Grendel Review

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Grendel by John Gardner pgs. 174

Grendel is a novel from the 1970’s about a character from the oldest surviving poem, Beowulf. This story, by John Gardner, is a character study of the main antagonist against Beowulf in the poem. The story follows closely to the same timeline as Beowulf, but from the perspective of the creature that Beowulf sets out to defeat. It deals with how the events in Beowulf happened and why they happened. If you’ve never read Beowulf the basic story is a hideous monster, Grendel , attacks a king and his castle which leads to the king calling to Beowulf for help. Beowulf accepts the challenge and arrives to fight the beast.

I first read this novel and high school and it was easily the number one most analyzed stories we had. The reason for this extreme analyzation is because of the deep and complicated psychological messages displayed throughout the story. Things like identity, prejudice, motherly issues, and the meaning of existence.

“I understood that the world was nothing; a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against,” (Gardner 22).

Grendel as a character is a very depressing one. He is extremely misunderstood, he is an outcast, and he has an awful relationship with his mother. Grendel and his mother live in a cave in the woods separate from civilization and this isolation leads to a few things: alienation, envy, and hatred. The people of the kingdom even go as far as to call him the spawn from the evil brother Cane and is part of a long line of monsters and murderers.

During high school I didn’t usually find a book both entertaining and thought provoking. However, when we were assigned this book I was pleasantly surprised. This is a sad, interesting, and intelligent story that makes the reader think about themselves morally, religiously, and what their purpose is. I would say this is probably my favorite book from high school and is definitely a book I recommend to high school to college level people.