John Gardner's Grendel as Hero? Essay

John Gardner's Grendel as Hero? Essay

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John Gardner's Grendel as Hero?


"'I cry, and hug myself, and laugh, letting out salt tears, he he! till I fall down gasping and sobbing."1  With these words the reader is introduced to the "hero" of Gardner's Grendel, and the mood is set for the coming pages. How is one to interpret this ambiguous, melodramatic narrator, whose phrases mix seemingly heartfelt emotional outbursts with witty (if cynical) observations, and ideological musings with ironic commentaries? Perhaps this is what makes Grendel such an extremely engaging narrator. A confounding juxtaposition is established in the first pages, in which the reader must somehow reconcile a hideous, murdering monster, with an apparently philosophical, intelligent, wry and thoughtful being. It is clear from the outset, that if Grendel is to be the hero of this novel, then he will not be so in the conventional sense of the word.

The Macquarie Dictionary defines a hero as, "a man of distinguished courage or performance, admired for his noble qualities."2 Grendel, Ruiner of Meadhalls, possesses no readily apparent noble qualities, so how then is he to win over the reader? As the question suggests, Grendel has many elements of character that can nevertheless win over his audience, such as his humour, and his intelligence and self-consciousness. In addition to these personal qualities, there are several external factors which elicit sympathy in the reader, and tend to illuminate Grendel by a more favourable light. These include: his indoctrination by the dragon (who encouraged him to believe him that it was his natural role and duty to harass the Scyldings), and his imposed "immortality" (his view of which can be summarised in his comment, "So it goes with me day by day and ...


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...tical Review of Long Fiction. Vol. III 4 vols. Pasadena, California: Salem Press, 1991, p 1273

_______. Critical Review of Short Fiction. Vol. III 4 vols.. Pasadena, California: Salem Press, 1991.

Rebsamen, Frederick. Beowulf: A Verse Translation. New York: HarperCollins, 1991.

End Notes

1 Gardner, John, Grendel, New York: Vintage, 1989, p. 6.

2 Delbridge, A., Bernard, J. R. L., Blair, D., Peters, P., Butler, S., Eds., The Macquarie Dictionary, Second Ed., Macquarie: Macquarie, 1995, p. 826.

3 Gardner, p. 8.

4 Ibid., p. 6.

5 Ibid., p. 14.

6 Ibid., p. 85.

7 Ibid., p. 46.

8 Ibid., p. 51.

9 Ibid., p. 52.

10 Ibid., p. 100.

11 Ibid., p. 74.

12 Ibid., pp. 72-3.

13 Ibid., p. 75.

14 Ibid., p. 9.

15 Ibid., p. 146.

16 Ibid., pp. 21-2.

17 Ibid., p. 24.

18 Ibid., p. 173.

19 Ibid., p. 92.

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