I thought Gardner’s letter really gave insight into what Gardner was thinking when he wrote Grendel and clarified his messages in the novel. One thing that I had never thought of before reading this letter was Gardner’s emphasis on a writer’s mind when they sit down to write a novel. Gardner says to always assume a writer is not writing from their own point of view. I feel this is a hard task to assume since we are reading from the point of view of the character, which the writer creates. Whether this concept has ever come into my mind or not before, I have never taken into consideration that maybe the writer and the character share opposing views. To be honest, outside of English class I vaguely think about the connection between the writer and characters, I usually just like to enjoy a good story. However, with this new insight the entire relationship of a novel’s meaning changes. In a way it is similar to O’Brien’s opinion that it doesn’t matter whether a story is true or false as long as the meaning is clear; as long as Gardner’s message is clear, his actual opinions are rather meaningless to us just as he states that each reader’s interpretation is their business.
Grendel is not an easy novel is understand in one sitting, just as Gardner tells the students they read the novel too innocently and like children. Before we had discussions in class, I believe I also read it this way and therefore found it confusing. It is be easy to read Grendel and see that Grendel follows the philosophy that his life will eventually turn into nothing and therefore is meaningless. I really like how Gardner still addresses this idea but clarifies that the reason he took this position was so the reader would feel more inclined to live opposite of how Grendel lived since his life was a tragedy. Overall Grendel’s lifestyle and the significance of the Dragon, the Shaper and the priest takes on a greater meaning to me now that this lesson is clearly emphasized.
When Gardner writes about Beowulf banging Grendel’s head in a wall to destroy Grendel’s nihilistic mindset, I couldn’t help but smile since we talked about this in class. However, something we did not touch on as much in this discussion was how Beowulf was the second dragon. When reading this it seemed strange to compare Beowulf to the dragon but since dragons are represented in many cultures as the destroyer, indeed, Beowulf destroyed Grendel and also Grendel’s hopeless mindset. Gardner sends his message to readers from the opposite angle and that is what I found most fascinating.
Side note: Since I mentioned to you that Gardner was born in the same town my Grandma lives in (well, basically she currently lives one town over but it is literally a bike ride away), I did some more research. By research I mean I called her and asked. My Grandma did not remember his name but my Uncle did, and he said that John Gardner’s younger brother was a grade ahead of him in school. He also said they lived down the road from their old house (they moved when my uncle was in 5th grade). Still, I think this is so neat that there is this little connection!