Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Grendel is a 1971 masterpiece by John Gardner that retells the Beowulf story from the monster Grendel's point of view. I found it relevant to today's struggles in some ways. First of all, the novel describes a war that almost nobody wants, except perhaps Grendel. Even Grendel calls it an idiotic war, but that doesn't stop him from being a violent bully. Secondly ,the potential for the two sides of the conflict, monsters and men, to draw a truce exists in parts of the novel, but the two sides harden their positions until one side, drawing on the power of fate, is victorious. President Bush must feel a little bit like Grendel these days. He's entered into a conflict that he doesn't fully understand, and his identity is determined by the decisions he makes in that conflict. Grendel has the excuse of being a monster, but he is struggling to define himself just as we all are. In fact, the bulk of the novel is Grendel's struggle to understand himself and human society, which is built on war and conquest (and betrayal) in his eyes. I wonder how much Grendel's outsider's perspective on things is needed right now. After all, he sits outside of Western materialism in the world of myth. We need to be able to dislodge our preconceptions to get past this world war we're engaging.