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

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Reader's Thoughts


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.


(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.

Ryan H

Grendel was one of the most interesting books I've read. I found myself scratching my head after the first page, wondering what the heck was going on. As the book went on, I found it a little easier to understand. It was just very hard to follow Grendel's thoughts. His whole living situation was perfect for this book, all secluded from people and away from everything. I found myself in the beginning hating Grendel because of his thoughts and actions. Some things he said were so gruesome and grotesque that I had to put the book down. He also was malicious when he killed people, at one point snapping a mans head off and “sucked the blood that sprayed like a hot, thick geyser from his neck." Chapter by chapter my passion for hating Grendel grew, both in the character itself and being forced to read it. I did appreciate the authors vivid imagery about scenery, and his love of animals. I can't stop thinking of what a fire snake would look like. And that poor ram that was brutally beaten by Grendel for no real reason. Then with a dramatic twist the reader has to wonder well maybe Grendel isn't the only bully. Grendel, at times, almost seems to reach out to the town people only to be shunned and almost killed. The town people would not give him a chance, which you could then see why he had some much hatred toward them. As the book came to an end I was, hate to say it, glad it was over. I know the historical aspect of why we read it, but besides that point I would go out of my way to make sure people didn't read it. Grendel's thoughts and actions are so disturbing that it seems like the book should have a rated R sign on the front. In the end I still disliked Grendel, even seeing it from his side. I was also really missing action throughout the book. I mean there was a lot of fighting, but the majority was deep philosophical thoughts of Grendel, which left me making my head spin. I rated the book two stars just for the imagery and the historical reference. I would unfortunately have to advise anybody I knew not to read this book, not because I didn't like it, but because it was so disturbing that I don't know how anybody could like it.

Grace Cothren

To enjoy this story, you must understand the main character, Grendel. If you have read Beowulf, you will probably see Grendel as a self-centered, man-eating, ruthless monster. But reading Grendel, you will see his life through his eyes rather than the eyes of the innocent humans he has murdered. Reading Grendel helps explain the back story and explain why Grendel is the way he is. With his mothers only words being "dool dool," Grendel had no one to look up to. Grendel learned how to treat people by the way he was treated. He didn't have an easy time communicating with people, so humans saw him as a threat. He wasn't a vicious monster. He was a confused and alone creature, trying to find his way. This story was a steady read, not having a true climax until the very end. The whole story was Grendel's everyday struggle with communicating with others. I went into the book thinking of Grendel as a brutal murderer but finished the book seeing how truly alone he was. I think this was the authors intention, to not tell you your opinion of Grendel, but to let you form one on your own.


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.


Wonderful. Grendel is a tormented monster. This we know. But why is Grendel tormented? As I read, his anguish began to seem familiar, and - horror of horrors - I began to identify with him. Eliot's plea in "Ash Wednesday" - one of my favorite poems - applies:"Will the veiled sister between the slenderyew trees pray for those who offend herare terrified and cannot surrender"Grendel is tormented by his own nature: he longs for faith, goodness, and virtue, but cannot escape his deep skepticism, anger, and resentment. And that is something I recognize in myself all too clearly. This struggle either makes Grendel human, or me a monster. All the more reason to ask for the prayers of a veiled sister.


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.


My favorite thing -- not book, thing! -- in the entire world is Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson, which takes the myth of the Herakles-slain monster Geryon and turns it on its head, creating an epic romance instead of an epic myth. Consequently, I've always had a soft spot for mythical monsters turned into protagonists, and I've wanted to read Grendel for a while... and I finally did. Thank God! I've also had the joy of reading Gardner's The Art of Fiction, and something from that book that has stuck with me is Gardner's emphasis on the sound of prose lines, which he scans as if they were poetic... and it's so obvious in this book that he walks the talk, too. Some phrases in this book -- like "this one frail, foolish flicker-flash in the long dull fall of eternity" -- literally make me pause to savor their sounds. Grendel is your typical monster, complete with unabashed killing of various living things, though he's also well-educated, introverted, sensitive, and Existential. This may perhaps say a bit more about me than I should, but I really identified with him, perhaps even more than with Geryon -- except on the killing people thing, you know. Ultimately, Grendel won't replace Autobiography as my favorite anything, but I will have to get two cats now, once I officially become the local crazy cat lady gay man -- one to name Geryon and one, of course, to name Grendel.Why I Finished: Uh... because it was freaking awesome?!? And way too short. And tragic at the end, since I liked Grendel more than anyone else in the thing... though I always tend to like the villains better in the books. That's why they're villains.

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.


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."


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”

Shelby Olney

A very insightful book, Grendel by John Gardner grips its reader to the very end. The misunderstood monster, Grendel, tells his side of the story of what happened in his fight with the fierce warrior, Beowulf. The book not only gives us an inside peek at Grendel's death, but at his past as well. You can really grow attached to the poor thing. He tells how the humans treated him throughout his life, and how he came to want to carry out mass genocide on the people. As he narrates his experiences, he uses crazy-smart language and a very philosophical manner of speaking. I highly recommend this book, especially if you have read Beowulf, in order to gain understanding.


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


I recently read Beowulf which I deemed an impressive relic. I admit I read it mainly to prepare myself for Grendel. John Gardner's retelling of Beowulf from the monster's viewpoint was a delight from beginning to end. But I think it tells a lot about modern man. Perfect heroes no longer interest us. We identify with the imperfect, the grotesque and the insecure. Gardner's Grendel isn't so much evil as confused and conflicted. In between gobbling humans and wrecking mead halls, he is struggling with his, and everyone else, role in the universe. He becomes cynical with much disdain for heroes and values. At one point he goes to a dragon with the ability to see the past, present and future. The dragon's advice isn't much help: "“My advice to you, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it.” Grendel is actually quite an idealist..and like many idealists he becomes a nihilist when he discover the world is not one that makes sense. Gardner's brilliance is in seeking out the fear and anxiety of his monster and making him more human than the humans. It is no mere accident that Beowulf not only shows up late but nameless. He is simply a cog in Grendel's tragic life. The other humans are trite, vain and fragile. Grendel may be a brute but he is not a blind unthinking brute. Go, Grendel, Go. A galaxy full of five stars for this modern masterpiece.

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.

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