A mythical beast who finds meaning in killing and a questioning wanderer who cannot find meaning in being: both John Gardener's Grendel and Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha grow and develop spiritually, yet their authors use vastly different styles to convey these changes.
John Gardner's revolutionary style is not encompassed by a single genre; instead, he mixes first-person narrative and several different literary styles to give the "Ruiner of Meadhalls" a unique voice. The use of first-person narrative is essential to convey Grendel's spiritual growth. Were it not for Grendel's often self-deprecatory tone, which varies from mocking - "big shaggy monster intense and earnest, bent like a priest at his prayers" (72) - to bitter and cynical - "I, Grendel, was the dark side. The terrible race that God cursed" (51) - Grendel would be impossible to relate to. Even Grendel's bouts of insanity - (whispering, whispering. Grendel has it occurred to you my dear that you are crazy?)" are easily understood.
Grendel varies from the simple, childish tone of "'Why can't I have someone to talk to? The Shaper has people to talk to'" (53) to the dense philosophical metaphors and complex diction of Grendel's conversation with the dragon. Gardener gives Grendel a purposefully guileless voice to illustrate both the monster's feelings of lost youth as well as his progression into a more sentient being.
"I think I was half prepared, in my dark, demented state, to see God, bearded and gray as geometry, scowling down at me, shaking his bloodless finger. (53)
The nihilistic dragon disagrees with Grendel's humanization, regarding men scornfully a...
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...orld, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration, and respect.' (147)
Siddhartha progresses from an aloof and slightly arrogant youth, not unlike young Grendel, to a wise, satisfied man.
The central difference between John Gardener's Grendel and Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha, both stories of spiritual growth and development, is not thematic. Instead, vast differences in tone and language make the self-deprecating monster easy to empathize with and the soul-searching wanderer simple and detached. Despite their stylistic differences, both works stand alone as examples of philosophical and spiritual evolution.
Gardner, John. Grendel. 1971; rpt. New York: Vintage Books, 1989.
Hesse, Herman. Siddhartha. Dover Publications, 1998.
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