Grendel By John Gardner Essay, Research Paper
GRENDEL By John Gardner This is a book about respect, loneliness and the corrupting effect of power. It is a story that develops these themes as the reader witnesses the growth and destruction of a nearly human monster as he interacts with a variety of characters. The theme of respect and its effects, versus a lack of respect and its effects are important throughout the book. The most touching scenes depicting the effects of respect involve Unferth. Unferth was a strong, moral, and respected character before his encounter with Grendel. After Grendel choose not to kill Unferth and made fun of him in front of the other thanes, Unferth was changed forever. Unferth tracks Grendel to his cave and says, You talk of heroism as noble language, dignity. It s more than that, as my coming here has proved. He goes on, That s that nature of a hero. It kills him, of course, ultimately. But it makes the whole struggle of humanity worthwhile. When Grendel will not kill him, Unferth says, I ll kill myself. Grendel answers, Up to you, but you ll admit it may seem at least a trifle cowardly to some. He then returns Unferth unharmed to the meadhall. This treatment by Grendel ruins Unfeths life and leaves him no way to end it. Grendel is very lonely in the life he has chosen. He doesn t fit in with the other monsters in his mother s cave and he terrifies humans and animals. He realizes this after his first planned raid is successful. He thinks, I was Grendel, Ruiner of Meadhalls, Wrecker of Kings! But also, as never before, I was alone. I do not complain of it (talking talking, complaining complaining, filling the world I walk with words). But I admit it was a jolt. The author also explores the effect of invincibility on Grendel and how it further separates him from his victims.
Another important theme is the effect that power can have. After Grendel has visited the dragon he realizes that he is now invincible. The thanes arrows and rocks just bounce off of him. He says, I laughed. It was outrageous: they came, they fell, howling insanity about brothers, fathers, glorious Hrothgar, and God. But though I laughed, I felt trapped, as hollow as a rotten tree. The meadhall seemed to stretch for miles, out to the edges of time and space, and I saw myself killing them, on and on and on, as if mechanically, without contest. This left him feeling sad and removed further from humans and monsters. It also gave him a greater blood lust. He had never before killed except for food. Now he killed for sport. In the end it was the corrupting effects of power that led him to engage the stranger in a fight. Grendel thought he couldn t lose.I found this book to be depressing and some of the passages very challenging to understand. There are horribly graphic depictions of death and destruction. God and religion are treated with irreverence. I found long passages in the middle of the book dull and difficult to read. This is countered by moments of unexpected humor and stark poetic beauty. Even though I don t agree with authors analysis of human nature this is a book worth reading.