Grendel Book Guide

Title: Grendel

Author: John Gardner

Genre: Fantasy fiction

Publication Date: 1905


John Gardner picks a character—Grendel—from the classical epic poem Beowulf and creates a novel where Grendel journeys in search of meaning and identity. Through this journey into what seems to be a meaningless world, Grendel encounters a unique philosophical perspective and an equally unique astrological sign every chapter. Originally one of the monsters in Beowulf, Grendel here explores the world around his underground home with curiosity. In the process, he is attacked by humans and gets trapped in a tree before being attacked by a bull.

Grendel spends a good deal of time exploring his feelings about the ShaperHrothgar’s singer, storyteller, and creative historian. He recognizes that the Shaper is merely creating fantasy. The Shaper reveals to Grendel that truth is to be found in what is commonly considered meaningless. Grendel also runs into a dragon, who convinces him of the merits and necessity of remaining at war with humans.

Grendel thus becomes an opposing force, going as far as attacking people and even eating them. He also learns more about humans by observing them closely. In doing so, he learns about anarchist principles, theological dictats, and the concept of heroism. He also learns that humans tend to count selfishness, too, as a virtue. Grendel, however, finally decides that he can’t really trust humans. Accordingly, he refrains from practicing the principles espoused by these schools of thought.

In a way, the novel’s end mirrors the beginning: in his battle with Beowulf, Grendel develops an appreciation for mankind’s pursuit of order and civilization in the face of daunting odds. Much like the beginning, the novel ends with a deeply poignant moment, as Grendel, having decided to end his life, is seen standing at the very edge of a cliff.

Grendel Biography

Grendel Characters

Grendel Summary and Analysis

Grendel Themes

Grendel Quotes

Grendel Discussion Questions

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