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Grendel by John Gardner
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May 29, 2012

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Read in May, 2012

GRENDEL. (1971). John Gardner. ***.
As you might suspect from the title, this is a prequel to Beowulf. This time, however, the ogre, Grendel, tells the story from his perspective. We do get to meet Grendel’s Mother and the Dragon, but Beowulf doesn’t appear yet. We learn that Grendel is a complicated character. He is – aside from his Mother, who doesn’t have much to say – alone in the world. There are no other creatures of his kind with whom he can communicate or share any thoughts or activities with. He is left alone to prey on a variety of humans that he comes across. He tends to be a watcher of the then human activities, in an effort to understand them. The fact that he is so different from them forces them to treat him as they do. He has a kind of language, but it’s different from that of the humans around him. He can understand them, but they cannot understand him. He has great physical strength, and, because of a spell placed upon him by the dragon, he is invincible against any human weapons. His relationship with the dragon is interesting. He visits the dragon to try and pick up enough knowledge so he can understand what life is all about. The dragon, during their conversations, manages to come out with some of his philosophies, but it mostly boils down to ‘gather treasure and guard it.’ It seems that by the end of this story, Grendel is ready to meet a new challenge – whatever it might be. When I finished the book, I searched the internet to find reviews, and learned that there might well be other meanings to the book that I totally missed. I recommend that you check out those reviews yourself and see if you picked up on any of these ‘deeper’ symbols. I personally read the book as a cautionary tale – which is probably the simplest way of approaching it.
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