Published in 1971 by the American author, John Gardner, Grendel is a powerful novel using the voice of the monster in Beowulf, an Old English epic poem. In the way of Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley and The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, the monster is lonely and questioning his existence. These writers used monsters […]
John Chaplin Gardner
John Chaplin Gardner, Jr. author of Grendel was born on July 21, 1933, in Batavia, New York. His father was a farmer and his mother a teacher. Both of his parents were lovers of Shakespeare and would recite the verses often together. As a child, Gardner was an avid member of the Boy Scouts of America. He became an Eagle Scout.
Gardner worked on the farm when he wasn't in school. In 1945 Gardner was operating a multi-packer, which is a large rake-like tool, that hooks to a tractor and prepares land for tilling. His younger brother was hurt in an accident and died. Gardner spent the rest of his life carrying the guilt from the accident and suffering from reoccurring nightmares and flashbacks. As a writer, this accident showed up often in his work, especially in his short story, "Redemption" written in 1977.
Graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri in 1955, Gardner went on to achieve his M. A. & PhD. In 1958 from the University of Iowa. In 1970 and 1971 Gardner was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Detroit in Michigan.
Some of Gardner's most famous novels include The Sunlight Dialogues. It is his version of the 1960's in America. It includes an unconventional cast of characters set in a conventional small town. The sheriff tries to unravel the mystery surrounding a drifter who paints the word "love" across two lanes of traffic. They engage in philosophical discourses about morality, freedom, and choice.
October Light won the National Book Critics Circle Award and is about an older brother and sister who are forced to live together in his Vermont farmhouse after her wealthy husband dies. The two siblings don't get along at all, (he shoots her television with a shotgun). But, they join together when the outside neighbors involve themselves.
Grendel is one of his greatest novels. Published in 1971, it is a retelling of Beowulf from the monster's point of view. The monster asks philosophical questions about life and loneliness. Gardner portrays Grendel as an antihero, hoping for redemption, but not finding it.
John Gardner taught fiction writing. He wrote two books on the subject, The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist, that are considered classics for classes in writing. His book On Moral Fiction was so controversial that he became a regular on talk shows and in the media for a while.
Because he spoke out on the moral ambiguity of classical authors such as John Updike and John Barth, he was ostracized from some publishing companies. He believed that books should help to discover the values that are universally sustaining or enriching.
On September 14, 1982 , just four days before his third marriage to Susan Thornton, John Gardner died in a motorcycle accident after losing control on a curve. He was about two miles from his home in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. He is buried next to his brother in Batavia's Grandview Cemetery, in New York.