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November Books 11) Grendel, by John Gardner

This is an attempt to tell the story of Beowulf from the side of the monster, an experimental early 70s novel (with super illustrations by Emil Antonucci), which obviously ends with Grendel's death, though his mother and the dragon are there in the background.

It's always tricky to think through the motivation of the villain (especially when the villain is an inhuman monster), The original poem introduces Grendel thus (using Seamus Heaney's not-quite-literal translation):

Ðá se ellengaést earfoðlíce Then a powerful demon, a prowler through the dark,
þráge geþolode sé þe in þýstrum bád nursed a hard grievance. It harrowed him
þæt hé dógora gehwám dréam gehýrde to hear the din of the loud banquet
hlúdne in healle þaér wæs hearpan swég every day in the hall, the harp being struck
swutol sang scopes and the clear song of a skilled poet

The original Grendel is evil by nature, but is driven to homicide by sounds of revelry. The 2007 Robert Zemeckis animated version actually stuck fairly closely to this motivation, though there is the extra wrinkle that Hrothgar turns out to be Grendel's father; the 2005 Beowulf and Grendel, starring Gerard Butler, has Hrothgar killing the young Grendel's father and thus providing a motive. John Gardner reimagines Grendel as a philosophical monster both attracted and repelled by the world of humans; he reminded me very much of Meursault in L’Étranger, except that I think he would have made a more entertaining dinner companion (as long as you weren't on the menu yourself).

I didn't spot the astrological references at the start of each chapter until tipped off by Wikipedia. Indeed, in general I felt this novel was too clever for me, but it is mercifully short with some passages done in interesting styles; and Grendel himself comes off as a believable character.

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  • nwhyte
    25 Jan 2023, 13:24
    O tempora! O mores!
  • nwhyte
    24 Jan 2023, 10:34
    Hello! Your entry got to top-25 of the most popular entries in LiveJournal!
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  • nwhyte
    8 Dec 2022, 12:44
    UK mailboxes aren't waterproof?! That seems like an odd design.
  • nwhyte
    29 Oct 2022, 16:28
    Now I know that "psephologist" is a word.
  • nwhyte
    9 Sep 2022, 11:19
    That would make things less awkward.
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