Review: Grendel by John Gardner

20 Books of Summer 2015: Book 4

I hesitate to call John Gardner’s Grendel a modern Beowulf from the perspective of the monster, though that’s the first description to come to mind. The open secret among English majors is that Beowulf is a snooze despite its historical value. Happily, Grendel is funny and smart, and creates a sympathetic portrait of one of literature’s original villains. This novel follows Grendel’s 12-year war with Hrothgar and his conflicting emotions towards the men he watches from afar. It begins with Grendel’s irritation towards the slow-witted forest creatures who cannot understand his language and mistake him for a monster:

The doe in the clearing goes stiff at the sight of my horridness, then remembers her legs and is gone. It makes me cross. “Blind prejudice!” I bawl at the splintered sunlight where half a second ago she stood. I wring my fingers, put on a long face. “Ah, the unfairness of everything,” I say, and shake my head. It is a matter of fact that I have never killed a deer in all my life, and never will. Cows have more meat and, locked up in pens, are easier to catch. (7-8)

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