Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Grendel: Mini-Review

Grendel (1971) by John Gardner is a retelling of the classic epic poem Beowulf from the monster's point of view. Grendel is treated as an anti-hero and to some extent, I suppose that Gardner is trying to get the reader to sympathize with poor misunderstood creature. We learn how Grendel watched the Danes in their king Hrothgar's great hall for years--envying their joy, scoffing at their heroic ballads, and mocking their boasting. He is awed by the blind poet called the Shaper and even more affected by the beauty of Hrothgar's young wife. Oddly enough the creature can understand the words of men...perhaps because, as legend would have it, he is of the cursed race of Cain. Grendel waivers between wanting to be understood by men--trying to speak to them, though his cries and screams rarely are intelligible to the warriors--and being enraged by them. 

I'm quite sure that the purpose of Grendel (in Gardner's book) is to make me think about the outsider and the outcast. To consider all the philosophies that Grendel tosses about--in his own mind and in his rarefied conversation with the dragon. Apparently, according to notations on Wikipedia, Gardner based his monster on Jean-Paul Sartre and he said in an interview: "What happened in Grendel was that I got the idea of presenting the Beowulf monster as Jean-Paul Sartre, and everything that Grendel says Sartre in one mood or another has said."

I'm sorry, but I'm not quite buying that the rampaging monster who crushes men's skulls and rips them apart and carries their bodies home for his mother to munch on is also a highly philosophical dude. Not to mention that a lot of his philosophical musings just turn into a bunch of rambling mumbo-jumbo. I honestly think it would have made a better book if more had been made of of Grendel's descent from Cain and the dark side of man instead of filling his head with metaphysical ramblings that spurt out in thought and speeches to himself. ★★

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I think the gritty and dark nature is what appeals to me most. I might really like this one.