John Gardner's Grendel And Beowulf

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The Hobbit is a classic example of a fool’s errand written as a children’s tale. Thirteen dwarves, a hobbit, and a wizard journey across Middle Earth to face a centuries-old dragon that decades earlier obliterated the combined armies of the dwarves. And yet, against all odds, this pack of misfits succeeds in their quest, reclaiming Erebor, killing the dragon, and renewing the line of Durin. The Hobbit is moralistic in nature; it never intends to showcase the literal triumph of the heroes over the dragon, but rather the victory of one set of values over another. The dwarves’ companionship, sacrifice, and heroism defeat the dragon’s antagonistic, materialist, and isolated nature. Many tales throughout the ages echo this classic theme: love…show more content…
To the Dragon, alternative value systems, such as the Shaper’s songs or the priests’ religion, are hollow and worthless, so he relies on materialism as a concrete, tangible means of judging his life. However, the Dragon’s cynicism stems not from disdain for humanity, but his “knowledge of the future” (63), which condemns him to a life of misery and powerlessness; every “change [to] the future” (63) he attempts to make inevitably recreates what he sees “from the beginning” (63). The Dragon’s ability to see throughout all of time means that, in Gardner’s world, the future is pre-determined, with the dragon shackled as a prisoner—a mere observer—inside a reality he lacks the power to alter. He understands that knowledge is not power, because his future knowledge leaves him no freedom to act; rather, ignorance is liberation, because it at least provides one with the illusion of free will. Thus, the Dragon’s timeless perception of the universe creates his nihilism, cursing him with the knowledge that neither he, nor anyone else, can change the future.
In contrast to the Dragon’s refusal to find purpose in life, Beowulf discovers meaning through empiricism, using the mere existence of the universe as justification for his efforts to change it. For instance, Beowulf denounces Grendel’s attacks against Heorot because they

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