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Transcript of Grendel
1. Does Grendel's encounter with the dragon happen in his head, or is it an actual experience?
By: John Gardner
John Gardner was born on July 21, 1933 and died on September 14, 1982 in a motorcycle accident.
At the age of eleven, he accidentally killed his younger brother by crushing him underneath a tractor, an event that traumatized him for the rest of his life.
Gardner originally wanted to be a chemist, before he changed his mind to major in philosophy and literature.
is his most famous novel, John Gardner also wrote
On Moral Fiction
The Sunlight Dialogues
The Art of Fiction
, and many other books as well.
The main character of the story, he is a philosophical monster who is curious about the world and struggles to find meaning in life.
Large and intimidating, this character is omniscient and tells Grendel that life is meaningless.
The king of the Scyldings, he creates a kingdom that represents everything Grendel hates about humanity.
Talented and mysterious, this harpist plays his way into Hrothgar's favor with songs of heroism. He so powerfully uses language that he is able to change the way people see historical events.
A bitter and deluded Thane, he wants nothing more than to die a heroic death, but he is spared by Grendel as a way to mock his status as a hero.
Beautiful and innocent, Weltheow is Hrothgar's queen. Her ability to calm and comfort the men of Hrothgar's hall enrages and amazes Grendel to the point that he cannot bring himself to kill her, or even raid the meadhall.
The center of social life for the human characters in the book
The main setting of the novel
Where Grendel lives with his mother
A constant in Grendel's continuously changing life
Grendel has a flashback of his early life and the early years of his war with Hrothgar.
Grendel realizes that the queen is just as bad as the rest of the humans.
The Shaper dies, and strangers come from across the ocean to kill Grendel.
Grendel tries to kill the strangers but is outsmarted by the leader of the strangers (Beowulf) who pulls Grendel's arm off.
Grendel runs to the cliff over his cave and bleeds to death.
The Power of Language
The main theme in this novel is that language, when used properly, is extremely powerful. In the novel, Grendel is both amazed and terrified by the Shaper's ability to use language and songs to change the way people view past events, essentially changing history.
The Burden of Isolation
Although not the main theme, this idea is still prevalent throughout the novel. The protagonist of the novel, Grendel, suffers from isolation due to his mother's inability to speak and the fact that he is a monster. He even goes so far as saying that his only friend is his shadow. This isolation helps the reader to sympathize with Grendel and better understand his rationale.
The antihero in this novel is the protagonist Grendel. He is monstrous and malicious toward Hrothgar's people, but only because they treated him like a monster when he first tried to interact with them.
Grendel can also fall into the Giant/Ogre archetype because of his obsession with Wealtheow, the queen. When he first sees Wealtheow, he simultaneously loves and hates her beauty and innocence. She has such an effect on him that he is unable to raid the meadhall for months.
The Bull and the Mountain Goats
The bull and the mountain goats are a symbol for unthinking action and impulsiveness, a concept that frustrates Grendel.
The Door to Hrothgar's Meadhall
After each of Grendel's raids, Hrothgar has builders rebuild the door to the meadhall which Grendel always destroys. This represents man's eternal optimism for the triumph of good over evil.
In each of
's twelve chapters, John Gardner includes a character or situation that alludes to a sign of the zodiac. Gardner includes these Zodiac allusions as a way to emphasize all of life's cycle and as a way to show the dynamic of Grendel's philosophies and behavior throughout the novel.
Point of View
John Gardner wrote this novel in the first person from the monster's, Grendel's, perspective to allow the reader to sympathize with him.
John Gardner uses a myriad of similes, metaphors, and excessive imagery as a way to grasp the reader's attention and hold it while the main plot points are developing.
2. Why is Grendel attracted to the words of the Shaper?
3. How do the words of the Shaper differ from the words of the dragon?
4. What are the two main themes of the novel, and how do they apply to the novel and the real world?
5. Why are caves and monsters so closely associated, and what can the cave in this novel symbolize?