it.

  • kari
    2019-03-15 07:55

    What beautiful prose. What a twisted idea for a narrator - giving voice to Grendel, who is fully aware of how others see him. And even when he describes his rides on the mead halls, when he commits murder with obvious contentment, he still earns the readers' sympathy, or at least some of it. "Grendel" is a compelling study in our own understanding of humanity, but... it's just half of the story. And I don't mean Beowulf, but Grendel's mother, the queen, the invisible women who are either prizes or victims or both or sort of just there - don't they get a say in this philosophical clash? Could we please stop claiming that male-centered views are universal? The book is witty and so brilliantly written, it was tugging at my heart, and only when I finished reading I realized what was bothering me. But even then I had so much compassion for Grendel. And the illustrations, I have to mention them. Because a lot of my compassion stems from seeing this cover, and the ink graphics in the book, and they give Grendel a very clear, tormented personhood.

  • Aidan_McGovern
    2019-02-27 09:46

    Within the sometimes cryptic pages of John Gardner’s “Grendel” is a philosophically reflective novel that challenges the moral scrutiny of human beings in a literary analysis of what’s “good” and “evil”. The juxtaposition of good and evil forces or characters has been illustrated within works of literature for centuries, but “Grendel” takes the initiative in reversing our expectations of moral standards, as we follow the surprisingly intellectual journey of an ancient monster. Sure, many of Grendel’s mindless murders and raids could simply be labeled as a product of biological, mechanical impulses, but his conflicted emotional experiences regarding his exclusion from human society and his suppressed love for their stories is an almost beautiful representation of what it truly means to be human. Overall, this novel makes you think and question the way in which you live your own life in the context of the rest of the universe. I gotta hand it to Gardner on this one, gonna give him 5 out of 5 big ones for “Grendel” 👌🏼.Final Rating: 5/5 masterpiece Snap Level: *****thunderous*****🙌⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️👍

  • Anshul Baid
    2019-02-21 08:55

    Get ready for the best existential crisis of your life as you dig deep into your own morals and those of society.John Gardner's "Grendel" is a masterpiece which represents what it feels to be conflicted, lonely, guilty and relevant through Grendel's liminal lifestyle. Fascinated, but rejected by the humans the struggles faced by Grendel are more relevant to us than one could ever imagine. Grendel battles through his own dragon and multiple philosophical ideas and you will too in search for the true meaning of life and the never ending argument of good v. evil. "Poor Grendel has had an accident" and so may we all.

  • Lars Guthrie
    2019-02-21 02:07

    Marvelous. Everyone but me, it seemed, who was around in the early 70's, read "Grendel." I don't think I really even knew what Beowulf was all about back then, so wasn't interested. So now I'm glad to come to "Grendel" after many connections to the source. I work with someone who is getting her masters in English Lit, and she complained about reading Beowulf papers as a T.A. that were all about how Grendel felt. She was at first confused about the reason for this--not having come of age until Gardner's book was out of vogue. Now, however, it has come back into style, judging from her students and various high school summer reading lists. It also certainly informed the recent film (screenplay in part by Neil Gaiman). Grendel speaks Old English; the dragon lives in Denmark; Hrothgar is fallible. What better way to get at the reason for a monster than to ask the monster? "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 snakepits. The watchful mind lies, cunning and swift, about the dark blood's lust, lies and lies and lies until, weary of talk, the watchman sleeps. Then sudden and swift the enemy strikes from nowhere, the cavernous heart. Violence is truth...."