Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fantasy: Grendel by John Gardner

Publisher: Ballantine
Date: 1971
Format: paperback
Acquired: purchased from Sweeten Creek Antiques
Read: for the Once Upon a Read-a-Thon
Pages: 152
Reading time: three hours

From GoodReads: Grendel is a beautiful and heartbreaking modern retelling of the Beowulf epic from the point of view of the monster, Grendel, the villain of the 8th-century Anglo-Saxon epic. This book benefits from both of Gardner's careers: in addition to his work as a novelist, Gardner was a noted professor of medieval literature and a scholar of ancient languages. (Sorry for the scant description, but there's really not much to describe beyond the fact that the novel is a retelling.)

My review: By the end of Gardner's novel, he has readers empathizing with the monster. I actually didn't want the great hero Beowulf to kill the awful monster Grendel. But there's much more to the retelling than making readers see another side of the story: Gardner's writing is awesome, and he weaves philosophy, religion, and messages on the power of literature into the novel as well. Though I missed some (probably a lot, actually) of the philosophical parts due to my lack of knowledge on that subject, the book was still an enjoyable read, and I'm looking forward to coming back to it in a few years when, hopefully, my understanding of philosophy has increased. Familiarity with the Beowulf story is essential for reading Grendel or else readers might be stuck wondering "wtf?" in some places. At times Gardner's substitution of 1970s language for Anglo-Saxon vocabulary and grammar can be humorous, but it's not so out-of-place as to be irritating and, as with Gardner's novel Freddy's Book, Grendel is one of those rare books that makes it onto my list of books to re-read because the writing and stories are so great. 

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