John Gardner

There were two things that I found that were interesting in Gardner’s response. The first was his chiding of the student for calling Beowulf optimistic. He attributes this reading of Beowulf as either poor reading or a bad translation. However, something I noticed as I read the Burton Raffel translation segments that were in our English Literature collection, it disregarded the influence of the Swedes, among other forces, on the Beowulf and the Geats. Although this influence is rather dry in terms of the way it is presented in the Seamus Heaney translation, it is an integral part of the story, because it is the source of the gloom of the story, because no matter what Beowulf does, he will eventually die. His death is not only a sad thing because Beowulf is a beast, but also because it, as Gardner briefly references, is the end of of the Geats’ dominance, as they will be consistently harassed if not destroyed at the hands of the Swedes. Whether this was because of Raffel’s translation or the selection of the segments to include by the publishers of the English Literature book, this aspect of the story was not clear. Without this aspect, it is possible and understandable to call the epic optimistic.

It was also interesting that Gardner mentioned that much of literature is mimicry. This is quite clear in his book, as he represents many different philosophical viewpoints so there must be some mimicry on his part, as believing in all of these viewpoints would be contradictory and impossible. Although this is something that upon further looking at seems rather obvious, I never actively noticed in while reading Grendel. Thus, his pointing out of it was refreshing it as it put the book and all writing in a context, namely that of mimicry on the part of the author.

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