The starting point for Gardner's novel Grendel
is the Anglo-Saxon
, but it is as far from that as Joyce's Ulysses
. It is a similarly original and inventive work, which
fits into no genre, defies summary, and lends itself to complex exegesis.
Writing from Grendel's perspective, Gardner makes him into an everyman,
facing the existential terror of human existence but at the same time
observing humanity from the outside. While trying to work out who he
is and what he should do, Grendel eavesdrops on Hrothgar's hall, is
fascinated by Wealtheow and the Shaper, Hrothgar's harper, humiliates
Unferth, confronts a nihilist dragon, and confuses priests, before
meeting his end at the hands of a stranger from over the sea.
Grendel mixes fantasy, lyrical description, dialogue, and poetry
with philosophical rumination on topics from personal morality to
the nature of the state and the power of art, weaving them into a
complex multi-layered text. It also has a pervasive and varied humour,
ranging from near-slapstick grotesquery to subtle mockery of theories.
To read it is to venture on a kaleidoscopic roller-coaster ride — one
which never falters and carries us rapidly along, but which may leave
us shaken and thoughtful at the end.
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