Authors often have to choose between concentrating on
either plot or social commentary when writing their novels; in
John Gardener\'s Grendel, any notion of a plot is forgone in
order for him to share his thoughts about late sixties-early
seventies America and the world\'s institutions as a whole.
While Grendel\'s exploits are nearly indecipherable and yawn
inducing, they do provide the reader with the strong opinions
the author carries. This existentialistic novel can be seen
clearly as a narrative supporting nihilism in its many forms.
Most easily, the reader will be able to see the blatant
religious subtext in the guise of corrupt priests and the foolish
faithful. There is also some negativity placed on the notion of
the old being the wise. Gardener deems hero idolization
unacceptable as well; knowledge that the Vietnam War was
prevalent at the time gives additional insight into his
complaints. Religion plays a large role in Grendel. Priests do
not want to perform their services without the proper
payment which, in turn, causes the rich to be able to become
the most \'religious.\' The citizens of the village are also
confusingly poly- and monotheistic. When praying to their
king god does not decrease the frequency of Grendel\'s visits,
they retreat to begging any god of which they have known
for help. This reveals their faith to be not faith at all but rather
faith that will remain faith as long as it can be proven. A
proven religious faith is contradictory term, for it can only be
placed in a religion that cannot be proven lest it is true faith
no longer. Grendel\'s interludes with the dragon portray, at
their onsets, the dragon as a worldly, wise creature with
much to share. The dragon haughtily informs Grendel about
his vast store of knowledge as he teases him with how much
he knows. As Grendel\'s interests are piqued, the dragon
expends the cumulative result of his travails: "Know how
much you\'ve got, and beware of strangers…My advice to
you, my violent friend, is to seek out gold and sit on it."
Although the dragon serves as a vessel to point out the
necessity of Grendel and makes some pointed observations
about mankind, all his respectability is lost with those two
short sentences. The author is making an observation about
materialism and the falsehood of wisdom always
accompanying age. After all his years of intense scrutiny, the
dragon can only grasp from human- and animalkind alike
that possessions are the key to life\'s existence. Nature
against society is also discussed in Grendel. The fact that
citizens surrounded with religion and social status could be
so easily overtaken by nature (Grendel) gives a sense of
irony to the reader. Nature is the only virtuous and pure
institution left available to the world and yet capable of such
cold-blooded viciousness (again, Grendel). People can build
up whatever walls they may to block the righteousness that is
nature but will always be unsuccessful. Nature has no
religion, no political power struggles, and no inherent
corruption and will always be superior to man in all respects.
The author is successful at dissembling the institutions that
have been repeatedly dissembled for centuries: society and
religion. The corrupt natures of religion and power have
been the theses for countless books before and will remain
for countless books after. While he doesn\'t add much to the
literary forum with these ideas, he expresses them in a
creative way, through the eyes of one \'innocent\' to human
wiles. His thoughts are neither original nor innovative, but his
success in including them all in a single story is a formidable

Category: Book Reports