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Grendel
by John Gardner
From the book jacket:
This is the saga of Beowulf told from Grendel's point of view. This book is both hilarious as well as strikingly thought-provoking. This book would make an excellent accompaniment to Seamus Heaney's wonderful translation of Beowulf, which is being discussed in Classics Corner beginning July 1st.
 


Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (1 of 6), Read 8 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 11:53 AM Well, it is the 15th. Gardner's Grendel is a retelling of the Beowulf poem from the perspective of Beowulf's first adversary. It is a heady mixture of dark humor and grim philosophy with dazzling dollops of wordplay. More importantly, it is a very short work that shouldn't take up more than two days reading from anyone. Go grab a copy, we'll wait. One thing I always enjoyed about this novel is that while Gardner employs quite a bit of humor, he does not belittle the characters from Beowulf. It would have been a cheap shot to portray a big, boasting Beowulf. Instead, we have a figure cut straight from the epic entering this novel, a Sergio Leone figure arriving to set things right quietly and inexorably. In fact, Gardner fleshes out many of the persons of the Beowulf poem, so that the figures of Unferth, Wealtheow, and Hroghtar become real, believable. Also, the setting is amazing, giving one a sense of the grittiness of existence in the time of Beowulf. Of course, the most interesting aspect of this novel is Grendel himself. Grendel with his love/hate affair with poetry, femininity, and heroism. His narrative is engrossing and enlightening. Are we all machines running on lust and passion, as he maintains? "Poor Grendel's had an accident," I whisper. "So may you all." Dan It's OK--they're all smoking!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (2 of 6), Read 10 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 11:56 AM I read this 2 or 3 years ago and as it was short, and I enjoyed it, was planning on a reread. But I forgot to throw it in the bookbag, and consequently am stranded in the mountains without it. Damn, I wish the particulars hadn't faded to a mush. Ruth "We are each of us like our little blue planet, hung in black space, upheld by nothing but our mutual reassurances, our loving lies." John Updike
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (3 of 6), Read 6 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 12:10 PM Ruth- If it's your "mush," I want to hear what you have to say. And since I have yet to start this book, I'd better sign off and start reading. K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (4 of 6), Read 7 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 12:13 PM Dan and Ruth, i am looking forward to this. How do you feel it "compares" to Beowulf, and do you think one should have read Beowulf in order to read Grendal? My friend here is reading my copy before me and he hasn't read Beowulf...dam, I thought Beowulf would have kept him busy before he grabbed the next book on my list! Candy "If elections worked we'd outlaw them" Utah Philips
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (5 of 6), Read 5 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 12:27 PM I've only read part of Beowulf, and that was in 1954 when it was forced down my throat in English Lit. The experience put me off it forever, which is why I didn't read it with CC this time. However, I still enjoyed Grendel. Perhaps it might even be reasonable to read Grendel first, as it's a modern book, and more accessible in form and style. Ruth "We are each of us like our little blue planet, hung in black space, upheld by nothing but our mutual reassurances, our loving lies." John Updike
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (6 of 6), Read 3 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 01:29 PM Ruth -- i kind of had a yes and then maybe, no reaction to your idea that Grendel as a modern book should be read ahead of tackling Beowulf.. I found myself so tempted to do just that cause I started out reading them together -- but then I went with Beowulf and that was a disaster -- I came out of that first time whining by head off -- then went at it again and thanks to CC folks started liking that epic before I ran back and started Grendel again -- loved that old monster just as much as I'd anticipated and like Dan -- feel it adds and expands and somehow "grows" the characters of the epic. Dottie ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (7 of 37), Read 49 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 03:00 PM Dan, I started Grendel last night. Ann
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (8 of 37), Read 47 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 03:44 PM I didn't say should, Dottie, I was just positing the idea that it might be reasonable. As I remember, it's never unclear what's goin on in Grendel, which might be a good basis for understanding the story in Beowulf. Just an idea. Ruth "We are each of us like our little blue planet, hung in black space, upheld by nothing but our mutual reassurances, our loving lies." John Updike
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (9 of 37), Read 47 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 04:57 PM I'm only half way through, but I think B. should be read first. It is a straightforward story, with straightforward lessons. I think knowing that story and those lessons have helped me appreciate G. better. For me, there is more subtlety and showing the reader/listener in G. than in B. K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (10 of 37), Read 48 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Bonnie Mots (bmots@hotmail.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 05:15 PM I say again, WOW! What a thought-provoking novel Gardner has created in his Grendel. Imagine, if you will, that your father is away as a lay preacher, and that you are a 12 year old boy driving a cultipacker (a huge, 2-ton earth-flattening machine used to smooth plowed fields to prepare them for planting) on your family's farm in the soybean and cornfield country of Carbondale, Illinois. Your 4-year-old sister is sitting on your lap and your 7-year-old brother is standing on the drawbar between the tractor and the earth-flattener. Suddenly, the tractor runs out of gas, lurches forward, and dumps your brother in front of the monstrous oncoming earth-flattener. It rolls over his head, spilling his brains and blood on the darkening earth, killing him. That he killed his brother must have haunted Gardner all his life. (His first wife, Joan, recalls him waking up screaming from bad dreams.) In his GRENDEL, knowing this biographical detail, how much more poignant the plight of the monster becomes, and how the "accident theme" becomes even more significant. Gardner was not the kind of writer who wrote "confessional" tales of the type popular today, he used his experiences and genius to tell a tale in a far more creative and masterful way. We do not need to know this biographical information to appreciate GRENDEL, but it certainly augmented the tale for me. What a horrible experience for Gardner to suffer at such an early age -- but it is the stuff of which masterpieces are born, and I thnk GRENDEL is a masterpiece. Gardner, btw, died in a motorcyle accident. He also had been treated for colon cancer. I felt much sympathy for Grendel. How could we not sympathize with him, his plight, and the "accident" of his death? The way Gardner tells Beowulf from the monster's viewpoint is a hard-won stroke of genius. The cynicism that pervades his novel is completely understandable, but ART transforms, Gardner seems to be saying. Only The Shaper's "song" relieves Grendel's gloomy world-view. "Song" is the only thing that seems of a higher level in this brutish world. Poetry as "song" is the only thing that almost "humanizes" Grendel. How sad that when emotionally moved by the songs, he reaches out to the hypocritical humans in friendship but is rejected. Fat chance for friendship among these human monsters! I have not read a more gripping book in a long time. The horrible images of his mother (and her pathetic, blindly instinctive words, "Do-ol, Do-ol"), the desolate landscape, his only companion his own shadow, the humans all compared to animals. Furthermore, it made the original tale, as written by Heaney, more understandable…Gardner remains fairly faithful to the original. Outcast, indeed, and the best among them in contemporary literature, I say! But there were times when I just had to roar with perverse laughter, for instance, when Grendel yelled out: "Bastards," I roared, "Sons of Bitches! Fuckers!" Words I picked up from men in their rages." I'm waiting for the musical! Why not? Why not?! Who wants to cast it? Can't you just imagine the stage settings with those ugly wooden gods? Those wriggling firesnakes as footlights? Bonnie
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (11 of 37), Read 47 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 06:29 PM Bonnie: Thanks for the bio on Gardner. I know next to nothing about him. On the which should be read first question, I would have to side with Beowulf, since this is a novel in response to an earlier work. Sure you can "get it," but you miss some of its real charm. By reading Grendel, I find you come to a better understanding of Beowulf. Grendel is practically a reader's guide to Beowulf, much like Michael Cunningham's The Hours helped guide a reader into Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. Here, Gardner shows considerable insight into the aspects of the Beowulf poem that many readers would dismiss as tangential to the main action--especially the recurring bits about other battles and betrayal. With Grendel's jaded point of view, these aspects of the poem are thrown in a new light and the transformative power of art (how the Shaper makes things true) is emphasized. Dan It's OK--they're all smoking!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (12 of 37), Read 45 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@hotmail.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 08:26 PM I think that I read parts of Beowulf in high school, but I am not sure. I read GRENDEL and was very confused. Then I read the synopsis of BEOWULF in Classics Corner, and that helped a lot. I found it interesting that Grendel never mentions the name "Beowulf" and that Beowulf doesn't come into the story until the very end. Bonnie, I really enjoyed your note. I grew up in farm country and remember those terrible farm accidents. My paperback edition has some interesting line drawings at the beginning of each chapter. It seems that Grendel must have drawn these himself, because they are quite crude. At one point, it is stated that Unferth has killed his brother. This is after the scene where Unferth attempts to die as a hero in Grendel's cave. Either I missed it or it wasn't explained in this novel, but when did Unferth kill his brother? In BEOWULF, did he kill his brother, or is this just a reflection of Gardner's past? Jane
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (13 of 37), Read 45 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 09:01 PM Thanks for the bio info on Gardner, Bonnie. Very interesting. I've read NICKEL MOUNTAIN and OCTOBER LIGHT, but they didn't prepare me for GRENDEL. Quite a little book. Ruth "Nobody belongs to us, except in memory." John Updike
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (14 of 37), Read 44 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 10:46 PM Jane- I remember the bard in Beowulf singing about a man who had accidentally killed his brother. I think it's towards the beginning. I'll have to check. All- I enjoyed the ways Gardner tied B., Hrothgar, the dragon, and G together. Some that came to mind while reading were: H. and G. are attempting to create order in their lives through words and deeds. They solace themselves with poetry and song. It's a common ground, but H. never sees it. G.'s ways and language are too foreign. Misunderstanding occurs, and a lifetime of enmity ensues. Each enjoys his personal fame, and G. sees his purpose in being H.'s foil. One cannot exist without the other. Each defines the other's purpose. Like B. later on, G. senses his own death, and embraces it by giving his all first. He realizes the end to his sense of emptiness is only a leap away, but though he welcomes it, he's reluctant to die and give up his quest for meaning and order. The whole business with the dragon was fascinating to me. Like G., the dragon wanted something that humans had - in his case, gold and treasure. I think that though the dragon had an all seeing eye, and had a superior knowledge of exactly how things go, he was still envious of Man. He was frustrated with Man's incredible foibles and self delusions. Yet he could not begin to understand why Man insisted on living in the moment and making the best of it, whether through honor, revenge, love, poetry, or song. The dragon resented the whole idea of faith in a higher being, yet I think he was jealous of that faith at the same time. What better way to show envy than to deride that which is envied? Also, I was intrigued with the realization that the dragon exacts revenge on G. through B. and later on, the dragon takes B.'s life as well. That means something, but I haven't puzzled it out yet. I think it has to do with Man's and G.'s inability to see the whole picture. G. is part human, and is thus restricted from all seeing knowledge. Both G. and the dragon were enraged that Man was able to delude himself into thinking the moment is what counts. Somehow, they each seemed jealous of that attempt to make sense of the world through beauty, poetry, honor, and revenge. Though he may have suspected it, Man refused to see that all is hopeless and the world is without a true light. The continual references to the sun by G. had to do with his resentment of Man's ability to seek the light in life. Seeking the light is what gave Man purpose. I had to wonder if the dragon and G.'s insistence on the meaninglessness of life had to do with the fact that each was separated from God's irrational creation and pattern of nature. Since they couldn't have what Man did, they were enraged and jealous. G. certainly wanted acceptance and companionship. He was denied merely on the basis of his ancestor's killing of his brother. Perhaps that's why G. is so put out with Unferth's own fratricide. It reminds G. of the unfairness of making him pay for the sins of his forefathers. There's more I want to say, but I've got to get to bed. See y'all tomorrow. K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (15 of 37), Read 38 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Bonnie Mots (bmots@hotmail.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 11:04 PM I agree, read Beowulf first, then Grendel, and then back to Beowulf…everything then becomes a lot clearer, and I found I appreciated the original (well, Heaney's tr.) a lot more. Jane, I hadn't noticed that Grendel never mentioned the name of Beowulf…good point. I guess I just assumed he was the one Grendel knew would be his undoing. If we hadn't read Beowulf first, knowing that Beowulf was Grendel's nemesis, would it have mattered that Gardner doesn't "name" him…or is the fact that names/words become so important (to Grendel) a device on the author's part? I dunno, it's possible. Also, that's a great point about Grendel making the drawings…I hadn't thought of that either…G. struggled to make form out of chaos - when he asked his mom questions to try to understand things, she said "Don't ask." Those drawings seem to be born of chaos trying to make some order, or some sense, in pictures don't they? G. reminds me of a lad who tried to start out good, but he was thwarted by lack of nurturing, etc. Not so different from the psychological profiles of some of our worst modern day criminals. I think Gardner, being true to the original tale, had to end his tale where it did because G.'s death is the end of his consciousness - so no more about Beowulf, nor his death and funeral. My son promises to return my Heaney text tomorrow so I can't cite the place in Heaney, but in the prose translation of Beowulf, by E. Talbot Donaldson, after Unferth chides him about the swimming match, et al, Beowulf begins: "Well, my friend Unferth, drunk with beer, you have spoken a great many things about Breca……I have not heard say of you any such hard matching of might, such sword-terror. …though you became your brother's slayer, your close kin; for that you will suffer punishment in hell…. Does anyone have an idea what the bear on a tether significes in Grendel? He appears several times. Ruth, do you recommend Nickel Mountain and October Light? I'd like to read a lot more by Gardner. He got a lot of criticism for his book ON MORAL FICTION, lambasting some of authors of the free-wheeling 70's, Vonnegot for one, for creating characters that have no "dignity." Is Grendel a dignified monster? And back to you, Jane…I grew up on a farm…and maybe that's why the accident Gardner's brother had made such an impression on me. A farmer who lived near us was gored to death by a bull in his own pasture. That scene with the bull got to me too in Grendel. How many farmers I knew that suffered loss of limb, or fingers. I read somewhere that each of the twelve chapters in Grendel represents a month of the year…from spring to spring, I think. Chapter one begins in spring with the Ram. I haven't pursued this, but each chapter represents a sign of the Zodiac, supposedly. Anyone have an Old Farmer's Almanac handy? Bonnie
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (16 of 37), Read 37 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Sunday, July 15, 2001 11:14 PM Interesting, Bonnie. I hadn't caught the fact that there were 12 chapters. G. is so enraged during the springtime. What is the significance of the William Blake verse? "And if the Babe is born a Boy He's given to a Woman Old, Who nails him down upon a rock, Catches his shrieks in cups of gold"? Does it have to do with G.'s shreiks of rage and injustice, in contrast to H.'s and B.'s compilation of wealth and treasure? Now I really am heading for bed. :-) K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (17 of 37), Read 36 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Theresa Simpson (theresa.a.simpson@gte.net) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 12:35 AM Didn't Unferth kill his bro by accident (a misdirected arrow - maybe one of those Freudian slips, eh?) And everyone was flummoxed about what to do, since it was Unferth the killer's right to claim the life or blood price penalty. Or was that another character. This must have really resonated for Gardner. Bon, I read Nickel Mountain a few years ago. I liked it okay. It remember thinking Gardner sure had read his Faulkner - not due to a similarity in writing style, I can't put my finger on it at the moment. I think there is a movie of Nickel Mountain as well. Theresa Concept trumps reality. Every damn time.
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (18 of 37), Read 34 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 02:47 AM Bonnie, I remember I rather liked Nickel Mountain, but was not as taken with October Light. Ruth "Nobody belongs to us, except in memory." John Updike
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (19 of 37), Read 41 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 05:26 AM Actually didn't Grendel in his musings even refer to the 12 months and 12 chapters connection however vaguely it may have been worded? Ruth -- I didn't mean that should in there to mean SHOULD but I also DO know better than to use that loaded word when speaking of anything here or in other discussion -- my apologies for that one. I still hold that Beowulf is best approached before the more diffused thinking of Grendel is assimilated. I enjoyed Grendel's -- to me -- very "human" musings on all manner of topics relative to the men with which his war is being waged as well as his thoughts on why he cares or why these things even matter to him (to Grendel). I also liked that old Beowulf is pretty much only a cifer in the entire period of this struggle and that it is reasonable that the expansion ends there -- Grendel meets with his own accident courtesy of Beowulf or not? I wonder how Grendel might have analyzed this turn of events beyond what he had time for before drawing his last breath here. Reasoning? Differentiations between man and beast, beast and animal, good and evil, God and man. Black and white and all that glorious gray. Does humanity -- human-ness or humaneness -- reside in the gray? I will have to read both of these again -- and again and again and start friends reading them so I can hear fresh takes from first time encounters. Sounds almost diabolical doesn't it? Dottie ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (20 of 37), Read 34 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: David Moody (davidmoody@prodigy.net) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 06:54 AM Bonnie: The bit about the zodiac hit me right in the face, since the previous owner of my copy of Grendel put the appropriate sign above each chapter: 1 Aries (Ram) 2 Taurus (Bull) 3 Gemini (Twins) 4 Cancer (Crab) 5 Leo (Lion) 6 Virgo (Virgin) 7 Libra (Balance) 8 Scorpio (Scorpion) 9 Sagittarius (Archer) 10 Capricorn (Goat) 11 Aquarius (Water Bearer) 12 Pisces (Fishes) Each of the chapters mentions, at least in passing, the appropriate symbol; for instance, the incident with the bull is in chapter 2. The only exception to this was chapter five which featured the dragon rather than a lion; the only reference that I could find there was to some vague physical descriptions like "his taloned paw". This must mean something, but I can't put my finger on it. Is it a contrast between old and new world views? Does it simply help create the atmosphere of the time, the ways in which people thought of and perceived the world? Is it indigenous religion vs. Christianity? Is it simply a false herring so Gardner can sit around laughing while we ponder its significance? Note the strange sentence near the end of chapter 10: "Beware the fish." Sure enough, the Pisces chapter does Grendel in. But I was also reminded of the use of a fish as a symbol of Christianity. David
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (21 of 37), Read 34 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 06:56 AM Just did a quick reread and edit on this and realized that maybe the last paragraph was coming from the Coetzee slim little volume title The Lives of the Animals which I have consumed since last evening. As I read through this I found myself thinking of Beowulf and Grendel and other recent CR talk -- it seemed to fit right into the chinks! I would definitely recommend it to all who have been enjoying the latest books on the list and the other lengthier discussions into which this group has lately wandered. Dottie ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (22 of 37), Read 43 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 07:19 AM Bonnie & David; I never noticed the Zodiac connection, either, but it is rather interesting. However, I noticed Grendel is obsessed on comparing things to a crab from the very beginning. He does it several times in odd enough metaphors so that the reader cannot help but notice them. Jane: Everything Beowulf says or does in this epic is taken straight from the original. In fact, Gardner is as good at translating Beowulf in some respects as Heaney. Take the Unferth scene. First, a segment of Beowulf's words from Heaney's version: Beowulf, Ecgtheow's son, replied: "Well, friend Unferth, you have had your say about Breca and me. But it was mostly beer that was doing the talking... Now I cannot recall any fight you entered Unferth, that bears comparison. I don't boast when I say that neither you nor Breca were ever much celebrated for swoardsmanship or for facing danger on the field of battle. You killed your own kith and kin, so for all your cleverness and quick tongue, you will suffer damnation in the depths of hell. The fact is, Unferth, if you were truly as keen or courageous as you claim to be Grendel would never have got away with such unchecked atrocity, attacks on your king, havoc in Heorot and horrors everywhere. And the relevant scene in Gardner: When the hall was still, he spoke, soft-voiced, his weird gaze focused nowhere. "Ah, friend Unferth, drunk with mead you've said a good deal about Breca...Neither Breca nor you ever fought such battles," he said. "I don't boast much of that. Nevertheless, I don't recall hearing any glorious deeds of yours, except that you murdered your brothers. You'll prowl the stalagmites of hell for that, friend Unferth--clever though you are." The final taunt of Beowulf in the original is missing in Gardner. But it is fascinating that the Beowulf who inhabits Gardner's novel is indeed the Beowulf of the original poem. But wait a second--there is one part where Beowulf steps out of his epic persona: When he whispers to Grendel during the arm sans arm combat. It's where Beowulf begins to sound like the dragon in his philosophy and such, forcing Grendel to acknowledge that there is a solid reality outside the self by bashing his head into a wall. And, in passing, we are never told how or why Unferth killed his kin; the accident with the arrow was Hygelac's (Beowulf's thane) older brother Heathcyn. Dan It's OK--they're all smoking!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (23 of 37), Read 34 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 07:42 AM Many of the Zodiac reference flitted lightly through while I was reading this also but I see a more direct connection possibly from your delineation of it David. I especially am going to be thinking of the fish and your idea of the connection with the symbol of Christianity -- more especially early Christianity -- and perhaps interestingly to much of today's fundamentalist Christianity. Dottie -- still wondering about the gray areas. Beowulf and Grendel seem set in a period of more clearly defined black and white time in many ways -- whereas time passing and layers of history seem to have added many shades of gray. ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (24 of 37), Read 31 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 07:57 AM Gardner makes a great deal of using words and whisperings. Grendel describes them as "Talking, talking, spinning a skin, a skin...." He theorizes that thinking creatures use words to try to make sense and meaning of their lives. They use words to counteract "...the meaningless objectness of the world, the universal bruteness." Creatures that simply exist create their happiness by "....see(ing) all life without observing it." When G. is moving through the mead hall for the last time, gobbling up numerous thanes, he reaches for a clean napkin. As he does so, he comments, "...(whispering, whispering, chewing the universe down to words)." B. kills G. and whispers the dragon's lesson to Grendel the whole time. It's our attempt to make sense of the world that ultimately kills us. Even with language, we cannot seem to come to terms with anomalies that cross our paths. We use words to weave a skin of meaning. G. and B. used thought and words to create an enmity that gave meaning to their lives. ************ Though G. does not mention Beowulf by name, he does say, "Cut B." at the end of chapter 7. His comment comes immediately after G. contemplates suicide after letting the queen live. "Balance is everything, sliding down slime. "Cut B." I think G. meant "cut B. instead of killing myself." *********** There is so much in this book that my mind is reeling. Wow! K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (25 of 37), Read 30 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 09:04 AM Wow -- Kay -- spinning words trying to obtain meaning trying to weave a skin -- thin skinned humans (with no fur for protection no thick hides -- hence the armor, clothing etc) -- words as worthless to know what cannot be known -- to connect to the creation/creator which animals are NOT disconnected from in the first place? Hmmm? You are certainly correct about this book being thought provoking. Dottie ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (26 of 37), Read 33 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Marcy Vaughan (vaughan@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 09:33 AM I’m new to the group, but I’m really glad I got here in time to participate in the discussion on Grendel. What a wonderful book! I did not realize that each chapter represents a sign of the Zodiac, and I’ve been thinking about what Gardner was trying to convey. I think it’s tied to what he’s trying to get across with the epigraph (the poem “The Mental Traveler”) I looked up the poem in its entirety on the internet, and I’m sure I don’t completely understand it, but what I got out of it is that it too presents a cycle. Throughout the cycle, however, opportunities for escape abound, and it seems that the torture of the babe by the old woman might be avoidable. The entire poem presents itself in a series of glimpsed, missed opportunities. Imagination at any point might find freedom from the cyclical trap. The same is true for Grendel. At the beginning of the book we learn that Grendel feels caught in a meaningless, endless pattern: "So it goes with me day by day and age by age. . . . Locked in the deadly progression of moon and stars" (8) – the cycle of astrology. But Grendel had not always been the “wrecker of mead halls;” early in life he was unsure about what the world held for him and wondered at his own existence. If the Shaper did not die – if Grendel was able to follow through with allowing Wealtheow to “tease” him “toward disbelief in the dragon’s truths”(108) – Grendel would have been able to break out of his meaningless cycle if not for these missed opportunities and his limited imagination. -Marcy
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (27 of 37), Read 33 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 09:38 AM Welcome Marcy!! Nice to know ya! Dottie and Kay oh how the plot thickens. I am not sure I think the words have made things meaningless, although there are some who say once something is spoken, it loses its power or preciousness. But I am thinking about all these posts, and this book, and I am a little over whelmed for much coontribution yet... I guess I want to be careful to qualify "words" versus "stories"... in a bit... Candy "If elections worked we'd outlaw them" Utah Philips
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (28 of 37), Read 33 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 09:49 AM Marcy - welcome, welcome -- as the Irish would say ' a thousand welcomes' you cannot know how fortunate that though I am NOT supposed to be on here right at this moment and am having my tea while browsing that I did NOT spew tea into the keyboard when you tied the ep[igraph into Grendel -- I KNEW I'd seen those lines and heard those words and thought of those ideas from somewhere -- CANDY -- DAN -- THE MENTAL TRAVELER -- CR discussions have come full CYCLE -- speaking of cycles and epiphanies and connections. Marcy -- The Mental Traveler was the first I believe or at least nearly the first poem we attacked in our most recently established Constant Reader conference -- POETRY -- and such a discussion as that one did engender here -- nearly lead us to fisticuffs at points. Now you let us realize that TMT is part and parcel of the story which Gardner is having Grendel tell us (the reader). I'm going to see if I can resurrect The Mental Traveler and reread it along with a reread of Grendel before I head back to Beowulf. I think I'm getting i over my head after all my initial complaining about Beowulf but I am thoroughly intrigued with this whole tale at this point and enjoying looking at it all from Grendel's viewpoint! Dottie -- wondering what other revelations will be made while I'm gone next week playing Don Quixote in Cervantes birthplace ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (29 of 37), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 09:36 AM Dottie- I just realized that there is an analogy of spiders spinning webs throughout the book. G. is comparing those webs to the ones we weave when we try to make sense of the moment. Our moments in time are meaningless, but when it comes down to it, they are all we have. We use words and thought to catch wisps of significance as they drift by us. In the grand scheme of things, they are worthless. But, like the Shaper, they provide purpose and respite from the rigors of existence. This accounts for the Dragon's disdain and simultaneous envy of Man, I think. He sees all, and understands the unimportance of Man in the "coffin of time," as G. calls it. Yet he has a secret admiration of our attempt to make the best of our situation. We want to observe, not just see the world, as so many creatures do. This attitude might go a long way in explaining the dragon's and G.'s disdain of "blind faith," as they call it. Faith is useless in the long term scheme of things? Perhaps, they say, yet Man clings to a belief in (a) higher being(s) as a means of sustenance and hope. The dragon and G. refuse to use that crutch, but their lives feel empty as a result. I think they would like to find some meaning in their lives. Like words and thought, religion is a way to make sense of things, or to deal with the nonsensical ways of the world. The dragon and G. decide not to use belief as a means of coping, and it makes them angry that some humans find comfort in something as silly as a belief in a god. They realize they are denied comfort as a result of their refusal to deny logic and refusal to make the leap. G. cannot make the leap to faith. He keeps waiting for the gods to come get him, and he makes cynical, but amusing, comments on the fact that they never appear. Yet, I think he would like to step out of his separation from God and into God's grace. His ancestry is human, and he is pulled to that part of his psyche. K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (30 of 37), Read 31 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 09:40 AM Oh brother Kay, is your last post here ever relevant to a discussion in poetry!!! Thank you!!!for the inspiration....great variety and themes in this so far...WOW! "If elections worked we'd outlaw them" Utah Philips
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (31 of 37), Read 31 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 09:45 AM No, Candy. I did not say that words are meaningless. I said that they are the only way we can attempt to make sense of a meaningless world. K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (32 of 37), Read 21 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 10:06 AM On 7/16/01 9:45:25 AM, Kay Dugan wrote: >No, Candy. I did not say that >words are meaningless. I said >that they are the only way we >can attempt to make sense of a >meaningless world. > >K > Okay -- -- back to that thought then, Kay, words are humans attempt to explain things -- all knowledge then from human reason might also be included as since the beginning of written language at least we write it all down -- many times over -- too many times over maybe? ANYWAY -- God/gods -- GOD's words -- "do not add or subtract we are admonished -- I for one do not have any problem with physics of Capra's The Turning Point (see that thread under poetry if need be) PLUS the Bible including 'blind faith' (which for me is a perfect description of all animal life -- animals exist by blind faith if I ever saw anything which existed that way -- they are HERE and they do what they DO and they reproduce and they keep going -- and this includes the human animal -- okay so there's the physics and the religious and then there's LOGIC (science again -- but also philosophy and literature) -- I see no contradiction between these areas -- LOGIC won't prove any of the Biblical ideas -- we come back to faith -- logic won't truly PROVE any of the sciences either because every step taken and proved new questions arise -- I firmly believe man is never to find that last answer without KNOWINGLY throwing himself into his own existence with the same 'blind faith' a all other species -- everything requires a leap of faith -- leave all religion aside completely -- this world STILL requires a leap of faith in some form. There are scientists out there today saying this and being scorned or diminished -- but there are still scientists who may feel likewise but are not speaking out -- no? Just thinking out loud here. Still shaking my head over the fact that The Mental Traveler is tied to Grendel here. And sorry that I got so excited that I posted my note up there to Marcy out of order. Dottie -- who MUST be quiet and get things done or she'll leave for Spain tomorrow with her suitcase in a jumble ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (33 of 37), Read 21 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 10:17 AM Somebody said something about turtles -- in here? -- or not? -- and I wanted to add that I LOVED that idea -- turtles are one of my very serious fascinations in life -- another sense of connectedness for me, personally, for whatever reason. Did I dream this about the turtles -- I can't find it up there? Did someone edit that out for some reason? OR was it elsewhere? And -- Kay -- about those webs which are meaningless -- spider webs are some of the strongest fibers in existence by some measure -- maybe things as apparently ephemeral as a spider web (maybe something so nebulous as say 'blind faith' could in fact be the strongest tie for mankind both to others of his own kind and to all other kinds with which he shares/ed his planet -- and to the source of all of these? Okay -- not to preach there but the connection did stirke me and I wanted to put it out here. Still wondering where those turtles steering by the stars went and wondering if I am the only one who read it and hoping not! Dottie ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (34 of 37), Read 19 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 10:27 AM Why am I not surprised that The Mental Traveller perhaps one of the most profound poems ever written should raise its head yet again!!! Ha ha. Kay, sorry if I mis-quoted you, I am wrestling here with the various posts, and I LOVED your post. I was trying to exert emotion into my happy feelings while reading your thoughts and responding! Sorry if I miscommunicated that. You rock, girlfriend. Regarding "world views" and stories and meanings...and a case for reading Beowulf if one feels like it...and The Mental Traveller! Also, for the idea I am always spouting on about that "stories are all connected" and "stories are built on other stories". I would say that Gardner with his building of Grendel from Beowulf has a similar view of stories are all connected as I do, and he does show this by this very novel! All books and all poems and all paintings are to me like "partial theories" heh. I thought I would inject this quote from A Brief History of Time: "Because the partial theories that we already have are sufficient to make predictions in all but the most extreme situations, the search for the ultimate theory of the universe seems difficult to justify on practical grounds.(It is worth noting, though, that similar arguments could have been used against both relativity and quantum mechanics, and these theories have given us both nuclear energy and the microelectronics revolution!)The discovery of a complete unified theory, therefore, may not aid the survival of our species.It may not even affect our life style. But ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order of the world. today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity's deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in." Candy "However, if we do discover a complete theory,it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers,scientists,and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason-for then we would know the mind of God." Stephen Hawking
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (35 of 37), Read 17 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 10:33 AM Wow Candy -- you and Kay and now Marcy are going in awesome directions with this -- and I FOUND those turtles over in that thread under Poetry -- I've not totally lost it -- YET! Dottie ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (36 of 37), Read 8 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 12:13 PM Dottie: I noticed the lines from Mental Traveler, the very poem that drove a schism into the poetry thread and probably explains why George isn't around this thread presently even though it seems quite his cup of tea. I'd rather not discuss it and I certainly miss the old boy. But Kay and Marcy: Keep up with the fascinating posts. The Shaper shows Grendel the power of language to mask the futility of living I love Grendel's description of the men's reaction to the Shaper's initial lay (which is the opening of the Beowulf poem itself): When he finished, the hall was quiet as a mound. I too was silent, my ear pressed tight against the timbers. Even to me, incredibly, he had made it all seem true and very fine. Now a little, now more, a great roar began, an exhalation of breath that swelled to a rumble of voices and then to the howling and clapping and stomping of men gone mad on art. They would seize the oceans, the farthest stars, the deepest secret rivers in Hrothgar's name! The dragon explains the role of the Shaper in this manner: That's where the Shaper saves them. Provides an illusion of reality--puts together all their facts with a gluey whine of connectedness. Mere tripe, believe me. Mere sleight-of-wits. He knows no more than they do about total reality--less, if anything: works with the same old clutter of atoms, the givens of his time and place and tongue. But he spins it all together with harp runs and hoots, and they think what they think is alive, think Heaven loves them. Within the narrative of Grendel, Gardner creates a god-less world without any ultimate foundation; with Grendel, what he sees is what you get. But is language the only thing between humanity and the abyss? Is language the only thing that connects our reality and embues it with meaning and life-affirming hope? If so, is it not sad that we communicate and write only to distract us from the truth that there is nothing? Dan It's OK--they're all smoking!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (37 of 37), Read 7 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 12:23 PM Dan -- I thought the Dragon when he spoke thus WAS the voice of GOD -- he is the one who knows all and sees all -- he might be sad and disillusioned with that view and with men and their need for words to make sense of the world when HE after all had told them they need only have that article -- blind faith. And why not? Michael and Lucifer again? Dottie ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (38 of 42), Read 21 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Bonnie Mots (bmots@hotmail.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 02:24 PM Dear, Dears! -- I am overwhelmed by the wealth of ideas you are all presenting...great comments and interpretations! So much to think about. Alas, my thinker is sore, and I am awed into inarticulateness! I copied all the posts and will think some more! In the meantime, have a great time in Spain, Dottie (or is it Teresa?! Forgive me if I am wrong!) And Marcy, welcome, welcome! And David, thanks for the material on the Zodiac, you saved me a lot of time trying to figure it all out...the fish as Christian symbol is an interesting idea...and the circle/cycle of 12 years, 12 months, is relevant in numerology as well as with Christianity... Here's a thought though...Gardner turns things upside down and I vacillate...true, he told the story from Grendel's viewpoint, but that viewpoint is subjective...and the sympathy I felt for Grendel now makes me wonder if I am not shortchanging the poor, struggling humans. The dragon seems to be expressing a Jean-Paul Sartre existential philosphy...BUT, isn't it possible that the Dragon could also be an incarnation of the Devil? He bedevils Grendel for sure, and he scorches everything with his breath...hellfire and sulphur pervades the air. Sorry I am not more lucid...what wonderful posts to read! Bonnie
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (39 of 42), Read 11 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 05:02 PM Dottie- I'm a ramblin' down the Grendel road here, so please bear with me. I do not think the spider webs are meaningless. Perhaps they are meaningless in the grand scheme of things, the "coffin of time." What I am trying to say is that those webs, those thoughts and words and leaps of faith, are what give us a sense of belonging and a sense of order. To us, they are not meaningless. I think Gardner has taken the message of Beowulf and stepped it up a notch. He's not telling us that it is folly to accumulate fame and fortune. If we haven't figured that out by now, we truly are hopeless. Just because we tend to continue to want fame and fortune at times doesn't mean we haven't figured out it's pointless. I think Gardner wants us to consider what makes us human. He wants us to see that Grendel is just as human as the rest of us. He wants us to understand that we spin webs of ideas in order to impose order, and that is what separates us from creatures that merely exist. Gardner wants us to consider what makes us human, with all our foibles, our wars, and our misuse of the earth. He wants us to see that what allows us to be human is our language. So much is made of the inability to communicate between Grendel and the Geats. At one point, Unferth? is stunned to realize that Grendel is speaking. That gives him pause and he realizes Grendel is a complement to him. I know the concept is nothing new, but I sure do appreciate the manner in which Gardner re-writes it. I loved this book. K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (40 of 42), Read 9 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 05:36 PM Wow, Kay. Beautiful note, beautiful thinking, beautiful clarity. Ruth "Nobody belongs to us, except in memory." John Updike
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (41 of 42), Read 7 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 05:40 PM Dan- "the power of language to mask the futility of living" Perfect! Thanks for summing it up for me. That was a scary thought for me at first. But when I began to consider it, I reasoned that if language is all we have, then, dagnabit, that's what I'm going to cling to. If language and religion and logic give me even a glimpse of order, then that's what I'll use to muddle through. I'm much too chicken to take the viewpoint that all is meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Why bother, then? Bonnie and Dottie - I saw the dragon more as a representative of the underworld, an all knowing creature that had separated from God. Is it possible that Gardner is saying that part of what allows humans to feel a bond with a higher power is the temporary beauty we create through words and logic? That would help explain the dragon's bitterness and frustration over the fact that humans find meaning, despite knowing that all is meaningless in the "coffin of time." He sees and knows all, yet he cannot find a purpose in his life. What a hell that would be. Remember when the old priest thinks Grendel is the Destroyer? (Did the priest think he was talking to Grendel or the dragon?)(chapter 9) I'm a little confused over how that conversation compares/contrasts with all the dragon presents to Grendel. "The King of Gods is the ultimate limitation,' he keens, "and His existence is the ultimate irrationality." What does the priest mean by, "ultimate limitation?" "For no reason can be given for just that limitation which it stands in His nature to impose. The King of the Gods is not concrete, but He is the ground for concrete actuality. No reason can be given for the nature of God, because that nature is the ground of rationality." HUH? HELP me out, please! I need an explanation. "The King of the Gods is the actual entity in virtue of which the entire multiplicity of eternal objects obtains its graded relevance to each stage of concresence. Apart from Him, there can be no relevant novelty." "The Chief God's purpose in the creative advance is the evocation of novel intensities. He is the lure for our feeling." Ok. I get all that. I think. "He is the eternal urge of desire establishing the purposes of all creatures. He is an infinite patience, a tender care that nothing in the universe be vain." Does that mean that God does not want any one of his creatures to be vain and ignore the connectedness of all? Dottie and Bonnie - here's why I think the dragon represents the underworld: "O the ultimate evil in the temporal world is deeper than any specific evil, such as hatred, or suffering, or death! The ultimate evil is that Time is perpetual perishing, and being actual involves elimination. The nature of evil may be epitomized, therefore, in two simple but horrible and holy propositions: 'Things fade' and 'Alternatives exclude." Is it possible the dragon represents the ultimate evil - Time? "Ultimate wisdom......lies in the perception that the solemnity and grandeur of the universe rise through the slow process of unification in which the diversities of existence are utilized, and nothing, nothing is lost." I have to think that in this novel, the evil is that Grendel is lost. K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (42 of 42), Read 6 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Marcy Vaughan (vaughan@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 05:58 PM Thanks for the very warm welcome! With regard to Bonnie’s comment that the Dragon could also be an incarnation of the Devil, I thought I’d post the following comment made by Gardner: “As a medievalist, one knows there are two great dragons in medieval art. There’s Christ the dragon, and there’s Satan the dragon. There’s always a war between those two great dragons. In modern Christian symbolism a sweeter image of Jesus with the sheep in his arms has evolved, but I like the old image of the warring dragon. That’s not to say that Beowulf is Christ, but that he’s Christ-like.” – from The Art of John Gardner by Per Winther, 172-173. Dan posed the following question that really got me thinking: “Within the narrative of Grendel, Gardner creates a god-less world without any ultimate foundation […] But is language the only thing between humanity and the abyss?” It seems like Gardner is saying that it’s the power of imagination beyond the mere “web” of language that “stands between humanity and the abyss” - imagination meaning a more than rational energy by which thought could seek to heal itself. But does this simply allow us to “distract” ourselves from the truth that there is nothing? Gardner said, “The Shaper comes along in a meaningless, stupid kingdom and makes up a rationale. He creates the heroism, the feeling of tribal unity. He makes the people brave. And sure, it’s a lie, but it’s also a vision.” (Sorry, I didn’t write down the source in my notes.) The discrepancy between imperfect man as Grendel knows him and the ideal man that the Shaper sings of is too great for Grendel to deal with, and he falls into the dragon’s argument that the art the Shaper presents is just an illusion; he cannot get past the faults he has seen in man in order to see man’s potential because he is caught in a trap of “merely rational thought.” As the fourth priest says, “merely rational thought leaves the mind incurably crippled in a closed and ossified system” (p.135). I think Gardner is saying the imagination does not “distract” us from the truth, but rather allows us to see the truth. (Hope this made some sense – I’m really still trying to wrap my brain around the whole question.) Dottie – What popped into my mind about the dragon was that he is the god of the existentialists. (And even though we’ve just “met,” I too wish you a great trip to Spain!) -Marcy
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (43 of 56), Read 52 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Marcy Vaughan (vaughan@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 06:56 PM Kay – The priests of Grendel seem to live on the shifting boundary between the fading polytheism religion and a rising Christian monothesim (Hence the old priest’s explanation of the King of Gods, though the Destroyer he is talking to is a lower god who he thinks will help destroy Grendel). He says, "I know all the mysteries...I am the only man still living who has thought them all out" (130). That mysteries can be "thought out" suggests that for him, Faith and Reason do not contradict each other. (Unlike the dragon’s thinking – where only reason/logic is considered and therefore leads Grendel to reject the theological world-view offered by the Shaper.) Some of Ork's descriptive terms for God ("the ground of actuality," "the ultimate irrationality") echo certain Neoplatonic ideas about the transcendent nature of God. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy says, "God, the absolute One, was, according to Plotinus, elevated not only above all being, but also above all reason and rational activity." Hope this helps some. -Marcy
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (44 of 56), Read 49 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 07:23 PM WWWOOOWWW!!!! To all these posts here the last couple of days!!!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (45 of 56), Read 45 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 08:21 PM What a lot to think about -- I know that overall the dragon was the evil side of the coin but in a few instances I still think he's giving us the TRUTH -- that's what led me to say that in that case back there a ways that it was God's voice. And I still think the dragon is kind of the duality of Michael/Lucifer -- the dual nature of humans as well -- good and evil -- flipsides of the same beings. I will have to respond to these notes in more detail later. Thanks for the good wishes -- I just finished packing and am trying to relax -- 3AM -- the schedule got messier than it already was but I'm always a mess the night before we leave -- drive or fly it matters not! I have a couple little spiky rubbery massage balls to keep my nerves at bay tomorrow -- hope it works! Dottie -- thinking of taking Shirley MacLaine on the trip since the Dutch teacher actually brought up the pilgrimage route that her book is about! ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (46 of 56), Read 40 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 09:01 PM Thanks, Marcy. That does clarify the exchange between Grendel and the old priest. And a belated "Hello." I've been so keyed up over this book that I forgot my manners. I don't think faith and reason contradict each other, either. There is room for all contradictions in this universe. Humans have at least learned that, I think. Thanks, also for the clarification of who the Defender was. I thought for a while that he knew he was talking to Grendel or the dragon, but the priest was too unafraid for that. Dottie - I agree that the dragon is giving us the Truth of our non-significance. I just think that what separates his Truth from the Truth of a supreme being is that God encourages human connectedness with all His creation through language, ideas, religion, and imagination. It's an extra that humans have, and it's what separates us from His creatures that just exist. For me, Truth, without significance or meaning, is empty. That's why I think the dragon is not the supreme god. The dragon's Time Truth is absolute, for sure. But what makes him evil, for Gardner, is his lack of acceptance and understanding of the extras that give life meaning for humans. Perhaps the dragon is God's complement? The dragon is something God must work against, to define himself for Man. I agree that the dragon may represent the fallen angel that became Satan. He has God's all seeing eye, but lacks the King of the Gods' "extra," which allows Man to seek and create meaning in his life. I think it is significant that the dragon, like Grendel, whom we know is a descendent of Cain, lives in the shadows. The sun that helps us define our world is not his domain. Grendel gets into big trouble once he starts traveling about in the sun. It's Grendel's dawning knowledge that causes his demise. He is so blinded by sunlight and the Shaper's words and songs that he begins to question his shadow existence. That is the beginning of his downfall. And that is what draws me to Grendel's plight. Who was it that made the point that it's our imagination that works to separate us from a merely seeing kind of existence? That certainly fits, I think. Imagination is certainly a divine gift. K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (47 of 56), Read 45 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@hotmail.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 08:30 PM Kay, You mentioned that you thought that the phrase "Cut B." had something to do with Beowulf. I don't see it that way. Earlier in the chapter Grendel says: Time-Space cross-section: Wealtheow. Cut A: Then he tells the story of the beautiful Wealtheow. I looked at the terms Cut A and Cut B as being terms from the movie. It is as if Grendel is showing us a movie of his life. G. was in love with W. until he saw her naked and then he moved on the Cut B which is the story of Hrothulf. I have been enjoying these wonderful notes. There is much to think about. Jane
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (48 of 56), Read 41 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Kay Dugan (okaychatt@yahoo.com) Date: Monday, July 16, 2001 09:08 PM Ok. Thanks, Jane. I missed "Cut A." Funny! Some of Grendel's one liners were true classics. All- What are we to do with the fact that B. eventually meets his death through the dragon? Also, what about the fact that G. sees/hears the dragon as B. is killing him? Is the message that Time does win? Everytime. The dragon's Time wins, in spite of all our attempts to create meaning in our lives. K
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (49 of 56), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 08:44 AM Fantastic posts, everyone. There's so much food for thought that I don't know where to dig in... Kay, you beat me to the question I had during all the talk of the dragon--this dragon is going to slay Beowulf, is going to succeed (sort of speak) where Grendel will fail. The confrontation between Beowulf and the dragon is a definite boon--it allows the dragon to slay Beowulf but it also allows the dragon to finally just die. The dragon burns in the seeming tedium of time and is probably impatient for Beowulf's arrival. This reminds me of one of the more poetic passages in the novel where Grendel observes one of Hrothgar's bowmen pursuing a hart: Time is inside them, transferred from chamber to chamber like sand in an hourglass; it can no more get outside than sand in the lower chamber can rise to the upper without a hand to turn stiff nature on its head. They face each other, unmoving as numbers on a stick. And then, incredibly, through the pale strange light the man's hand moves--click click click click--toward the bow, and grasps it, and draws it down, away from the shoulder and around in front (click click) and transfers the bow to the slowly moving second hand, and the first hand goes back up and (click) over the shoulder and returns with an arrow, threads the bow. Suddenly time is a rush for the hart: his head flicks, he jerks, his front legs buckling, and he's dead. He lies as still as the snow hurtling outward around him to the hushed world's rim. In this passage, Grendel notes that both the hunter and the hunted are trapped within time and there's no going backwards; it's all an inexorable forward movement. However, though they seemed trapped in time's amber, the hunter is able to move while seemingly motionless the whole time. This imagery seems to both reinforce as well as contradict the dragon's statements: Humanity is stuck in time but they are able to work within its confines. Also, the passage presages Beowulf's slaying of Grendel. Grendel is like the hart, a passive victim of time doing nothing but letting the clicks pass. Beowulf is the hunter, seemingly still while all the time preparing for the kill. For the hart, as for Grendel, it is when time's arrow flies that "time is a rush." Compare how the pace of the novel increases after Grendel is mortally wounded. Dan It's OK--they're all smoking!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (50 of 56), Read 30 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Bonnie Mots (bmots@hotmail.com) Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 09:30 AM Hi, All -- The more I think of it, the more I'd like to consider some elementary Biblical references in GRENDEL and the Dragon as the Devil. Dottie and Marcy got me to thinking more about this, and I thank them. I haven't yet read followups to postings since last I logged in, so there may be comments on this by others. And I see there are lots of new messages to read! Goodie! Sally Venura, in the Midwest Quarterly, Autumn, 1995, wrote this about Gardner's novel, THE SUNLIGHT DIALOGUES, which was published right after GRENDEL: "Although scholars have paid some attention to the influences of Dante, Malory, Blake, and others upon the fiction of John Gardner, little has been done in terms of the overwhelming number of Biblical references in his work even though in his autobiographical CARTOONS Gardner cited God (along with Dickens and Disney) as a favorite author from the nonrealist tradition (126). Since within the first ten pages of The Sunlight Dialogues there are references to Jacob and Leah, Jonah, King David and the oldest judge in the world, it seems worthwhile to begin such a study with a consideration of the relationship between the Old Testament and this novel. Despite the references in the beginning of the novel to the era of patriarchs and kings, The Sunlight Dialogues seems to be most indebted to wisdom literature, more specially, to the Book of Job. Because Gardner recalls in Cartoons instances in which his father read from the Book of Job (125), there can be no doubt that Gardner was familiar with the work." Likewise, in GRENDEL, there are some interesting Biblical aspects to ponder that are akin to the beginning of Genesis. "In the beginning of Creation, when God made heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abysss…" Grendel emerges from his chthonic, dark dwelling place into the world of light. (God said, "Let there be light." Kay pointed out the many references in GRENDEL to the sun, sunlight.) Though Grendel may not be an ADAM, he seems to begin to name the animals. Before long, humans began to emerge in Grendel's world. I haven't followed this thought through completely but I'd like to jump ahead to his encounter with the Dragon. The dragon's fire illuminates his hellish world, as a devil, he is the archetypal "Prince of Darkness." Moreover, he jealously guards his gold-hord, gold being an element of the earth's underworld. Hell, in the Christian viewpoint, seems to be below the earth. My DICTIONARY OF BIBLICAL TRADITION IN ENGLISH LITEARTURE says, under the category "Dragon of the Apocalypse" -- "All the ancient mythologies contain such a dragon creature, usually serpentine and winged which embodies the wild forces of chaos and destruction against which a cosmic conflict must be fought. The slaying of a dragon restores order and brings blessedness." (Enter Beowulf!) Dragons exist in the OT but The Apocalypse is the only New Testament book that takes up the Dragon motif. In Rev. 12:9; and 20:2) the dragon is explicitly identified with "the ancient serpent, he who is called the devil and Satan…A typical early medieval interpretation of the dragon and the beasts is that of Beatus of Liebana (8th century). All these figures, he argues, are limbs of the Antichrist." That Grendel's all-seeing dragon speaks of the Apocalypse is not coincidental, I think. Nor is it a coincidence that Beowulf seems to have wings ("…he stretches his blinding white wings…") as he confronts Beowulf, and he could be considered an angel, or Christ-like. Seemingly a believer, certainly a life-affirmer. Beowulf whispers to him: "Though you murder the world ... The world will burn green, sperm build again." - resurrection theme. And how like the 23rd Psalm when Grendel says, "The world is my bone-cave, I shall not want." Lots of biblical imagery suggested, and a bridge between the OT and the NT. I will have to go to the Poetry Category here to find out about The Mental Traveler. Sounds so intriguing. Kay, another thought about your question about the use of the Blake poem at the beginning. I think it "sets the stage for what Gardner is converying about "morality." I found out that Blake's Urizen, in his mystical poems, is a grim old giant, restrictive of morality. Blake creates his own mythology with Urizen as the deviser of moral codes, and Orc (GRENDEL'S Ork?!) the arch-rebel for central figures. Gardner is as crafty as the devil himself! I believe it would be possible to make more of a case for these speculations, and far more inclusive than mine. But what is important, and so gratifying about GRENDEL is that Gardner writes with such richness that he opens many avenues for interpretation. We each bring to a book what we have within us according to our experience and readings. That's the real treasure trove of GRENDEL as evidenced by the many wonderful thoughts posted here. Bonnie
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (51 of 56), Read 28 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Bonnie Mots (bmots@hotmail.com) Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 09:38 AM Oh Woe, Woe! I typed in "Mental Traveler" in the search engine here, but nothing came up. Did anyone archive the discussion, and could they email it to me? Bonnie, wishful.
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (52 of 56), Read 27 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 10:25 AM Trust me, the Mental Traveller was a limited discussion. It was "reality police" against the poets. And we are still split. I'll see if I have it kicking around okay? Candy "Poetry is a verdict not an intention" Leonard Cohen
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (53 of 56), Read 20 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Bonnie Mots (bmots@hotmail.com) Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 12:22 PM Don't go to any trouble, Candy, it doesn't sound like anything I really need to read, but thanks. Dan wrote in his first message: "Of course, the most interesting aspect of this novel is Grendel himself. Grendel with his love/hate affair with poetry, femininity, and heroism. His narrative is engrossing and enlightening. Are we all machines running on lust and passion, as he maintains?" We haven't discussed the women in Grendel…as with everything else, as Dan wrote, there's a love/hate relationship regarding the women in the book. Was there a scene more gripping in the novel than Grendel's abduction of Wealtheow? Yet, he could not go through with his dastardly intent because he was stopped by her beauty. Wealtheow seems to me the most civilized of the personages. Is she the personification of "Sophia?" from the Greek, meaning "wisdom?' She is not only beautiful, but she seems to embrace the ideals of "hospitality" in their world. Grendel says (my paraphrase) that when the men were drinking they didn't hurt anyone, really, except an occasional woman who "asks for it." She sort of represents Dante's Beatrice, in a way…G. seems to pine for a woman, for more than sexual needs, someone to alleviate his loneliness. That "dark hole" which he hates harkens back to his relationship with his mother, and suggests the dark place in which they both dwell. As a cup-bearer, pouring out the mead for guests, I think of Wealtheow being the bearer, perhaps, of an early "Grail." Does that strike a chord with anyone? And I think about that "golden cup" in Blake's epigraph-poem again too. He's born of an old hag, who nails him down upon a rock (sounds like a crucifixion) and catches his shrieks in cups of gold." Darkness into Light, hmmm! Bonnie
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (54 of 56), Read 18 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Marcy Vaughan (vaughan@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 01:54 PM Bonnie - Thanks for taking the time to make that post on biblical references! I've been especially trying to figure out the meaning of the cave/biblical allusions. As Bonnie mentioned, Grendel says: "The world is my bone-cave, I shall not want" (170)- a take on Psalm 23. Grendel also says the following: "I saw long ago the whole universe as not-my-mother, and I glimpsed my place in it, a hole. Yet I exist, I knew. Then I alone exist, I said. It's me or it. What glorious recognition! (The cave my cave is a jealous cave)" (158). I think this is a take on The Book of Deuteronomy (King James Version): Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me (5.9) I'd love to hear thoughts with regard to what is being said about Grendel's sense of self through these parodies? Thanks, Marcy
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (55 of 56), Read 12 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Marcy Vaughan (vaughan@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 03:16 PM Just some thoughts with regard to Dan’s message: It makes sense that the dragon succeeds in killing Beowulf whereas Grendel (and his mother) fail because Grendel, and even his mother, are essentially human-like in form, whereas the dragon is not. As has been discussed, the dragon is more of a force of supernatural evil, and Beowulf himself is a Christ-like figure. But I think it’s important that the dragon tells Grendel of the dragon’s own upcoming death at the hands of B. because it shows that although the dragon is all-knowing, he is not God, because “even [the dragon] will be gone” (70); and also we see that the dragon comments that his own death is “meaningless, however” (70). The dragon sees the universe as all cogs, wheels, and accidents of evolution; nothing has meaning to him, not even the thought of his own death. The passage that Dan mentions about one of Hrothgar's bowmen pursuing a hart goes along with the nihilistic dragon’s vision of a mechanistic world (the numerous repetitions of the word “click.”) (As an aside, I think the dragon gets one of the funniest lines in the book when he says that his own death will result in the “loss of a remarkable form of life. Conservationists will howl.”) And Bonnie, I really liked your ideas about Wealtheow. She is indeed the closest example of a Christian in novel. The Shaper brought the Old Testament to the village, but Wealtheow brings the New Testament ideals with her – sacrifice - “she’d lain aside her happiness for [the people of her land]” (104). Even the name Wealtheow means “holy servant of common good” (100). But I think that what stopped Grendel from killing her was not her beauty, but Grendel’s inability to bear a compromise between Wealtheow’s pure beauty and her undeniable physicality which to him ruins that ideal beauty. (He exposes her to himself, both literally and figuratively). -Marcy
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (56 of 56), Read 9 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 04:25 PM Bonnie: Bravo on the Biblical allusions. I should have paid more attention during Sunday School. However, I thought Gardner was imitating the Platonic notion of "the cave" where reality is created. I confess my knowledge of Plato is severely limited, but Grendel's awakening to a world beyond the cave--with its motion from darkness and shadow into light--reminded me so much of Plato's metaphor of the cave. Perhaps someone more adept at philosophy could provide more solid proof, but I sensed not only Platonism but also references to Descartes, Nietzche, and Sartre (which someone already mentioned catching). Grendel, in some ways, functions as a commentary not only on Beowulf but on the philosophy of humanity as well. I think Grendel is so taken with Weoltheow not because of her beauty but because she is as trapped by fate as he is: She's a pawn, a token that helped save the lives of her brother and his thugs. She can't insult Hrothgar and she obviously is oblivious to him. She sleeps in his bed, she pours his mead. But Grendel knows at night she cries "thinking of home, remembering paths in the land of the Helmings were she'd played before she'd lain aside her happiness for theirs." Note the passage where she attempts to serve Unferth: "My lord?" she said. She often called the thanes "my lord." Servant of even the lowliest among them. "No thank you," he said. He shot a glance at her, then looked down, smiled fiercely. She waited, expressionless except for perhaps the barest trace of puzzlement. He said, "I've had enough." Down the table a man made bold by mead said, "Men have been known to kill their brothers when they've had too much mead. Har har." A few men laughed. Unferth stiffened. The queen's face paled. Once again Unferth glanced up at the queen, then away. His fists closed tight, resting on the table in front of him, inches from his knife. No one moved. The hall became still. She stood strange-eyed, as if looking out from another world and time. Who can say what she understood? I knew, for one, that the brother-killer had put on the Shaper's idea of the hero like a merry mask, had seen it torn away, and was now reduced to what he was: a thinking animal stripped naked of former illusions, stubbornly living on, ashamed and meaningless, because killing himself would be, like his life, unheroic. It was a paradox nothing could resolve but a murderous snicker. The moment stretched, a snag in time's stream, and still no one moved, no one spoke... The queen smiled. Impossibly, like roses blooming in the heart of December, she said, "That's past." And it was. The demon was exoricised. I saw his hands unclench, relax, and--torn between tears and a bellow of scorn--I crept back to my cave. It was not, understand, that she had secret wells of joy that overflowed to them all. She lay beside the sleeping king--I watched wherever she went, a crafty guardian, wealthy in wiles--and her eyes were open, the lashes bright with tears... At the end of the chapter, Grendel strips the queen naked as well and is repulsed by her vagina, by her utter animality. Recall that the breasts of Grendel's mother is always associated with bristly fur; for Grendel, there's nothing more animal than naked femininity. Before revealing her essence, Grendel equated the queen with the Shaper as another with the power to bridge chasms between chaos and understanding. And he's right. The queen is able to allow Unferth to see that the past is behind him and that is should not haunt him forever. No doubt, these words play a role in helping Unferth understand heroism and accept his own role in the ongoing saga. When he leaves Beowulf in tears, he exits Gardner's novel. But in Beowulf, Unferth appears at the edge of the mere when Beowulf goes looking for Grendel's mother and gives Beowulf his best sword to help him. Unferth respects Beowulf; Unferth does what he can to allow Beowulf to be the hero he obviously is. And even though it's the original Beowulf, the character of Unferth aside the mere presenting a sword to Beowulf is always Gardner's character for me. Dan It's OK--they're all smoking!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (57 of 68), Read 74 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Bonnie Mots (bmots@hotmail.com) Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 10:00 PM Without going through the pains of citing all the references -- I just don't have the time -- I think all the characters in GRENDEL are like Chinese puzzles, they all are shape-shifters in a way. Gardner shows Unferth with his dark and light side, Wealtheow with her dark and light side, Grendel with his dark and light side, Hrothgar too. Grendel seems like the primordial ooze at first, then he is perceived as an oak tree spirit, then is likened to Cain, and then is The Great Destroyer. Dan, the metaphor of Plato's cave works here too, and Marcy, so do Biblical alllusions. Gardner was a genius at "embedding" layer upon layer of meaning, spinning words and webs like a magician, pricking our Western common literary knowledge to bring thoughts and meaning into play. How we interpret things, in essence, makes us co-creators. Grendel can be read from various viewpoints, Biblically, psychologically -- meaning Freudian and Jungian -(Grendel's Jungian "shadow?") We can read it Philosophically as in Plato and Sartre, and also from a feminist perspective. And they can all overlap, and do. The Allegory of the Cave IS there, especially within the text's emphasis on Illusion vs. reality. There is no one final interpretation, but how enriching to find the (for want of a better word) "omnivalence" in the text. (Anyone ever read THE FIRE IN THE CRUCIBLE, THE ALCHEMY OF CREATIVE GENIUS, by John Briggs?) Marcy, I didn't know Wealtheow's name meant "holy servant of the common good." She is also reminiscent of the Virgin Mary (mother of the Christ-like Beowulf?) and her sacrifice in leaving her people (albeit against her will) is not unlike the V. Mary's sacrificial love. The VM was a pawn too, in a way, for the coming of The Big Guy! The queen smiled. Impossibly, like roses blooming in the heart of December…[Gardner writes.] Lo! How a rose ere blooming…what's that old Christmas carol? I often have trouble with the concept of "sacrificial love." But I think of those heroes and heroines of old, and even some modern-day ones, who are supreme sacrificers for the common good. They may not have been saintly, but they accomplished a lot…Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King. Dan, that's funny, you should have paid more attention in Sunday school! I had it forced upon me! I think I tend to read lots of Biblical interpretations into things because of spending 8 years in a parochial grade school. Though I may be a Doubting Thomas, the Bible readings left an indelible impression on me. The Bible, as Literature, is one of the greatest books, especially if it's the King James Version with its beautiful language. I read an interview by the wife of Gardner's editor, if I recall correctly, -- she said Gardner, as an adult, would attend church sometimes and sing out the hymns, and he sang with other choirs too, as well as playing a horn instrument. Oh, the power of music to tame the savage breast! Or do I mean beast-Grendel?! Bonnie
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (58 of 68), Read 75 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Marcy Vaughan (vaughan@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, July 17, 2001 10:08 PM Dan – I’m definitely not adept at philosophy, but I thought it would be really interesting to pursue your idea that Grendel functions “as a commentary […] on the philosophy of humanity.” In chapter 2, it seems that Grendel finds comfort in solipsism after his first brush with death. He says, “I exist, nothing else” (p.28). The outside world, which has so terrified him, is now nothing more than the product of his own will. In chapters 3 and 4, the Shaper challenges Grendel’s solipsism and leads him to desire some order and purpose in the world. By bringing history to the village – by tearing “up the past by its thick, gnarled roots and [transmuting] it” (p.43) – he forces Grendel to acknowledge and think about exterior reality. Grendel is overwhelmed by the contraries of faith and doubt (the relinquishment of mind to emotion/imagination). “Thus I fled, ridiculous hairy creature torn apart by poetry […]” (p.44). But he desperately wants to accept the theological world-view offered by the Shaper. Grendel meets the dragon in chapter 5, and buys into the dragon’s nihilistic view that there is no connection between man and the universe; that it is a mechanistic world where nothing has meaning. (I’m not sure of the difference between existentialism and nihilism. I know that Nietzsche is associated with nihilism, and that he proclaimed the death of God around 1890. I also know that existentialists like Sartre tackled the problems of human freedom (how one should live one’s life/find meaning in life) in the absence of God. Maybe that’s the difference – that existentialists like Sartre believed life still has meaning even if there is no God???) By the end of chapter 7, when even Wealtheow’s influence fails to save him, Grendel says, “I resolved, absolutely and finally, to kill myself, for love of the Baby Grendel that used to be” (p.110). This to me was the most moving moment of the novel. In chapter 8 we get a Machiavellian vision of human society through the characters of Hrothulf and Red Horse. It seems like we can set up the following analogy: Red Horse is to Hrothulf as the dragon is to Grendel. The speech given by the fourth priest in chapter 9 echoes Blake’s anti-rationalism. And in the last chapter, Beowulf’s words seem to express a Blakean faith in the power of the imagination to create either a hell or a heaven of experience. B. whispers to G., “You make the world by whispers, second by second. Are you blind to that? Whether you make it a grave or a garden of roses […]” (p.171). However, B. also continues that same thought to say, “Whether you make it a grave of a garden of roses is not the point. Feel the wall: is it not hard? […] Hard, yes! Observe the hardness […]” (p.171). Is Beowulf espousing empiricism here? Either way, G. ends up saying, “Is it joy I feel?” (p.173). He has finally achieved the spiritual connectedness that he had been searching for until the dragon’s vision took hold. Sorry this is so long. There’s just so much to think about here! I know there's so many different ways to look at this book, but Dan peaked my interest in the philosophical side of things - and I'd love any other thoughts on this. -Marcy
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (59 of 68), Read 70 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Bonnie Mots (bmots@hotmail.com) Date: Wednesday, July 18, 2001 07:49 AM Absolutely stunning analysis, Marcy! Simply stunning! You give us so much more to think about! Thanks! Bonnie
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (60 of 68), Read 67 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Wednesday, July 18, 2001 09:27 AM No way I could imagine a discussion being as stimulating as Beowulf. These are all awesome posts and notes. The notes regarding characters and their sentiments representing christianity or philosphy have been incredible. Candy "First people will deny a thing, then they will belittle it, then they will decide that it had been known long ago" Humbolt
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (61 of 68), Read 68 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Wednesday, July 18, 2001 10:23 AM Marcy: Exactly what I suspected but didn't have the wherewithal to articulate. I am intrigued that each chapter is composed of multiple layers (as Bonnie illustrated a few posts back), echoing Joyce's Ulysses on a much smaller scale. Some readers would insist all of these allusions are red herrings to get critics to want to come in and wallow in the text, but I like the idea that Gardner wanted to take a seemingly formulaic work like Beowulf and illustrate how it is potent enough to refract the philosophical and literary heritages of humanity in the 20th century. Which, when I think about it, is what Joyce did with Homer. Wait a minute... Anywho, I recall reading somewhere that one of the trends of the 20th century was reductionism, where the work of Freud and followers began to reduce humanity to psychological and even chemical processes; human behavior and action is nothing more than the result of brain chemicals splashing together in the cranium, sort of speak. In Grendel, Grendel states at one point that men are "machines driven by passion and lust," spouting reductionism: Humanity are chemical machines. By the end of the novel, Grendel is describing the arriving Geats as mechanical:"...and then, quick as wolves--but mechanical, terrible--the strangers leaped down." Of course, this POV is also expressed in the passage I quoted earlier about the hunter and the hart (where someone noted the mechanical nature of the "click click click" refrain). While other philosophies are examined and replaced or modified with Grendel (solipsism, existentialism), Grendel takes reductionism to his grave. He always wanted to know what made humanity tick, what made himself tick--and he seems to have gone quite insane attempting to define something as spontaneous and explosive as humanity or even himself solely in terms of original stimulants (as in "passion and lust" for humanity). Dan It's OK--they're all smoking!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (62 of 68), Read 32 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Sherry Keller (shkell@starband.net) Date: Friday, July 20, 2001 09:02 AM I've just finished reading this incredible thread, and would like to tell Bonnie and Marcy how very happy I am that you are both here. You have broadened the mental scope of CR exponentially. I am in awe of everyone's analyses. I'd like to make a rather pedestrian comment. I read a copy of Grendel that my son read in high school. My daughter told me she read it in high school, too. I am so glad that both my children had a chance to study something this original and thought-provoking at such a young age. I imagine there are some schools that would probably avoid this book at all costs. Sherry
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (63 of 68), Read 35 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Friday, July 20, 2001 09:29 AM To be honest, Sherry, I have never heard of English teachers utilizing this wonderful novel. Kudos to your children's instructors. Dan It's OK--they're all smoking!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (64 of 68), Read 36 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Sherry Keller (shkell@starband.net) Date: Friday, July 20, 2001 09:52 AM I think it's a great novel to get kids thinking. (Not only kids, as witness the notes here.) Sherry
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (65 of 68), Read 36 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Bonnie Mots (bmots@hotmail.com) Date: Friday, July 20, 2001 12:14 PM Sherry, GRENDEL has about done my thinker in! There may be "23 ways at looking at a blackbird" but there are even more ways to look at GRENDEL. I'd like to thank Dan mucho for selecting GRENDEL for a Reading List book. Not only did he and everyone else enhance my reading of it, but I am now reading other things by Gardner. I'm starting out with a book of short stories entitled THE KING'S INDIAN. The first story, "Pastoral Care" is about a hippie-type minister who confronts a hippie who blows up buildings. The characters in his parish are "money-counters and harlots!" Haven't finished the story yet, but it's a good one! Talk about "an accident" -- I think I made an accidental mistake in an earlier post...I think Gardner's brother was killed in Batavia, NY, where Gardner grew up, not in Carbondale, IL., where Gardner was a professor of English. Bonnie
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (66 of 68), Read 29 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Friday, July 20, 2001 06:55 PM Bonnie: Everyone did a great job with this novel and I walked away with so much more than I arrived with. Keep us posted on the other Gardners and any other works you delve into in the future. I look forward to all your future posts. Dan It's OK--they're all smoking!
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (67 of 68), Read 34 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Janet Mego (vsjego@cs.com) Date: Friday, July 20, 2001 10:19 PM Hi-- This is an absolutely delicious thread. Got my copy of GRENDEL today. I have read excerpts to my classes before, and had a small-group poem in the style of BEOWULF written from Grendel's point of view as a result. I'll have to go dig it up. All I can remember at this point is the final lines, to the effect that at last creatures like Grendel have met their match, because a new creature is coming: The creature is man And he has no mercy Those last two lines really did stick. It was the best group effort I had that day, I think. . . Did y'all know that Gardner was one of William Styron's most caustic critics after SOPHIE'S CHOICE came out? So ironic, in light of GRENDEL'S theme of examining the grey area between polar extremes in villains--he was avidly opposed to the idea that Styron could "attempt to humanize" nazis by making them interested in classical music, etc--how dare we try to analyze them as human beings?? In all fairness, he did apologize for some aspects of "unfairness" his article conveyed toward Styron, in a later article. I think an old Eh prof told me the motorcycle accident that killed him resulted from his wild careening down the beach on said bike. This was an interesting personality, I think. Janet
Topic: Grendel by John Gardner (68 of 68), Read 19 times Conf: READING LIST BOOKS From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@hotmail.com) Date: Saturday, July 21, 2001 01:08 PM Dan, We have a fine Humanities program at our school. The sophomores read both GRENDEL and BEOWULF and have done so for years. And I might add for those who don't know, I teach at a public school in Colorado. The kids who come out of this Humanities program find college English to be a piece of cake, because they have been doing college level English for three years. Jane

 
John Gardner
John Gardner

 
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