Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Grendel by John Gardner

Why I read it: Read Beowulf, wanted to hear the second opinion.

Summary: Beowulf, from the monster's point of view.

My Thoughts: This book is a fantastic achievement. Taking the opposite point of view of any story is always fascinating - see the recent movies on Iwo Jima, one from the American side, one from the Japanese, for example - and it's something that should be done more often. It's only when we step out of the bounds of our own thoughtways that we truly understand the world. Unfortunately, most of us never get there.

More, though, needs to be said of Gardner's work itself. He creates a singular, unique voice in Grendel, who tells the story from the first person, and, as you might imagine, in doing so he had two tasks. First, he had to be true to Beowulf and its many themes and characters. To do so, he sends Grendel out as a lurker, always watching from the shadows. He witnesses conversations that shape the story, and shape the very way Grendel approaches his interactions with the Scylds and, later, the Geats. Second, he must fill the gaps, in place and time, where Grendel is alone, with his mother, with the dragon.

Gardner's great point with this work, though, is about society's downfalls. Grendel debates, mostly internally, the institutions of government, war and religion. In the end, he warns one and all, with his dying breath, to look into the mirror, and realize that he was not the only monster.

I bought this book in the literature section of a closing Borders store, at 60% off. Had I known it was this good, I would have bought it earlier at full price, just to give the author his due.

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