Presentation on theme: "An overview of John Gardner’s work"— Presentation transcript:
1An overview of John Gardner’s work Grendel (1971)An overview ofJohn Gardner’s workGardner was a professor of English in the late 60’s early 70’s specializing in medieval literatureTeaching Beowulf, he was inspired to make the symbol for “darkness, chaos and death” (Grendel) into a 3-D character with “a sense of humor and a gift for language” (Howell, Understanding John Gardner)
2THEMES Artists in Society and the Power of Art The Importance of LanguageNihilismDeathHeroism—a moral forceThe Struggle Between Good and Evil--MORALITYGrendel has a weakness for poetry. A would-be artist, Grendel strives to escape his baseness. While kings unite countries politically, they could not do so w/o the courage and selflessness of individuals who have been inspired by the poets to accomplish great deeds.Grendel’s inarticulate mother shows importance of development of language in civilization. Language is the only thing that gives meaning in an otherwise meaningless universe. Language is the only way humans can break through the wall that isolates them from others and from a world of meaning. The wall, then, is a recurring image. The most pathetic character is Grendel’s mother, confined to her dark cave, picking through bones—total linguistic isolation.Gardner uses the dragon to express the philosophy that there is no meaning, no purpose to existence. To Grendel, the solipsist (one who believes in nothing but the self,) killing others means nothing. Red Horse preaches total anarchy, a result perhaps of nihilism where violence for its own sake rules.Poetry/art is one’s defense against nihilism: Grendel is driven back to poetry. Once having destroyed the mead hall in chapter 6 Grendel realizes that now “as never before I was alone.” He recognizes that “physical destruction is finite” that anarchy and violence are futile is seeking a meaning for existence.Heroism is a moral force that enables a society to advance, by elevating the minor character of Unferth to major one and one who plays foil to Grendel, Gardner says much about the hero. Death is insignificant to the hero if it brings the chance for immortality. The hero sees beyond what is possible and so furthers civilization. He creates meaning through his acts of heroism.Good Vs Evil = morality vs. immorality. This struggle occurs within Grendel and between characters. If Grendel is evil, then Beowulf (ultimate good, non-nihilist). Beowulf comes and preaches the gospel of death and rebirth. It is through creation, imagination, and inspiration that one may kill evil and achieve immortality—even if heroic acts only live through poetry and song.Other characters also represent “good” or “moral” values. Wealtheow (comforting old men to whom she has sacrificed all personal comfort: peace keeper between warring kingdoms) and even Hrothgar (forces of society against anarchy) and Unferth are forces of morality.
3PARODYGrendel both imitates and ridicules specific forms of literature and authorsBeowulf—most of plot and characters borrowedGrendel becomes a “case history of a bad artist” whose words are constantly misunderstood; thus, he inspires acts of violence versus the Shaper who inspires great deeds.Various characters represent specific philosophies (Dragon, Hrothulf, Red Horse, etc.)Grendel even tries his own hand at poetry—never very good until chapter 12.
4STRUCTURE 12 chapters: Twelve years of Grendel’s raids and 12 zodiacs Not chronological: Flashbacks, Allusions, ForeshadowingTense: Present tense is interspersed with past telling of events leading up to this 12th yearEach chapter presents a different branch of philosophyChapter 1: Aries, god of warChapter 1: Astrology and idea of cyclical nature of existenceChapter 2— Grendel as solipsist: “I exist nothing else” Chapter3—sophistry of Shaper—who can by power of own words make his listeners believe anything.Chapter 4—Shaper articulates Old testamentChapter 5—Dragon expresses Alfred Whitehead’s philosophy of fundamental connection of all thingsChapter 6—skepticism: Stromme “accepts that others exist but they are all enemies.Chapter 7—Wealtheow’s Christianity8—Machiavelli9- hypocrisy of young priests10- pessimism of Nietzsche11—nihilism of Sartre
5CHAPTERS 1-4Book opens in April, month of the ram and there is an immediate concern with language:“Talking, talking. Spinning a web of words, pale dreams, between myself and all I see”Grendel’s mother lives in a cave, mute, beast-like.Chpt. 2 when Grendel is trapped in tree, most important element is the encounter with the men who speak a language
6Chapter 3: summary of Grendel’s years watching the Danes who are slowly developing civilization Hrothgar becomes powerful because he has a theory about the purpose of warThe Shaper appears; he does more than make poetry; he retells history and inspires menAlso the Shaper names Grendel as one of the race of Cain, everything that is dark and evil—this is what Grendel becomesHrothgar learns the secret of power is not killing but in collecting tribute and making them your allies. He builds roads, he builds civilizations.To name is to give essence.
7CHAPTERS 5-7Grendel visits the dragon who tells him the Shaper’s words are an “illusion of reality” leading men to believe there is meaning in the universe.Dragon denies existence of God and meaning and advises Grendel to “seek out gold and sit on it.”Grendel discovers dragon has put a “curse” on him: he can no longer be injured by men’s weapons.Dragon—Grendel’s imagination? An exemplar of a philosophy of nihilism (idea that existence is meaningless) and solipsism (idea that only the self exists) and of chaos.Seek out gold . . A cynical view of the world/ dragon says he sees all space and time while mortals struggle with illusions of connections, meaning and reality. Dragon’s power is such that Grendel is impervious to men’s weapons hereafter.
8Grendel finds the “heroic” and idealistic Unferth, and in acting in unexpected ways, completely humiliates the would-be hero.When Unferth seeks Grendel in his cave, Grendel shows that life is meaningless; he refuses to engage in battle; he returns Unferth unharmed, “So much for heroism.”The arrival of Wealtheow (“holy servant of the common good”) as a peace offeringGrendel finds Unferth, who stands up to him with bold words, who means to make his reputation through defeating Grendel or death.Grendel answers in words, then throws apples at Unferth. Acting in unexpected ways, Grendel completely humiliates Unferth.Unferth seeks Grendel in his cave, but Grendel shows that life is meaningless by refusing to engage in battle: he returns Unferth unharmed, “So much for heroism.”UNFERTH—bravest of Danes one who never gives up. “except for the life of a hero, the whole world is meaningless. The hero sees beyond what’s possible”Wealtheow is a true hero, one who sacrifices herself for the good of all. She arouses mixed feelings of love and hatred in Grendel; thus, he resolves to kill her and then decides against it because it would be as “meaningless as letting her live.”Queen's forgiveness heals his bitterness.
9CHAPTERS 8-12Hrothgar’s nephew arrives after the murder of his father.Hrothulf’s resentful attitude and desire for power allows Grendel to ponder “the idea of violence.”Encounter with priest leads to observations about religion.Chapter 10, Grendel deals with boredomHrothulf, the nephew, a Machiavellian and anarchist influenced by Red Horse (play on name of French anarchist philosopher, Georges Sorel) who wrote that a religious act. Murder and mayhem are the life and soul of revolution” (Reflections on Violence, 1908)
10Chapter 11: strangers arrive Beowulf tells him about the cycles of existence before destroying him.“Though you murder the world Strong searching roots will crack your cave and rain will cleanse it: The world will burn green, sperm build again. My promise.”But Grendel attributes his end to a random accident.Beowulf’s arrival is not only prophesized by the old woman who speaks of “giant across the sea” but is also alluded to in the dying words of the Shaper, “I see a time when Danes once again---” Beowulf’s arrival is also foretold by the lengthening of days, a traditional sign of hope and new life.
11GRENDEL: “Profile of a Killer” Worksheet Discussion
12Grendel’s WarChpt. 2: First encounter w/ men, the most dangerous things”:Grendel is trapped in a tree.The men think he is a fungus at first, then a spirit that eats pigsKing, in fear, attacks him with an axHe is saved by his motherMen are dangerous because “they think and scheme”
13Grendel’s Reaction to the (Scop’s) Shaper’s Songs: Chpt. 3: Grendel is emotionally affected by the songs, the liesHe feels torn between what he observes (reality) and what he hears (the beauty and idealism)
14Grendel’s ConversionChpt. 4: Hearing that he, himself, is considered the dark side of creation, he wishes to convert.He goes to the mead-hall calling for mercy and peace, but is attackedHe wishes for someone to talk toHe returns because he is addictedHe wants the songs to be true, even if he has to be the outcast
15The Dragon’s AnswerChpt. 5: The dragon says that Grendel inspires and improves the DanesThat if there were no Grendel, they would invent one: they need the monsterThus, Grendel is irrelevant.It makes no difference if he stops or not.
16The Dragon’s CharmChpt. 6: Grendel at first feels the charm causes his enemies defeatThen he realizes he has nothing to fear and nothing to stop him, so his raids become inevitable.He discovers the charm when he accidentally runs into a guard, trips and is not hurt by the sword.He discovers a reason for his existence: he is now “Ruiner of Mead-halls, Wrecker of Kings.”
17Psychology Vs. Strength Grendel’s feelings?Beowulf’s trick?Grendel’s defense of Beowulf’s superiority?The whispering?Explanation for defeat?Anticipation, excitement, joy, fear, desire for bloodBeowulf prtetends to be asleep, but is actually observing Grendel’s method, so is ready for himGrendel says it’s an accidentBeowulf is using psychological warfare. Grendel is demoralized by technique. He imagines Beowulf as having wings and breath of fire.Grendel is amazed. He says it is an accident.
18Psychology Vs. Strength Amplifies fight detailsBeowulf is seen as cool, calculating, clever and vicious. He uses surprise, strength and psychology to defeat Grendel.In the original, Beowulf as hero refuses to use weapons for a fair fight. Grendel rips off his own arm in the poem in his fear ridden desire to escape. In Gardner’s story Beowulf’s tactics throw him off guard and allows Beowulf to rip off his arm.Beowulf’s imageBeowulf hero is courtly and chivalrous. In Grendel, Beowulf is seen as slightly mad and cruel; sneaky and calculating; He uses psychologically demoralizing whispers and parody of “Say Uncle!” He also seems to use unnecessary violence. Courtliness seems gone.Grim humorGrim humor: Grendel’s comment that he wouldn’t want to wake up to the sound of his own laughter anymore than the Geats; the napkin; the image of Grendel and Beowulf shaking hands grotesquely.Beowulf is seen as cool, calculating, clever and vicious. He uses surprise, strength and psychology to defeat Grendel.In the original, Beowulf as hero refuses to use weapons for a fair fight. Grendel rips off his own arm in the poem in his fear ridden desire to escape. In Gardner’s story Beowulf’s tactics throw him off guard and allows Beowulf to rip off his arm.Beowulf hero is courtly and chivalrous. In Grendel, Beowulf is seen as slightly mad and cruel; sneaky and calculating; He uses psychologically demoralizing whispers and parody of “Say Uncle!” He also seems to use unnecessary violence. Courtliness seems gone.Grim humor: Grendel’s comment that he wouldn’t want to wake up to the sound of his own laughter anymore than the Geats; the napkin; the image of Grendel and Beowulf shaking hands grotesquely.
19Both Grendel and Unferth exhibit characteristics of the anti-hero. Don QuixoteHeathcliffYossarian in Catch 22.
20Grendel as Anti-Hero He murders and cannot be punished He sneaks around at night, spyingHe makes fun of the Danes and rejects all that they stand forHe searches for answers but can find only meannessHe is crude, but not stupid or dishonest (He is successful in his feud but a failure at finding happiness)He says he is angry very often
21Unferth as Anti-Hero1-3 do not fit: while he did kill his brother, he has made restitution according to the law.4 He tries for greater heroism in chasing Grendel, but is forced to achieve an ideal the Danes do not understand.5. He seems a failure as a hero, yet achieves an even more difficult kind of heroism by not giving up even when faced with humiliation; did commit a crude and stupid mistake in the past.Yes, he is angry
22Hrothgar Unferth Wealtheow Beowulf To Be or Not to Be a Hero Hrothgar—Hrothgra’s heroism is the patient kind which does not give up even when he realizes that Grendel cannot be stopped with Danish weapons, that his treaty with the Helkimngs willprobably be broken, that Hrothulf willprobably take his kingdom from his sons.Unferth—Unferth doesn’t hide, run away or commit suicide in spite of being cheated out of his heroic clash with Grendel. He tries to make himself hope for Beowulf’s success.Wealtheow—she carries out her duties as Hrothgar’s Queen with grace in spite of Grendel’s raids and her brother’s hatred of Hrothgar. She soothes Unferth and treats Hrothulf with kindness in spite of his danger to her sons.Beowulf—His heorism is self-confident and sure, unafraid of danger. His eyes stare unfocused. He seems coldly insane to Grendel. The Danes are afraid of his lashing to9ngue.
23“Nothing from Nothing” Macbeth became king of Scotland after murdering the rightful king. Though he was a hero in the King Duncan’s civil war, after becoming king he becomes so obsessed with protecting his throne and passing it on to his descendants that he engages in a series of bloody murders. He sometimes seeks the counsel of the WYRD sisters who mislead him through half-truths.The Macbeth speaks the soliloquy right before facing a rebel army and right after he is told of his wife’s suicide. He is beginning to recognize that the witches have mislead him. He is killed by one of his thanes, MacDuff, who crosses the sea from England where he had gone to join the rebel army.
24Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow Creeps in this petty pace from day to dayTo the last syllable of recorded time;And all our yesterdays have lighted foolsThe way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,That struts and frets his hour upon the stageAnd then is heard no more. It is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.(Macbeth, Act V, Scene v)
25How Grendel Sees Time (Ch. 10) Grendel says “tedium is the worst pain” as the sun walks overhead.He waits for the Shaper to die.Chapter filled with references to past and a dark future.Time passes slow and boringly
26Grendel Believes That the Danes are fooled by the shaper’s lies That Unferth is a fool for clinging to his heroic idealsThat his war with Hrothgar is “an idiotic war” (Ch 1)That he, himself” is a “pointless, ridiculous monster” (Ch 1)
27Macbeth's Shadow and Grendel Grendel describes himself as a shadow (Ch. 10) and as walking around the edges of the world, outside the mead-hall at dusk.Chapter I, Grendel plays game of looking at himself as he postures, as standing outside himselfAlso Hrothulf’s arrival and encounter w/ the Priest read like scenes from a play
28A Tale Told By an Idiot?Grendel agrees with Macbeth, he says often that he is stupid and that life is meaningless (and he tells the story)He whispers, cannot be understood by the Danes (his language is older)His voice is too loud and frightful to be understood.His killings, an expression of anger and the meaning of his tale he summarizes at the close of chapter 10: “Nihil ex nihilo.”