Thursday, June 5, 2008

John Gardner and Grendel

Born in Batavia, New York, in 1933, John Champlin Gardner grew up in a farming family, although his father was also a preacher. His mother encouraged his literary interests, and he was introduced early to plays, operas and great literature. The accidental death of his younger brother when John was 11 years old scarred his life forever (John was unable to stop a 2-ton cultipacker he was towing from crushing his brother who had fallen off the tractor), and this event, written about in his story, "Redemption," caused a lifelong struggle with conflicted feelings of guilt.
In writing, at least, Gardner always stood for the moral choice. His book, On Moral Fiction, took a polemical view of fellow writers, who he believed were self-absorbed existentialists, disinterested in affirming the value of literature to move or inspire mankind. Gardner believed that art/literature should create models of virtue or heroism, visions of the possible, and should be agents of human transcendence over negative forces.
Gardner studied medieval literature on the graduate level and was an expert on Beowulf, among other texts. He was well-versed in philosophy and thoroughly conversant in literature, to the degree that he could interweave quotes, parts of poems and literary allusions from many sources into his own works. You will find this trait readily apparent in reading Grendel. He had taught Beowulf for 12 years before writing Grendel, and you may also detect some of his viewpoints about the author/art as agents of positive value in this work. Certainly his highly negative attitude toward existentialism stands out, particularly targeting Jean-Paul Sartre's book, Being and Nothingness.
John Gardner wrote with a love of words, images, and ideas that truly exceeds the ability of most writers. Author of such works as The Sunlight Dialogues, October Light, Nickel Mountain and Mickelsson's Ghosts, Gardner received national stature as an acclaimed author whose life was cut short by his accidental death in 1982 while riding his motorcycle to his teaching position.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Grendel Illustrated

Grendel has captured the artistic imaginations of illustrators for the Beowulf editions and even South Park cartoons, but "our Grendel" inspired a wonderful series of portraits by Emil Antonucci which mark the beginning of each chapter in John Gardner's book. Here Grendel's complexity of expressions indicate his capacity for thought processes and emotional states of mind. Have the illustrations by Antonucci affected how you feel about Grendel?