Authors often have to choose between concentrating oneither plot or social commentary when writing their novels; inJohn Gardener’s Grendel, any notion of a plot is forgone inorder for him to share his thoughts about late sixties-earlyseventies America and the world’s institutions as a whole.While Grendel’s exploits are nearly indecipherable and yawninducing, they do provide the reader with the strong opinionsthe author carries. This existentialistic novel can be seenclearly as a narrative supporting nihilism in its many forms.Most easily, the reader will be able to see the blatantreligious subtext in the guise of corrupt priests and the foolishfaithful.
There is also some negativity placed on the notion ofthe old being the wise. Gardener deems hero idolizationunacceptable as well; knowledge that the Vietnam War wasprevalent at the time gives additional insight into hiscomplaints. Religion plays a large role in Grendel.
Priests donot want to perform their services without the properpayment which, in turn, causes the rich to be able to becomethe most ‘religious.’ The citizens of the village are alsoconfusingly poly- and monotheistic. When praying to theirking god does not decrease the frequency of Grendel’s visits,they retreat to begging any god of which they have knownfor help.
This reveals their faith to be not faith at all but ratherfaith that will remain faith as long as it can be proven. Aproven religious faith is contradictory term, for it can only beplaced in a religion that cannot be proven lest it is true faithno longer. Grendel’s interludes with the dragon portray, attheir onsets, the dragon as a worldly, wise creature withmuch to share. The dragon haughtily informs Grendel abouthis vast store of knowledge as he teases him with how muchhe knows. As Grendel’s interests are piqued, the dragonexpends the cumulative result of his travails: “Know howmuch you’ve got, and beware of strangersMy advice toyou, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it.
“Although the dragon serves as a vessel to point out thenecessity of Grendel and makes some pointed observationsabout mankind, all his respectability is lost with those twoshort sentences. The author is making an observation aboutmaterialism and the falsehood of wisdom alwaysaccompanying age. After all his years of intense scrutiny, thedragon can only grasp from human- and animalkind alikethat possessions are the key to life’s existence. Natureagainst society is also discussed in Grendel.
The fact thatcitizens surrounded with religion and social status could beso easily overtaken by nature (Grendel) gives a sense ofirony to the reader. Nature is the only virtuous and pureinstitution left available to the world and yet capable of suchcold-blooded viciousness (again, Grendel). People can buildup whatever walls they may to block the righteousness that isnature but will always be unsuccessful. Nature has noreligion, no political power struggles, and no inherentcorruption and will always be superior to man in all respects.The author is successful at dissembling the institutions thathave been repeatedly dissembled for centuries: society andreligion. The corrupt natures of religion and power havebeen the theses for countless books before and will remainfor countless books after.
While he doesn’t add much to theliterary forum with these ideas, he expresses them in acreative way, through the eyes of one ‘innocent’ to humanwiles. His thoughts are neither original nor innovative, but hissuccess in including them all in a single story is a formidableachievementCategory: Book Reports