ISBN: 140255110X
ISBN 13: 9781402551109
By: John Gardner

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Reader's Thoughts


Prepare to learn a lesson or two from a monster. This book will take you inside the strange, confusing mind of Grendel, one of the most gruesome monsters in literature. John Gardner provides insight into Grendel's perspective, while overlapping his story with some well-known scenes from the Beowulf book. The background and history behind Grendel's "feud" with the humans in John Gardner's version of this well-known story helps to explain some of the events that take place in the epic of Beowulf.Grendel appears to be a highly intelligent, but misunderstood monster as he interacts with the humans and creatures around him. With his layers of personality and opinions, Grendel's character will hold the interest of teens and adults alike. Grendel searches for his purpose in life, which is a familiar situation that teens are faced with as they mature into adults. While ripping into the flesh of humans and devouring them in clumps are entertaining to Grendel, will this monster ever find permanent happiness? If you have ever been lost in life or confused about your purpose in life, you will enjoy this book and the lessons you can learn.This book is truly a work of art that deserves recognition alongside Beowulf. This book is a must-read companion book to the epic poem of Beowulf. Pick up this book and give it a try "...and now, silence. Darkness. It is time."

Lars Guthrie

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...."

Arianne "Tex" Thompson

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.


(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.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

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.

Izzy Spigel

I hate this book for making me pity this confused monster who spends his free time slaughtering humans, killing them in creative, but gruesome, ways. In Beowulf, there was no reason to feel bad for Grendel. His regrets including wishing he "cracked [a man's] skull mid song and sent his blood spraying out" and kills helpless townspeople and royals. John Gardner takes us on a trip through Grendel's life, and throughout the book we begin to understand why Grendel is as bloodthirsty as he is. This novel require total focus and understanding of what is being said as it includes many psychological questions. With a lot of thought and discussion with other readers, every little sentence Gardner wrote throughout this book ties together. Everything makes sense. Even though I am not a hairy monster and I don't kill hundreds of animals and people, I can apply his thoughts and questions to my own life. I never thought I would be taking life advice from a monster. Gardner earns my respect for giving this originally one-sided creature a mind that speaks to mistakes, regret, and questions more complicated than the human race.


I actually "read" the downloadable audio version. Narrated by the incomparable George Guidell, this is the Beowulf story told from the point of view of Grendel, the monster. While it is, indeed, ‘just a story,’ it’s also a commentary on the basic nature of humankind, about the darkness (and the light) that resides within each of us. I listened to this on the heels of reading The Book Thief, so it was a very contemplative week at my house. ::grin:: Guidell does a stellar job with the narration (as always!) and the story provides a different, and quite interesting spin on the tale of Beowulf, Hrodgar, Grendel and the Dragon, although of course if you’ve read the original, you know from the get-go how this is going to end. Well worth the few hours of listening time! A.

N.T. Embe [Against GR Censorship]

I must say, coming right into this book after having read Beowulf was really quite a jump initially, simply because of the change in styles. But it was such an interesting read, and it was really brilliant and tragic getting to see things from Grendel's point of view. What was even more fascinating was how much time passed before the part that we commonly know from the Beowulf poem, which gives very little on Grendel himself and focuses more on its namesake's journeys.Still, we get a lot of backstory and insight into the Danes that Grendel was terrorizing, and it reads almost like a reinspired Frankenstein--as I kept making small mental notes about parallels between Shelley's masterpiece and Gardner's Grendel. I even saw the moment where my brain pulled out a correlated scene from the movie Megamind and Grendel, when Grendel makes the conscious decision to play his role of the bad guy since he'd so been deemed by the rest of humanity.It was a very emotional rollercoaster, even without any tear-jerking moments. It read very much like philosophical tragedy, and it fulfilled the role of one well. Even in Grendel's most grotesque and cruel moments, his decision-making is the kind almost any reader can connect to, even if we're disgusted by what Grendel does. The reality of why he does it hits home clear as sunrise in the flatlands, and makes for a--not necessarily "predictable"--story, but one that doesn't surprise us either in the turns it takes.I found it a very good story, and probably reading this outside of a classroom setting, I'd even say that most people will be able to relate to Grendel and the situation he's in. Especially considering that most people have in some way, shape, or form known what it's like to be that outcast or that person who's had a role thrust upon them that they don't want to fulfill, but that the world tells them they should. It has a lot of re-reading value, I think, and it definitely will speak to most readers.It's also not shy about handling things frankly, so for some of you that might be a little thrown off by the beginning, just keep reading. It's done this way for a purpose.On a lightly fangirly note, I must say that the additional insights to characters like Hrothgar and Wealtheow, Hrothulf and Unferth, all of them minor characters or unmentioned in Beowulf was really one of my favorite parts of reading this story. So much more about them was fleshed out, and there are entire stories that could be written about each of these characters if others so chose to focus on them. Gardner did really wonderful there, and I can't express how much interest these minor figures evoked in me as I read through this tale.Beowulf himself, the hero of the tale that spawned this reimagination, was a strange mix of what I believed was perfectly in character, a disappointing twist (possibly even a twisting out of character, I would go so far as to say), and an overall amazing force given life like none other in the pages of this book except for Grendel himself or the Dragon. While it killed my fangirl heart to see him portrayed slightly differently than the conclusions I'd come to make about him through study in my course, it was so intriguing to read his character from a different portrayal. Gardner did such an interesting job of writing Beowulf that it hardly matters that the hero (or villain, depending on how people interpret him) shows up only when the book is about done. In the several pages that he's shown in the story, he makes up for it with a life, a presence, that is truly inspired.Overall, I've got to say that this book turned out to really be unexpectedly good. I loved the different point of view that it provided me after I'd just finished reading Beowulf, and it brought so much more life and conflicting thoughts to a tale that already has been one of history's most debated pieces of literature. I definitely recommend people pick this book up, whether they know about the Beowulf tale or not yet. But if you've read Beowulf before, then you should definitely give this one a look too. I guarantee it'll be worth it for the insight it provides.Anyway guys, hope you enjoyed the review! And happy reading~


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.


The Dragon in Grendel is possibly my all-time favorite literary character. This book was one of my largest influences in writing "Cassie Draws the Universe."


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


Someone else's review says:"But Grendel didn't really do what I expect novels to do: it didn't make me care about anything."That's pretty much how I feel about this. I'm one for characters, really, and the lack of real character in this book is disconcerting for me. I enjoyed reading it, and it was a quick and easy read, but I failed to really get invested in the story. There's also a limited amount someone can do with this story, if they're sticking to the original text of Beowulf. I did like that it wasn't one of those that twists the story too hard -- we weren't expected to believe that Grendel should be an object of sympathy, etc.Still, I didn't enjoy this book all that much. I'm at a loss to say what could have interested me more about it, however. It's worth a read to get some different perspectives on Beowulf, especially if you're studying it.

Astrid Yrigollen

Howl mad Grendel, howl. Howl your rage,your loneliness, your loathing. Ah, I love books that make me feel poetic!Where to start on this classic? I went in to it expecting nothing and came away with much.The cover was what made me pick it up since I love monsters,beasties and other creatures(Oh, is that title taken yet? Would make a great name for a comp).How can you not be attracted to the cat/dogman howling in what I thought was dispair? There were times I could relate to the Grendel who is a monster, but other times, he was absolutely revolting to me. He both hated and needed mankind.He was both a loner and lonely.Forever looking for a connection, an equal, but admiration would quickly turn to scorn and eventually lead to someone getting their head bitten off.I swam through the book hoping for Grendel to redeem himself for me,shaper of worlds that he was, but just as in real life, sometimes we expect to much from our creatures. Grendel is at once violent and poetic and at times, a character study of humankind.


Gardner writes in The Art of Fiction, that once the mechanism of an analytical plot is figured out, much of the magic becomes the illusory wielding of gimmicks from behind the curtain. Grendel warrants some reconsideration, the writing enough (figurative and just plain good prose), carries pleasure beyond the staging of ponderings into civics and humanity, light footed into the full bodied character of Grendel. Beside a solid plotting, this Anglo-Saxon tale retold from his other half, gates the great themes from British beginnings through Romanticism to Hardy’s hollow raving into the void, in the preponderous entertainment with which the Scops must of belligered their songs into the night. So if you have come to know poor Grendel from that other much told tale, come pleased to meet him. The British have given us the Rebel Cool of Lucifer, and now another beat in that heart of darkness, so “Have some sympathy, and some taste/ Use all your well-learned politesse/Or [he’ll:] lay your soul to waste, um yeah”


Grendel stumbles through life in philosophical mumblings, searching for the tiniest shred of joy in every adventure he journeys. His mother has loved him in a way animals love their young. She helps him survive, but she doesn't nurture him. The humans, in which he placed his trust, laughed and mocked him out of fear. Their minds would not let them understand that Grendel was not out to hurt them. Grendel softens the hearts of readers as his life folds out in a heartbreaking tale. He reaches and reaches for a hope of a happier, more fulfilled life. An unattainable goal.

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