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

Check Price Now


Classic Classics Currently Reading Fantasy Favorites Fiction Literature Mythology School To Read

Reader's Thoughts

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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


This is one of the strangest books I have ever read. And I've read a lot of books. Perhaps it seems strange to me because I never read Beowulf in any class, nor had I read this before now; I don't know. But it's really, really weird.My book club read this last year (or the year before), and I was out of town during that time, so although I had the book, I'd never read it. The whole time I was reading it, I wondered if I had the right book. For a time I thought maybe I was reading a YA book (because of the cover and the size of the print), but I'm pretty sure I read the right one. Sadly, I was also (in my head) connecting it to Beowulf, but the writing seemed so (semi-) modern that I finally had to check the copyright date. OH! 1971. Well.Isn't one of the main deals about a book supposed to be that somehow, some way, the author makes you care about something? Well, here's a rare novel where I cared about pretty much nothing. Not the poor, sad, lonely monster, not the self-centered Hrothgar nor his marauding sycophantic hordes. Now that I think about it, the only character I wanted to know more about was the poor Wealtheow.I can't help but wonder if I'd have liked this book better or at least found it less weird if I'd read Beowulf. However, if that's a prerequisite, I wish it would say so!Other than Wealtheow, the other character of interest was actually the dragon. The dragon actually has the best line of all: My advice to you, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it.And now I have to ask the book club what they thought about this!

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...."

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.


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.


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.


(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.


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”

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.

Lillian Dinkins

Grendel is a book that gives you a true insight into the life of Beowulf's monstrous enemy and a chance to learn about both sides of the story relating to Beowulf and Grendel. I enjoyed reading Grendel because it helped me understand what happened in Beowulf. Not only did it help me understand, but it reinforced the idea that no matter how bad someone's actions might be there are always two sides to a story, though the actions still may not be justified. Despite the fact that Grendel cleared up some confusion about the story of Beowulf, I found this book confusing as well. Grendel's thoughts jumped from one idea to another. Sometimes he would go off on rants about random things that I did not find relevant to the story. He often argued with himself about different topics such as his mother and how she treated him. Overall Grendel was a helpful, graphic, and thought provoking story. Even though I do not think it deserves five stars, I am definitely glad I was able to read Grendel.


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.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *