Tuesday, August 6, 2013

the existential beast

I really enjoyed reading "Revisiting John Gardner’s Grendel, the first book that blew my mind", which is part three of Dan Kois' Mass Market Marathon for Slate.  Like Mr. Kois, I was overwhelmed (in a good way) by Grendel when I first read it in AP English class as a high school junior.  I was as passionate about the book as I was inversely dispassionate about Beowulf.  Apparently I have been good at spreading my joy for the book because I have loaned out three versions and have never gotten them back.  The first and third Grendel included the Emil Antonucci illustrations while the second version had some cheesy, cartoonish depiction of a green monster.  I am happy to say that the Kindle version includes the wonderful, original illustrations at the beginning of each chapter.

I'll be honest: I barely had a grasp of existentialism, and an even lesser grasp of post-modernism when I studied the story but I didn't need that understanding to feel every awkward, angsty, ludicrous moment with the monster, and my subsequent lessons in philosophy have brought even more enjoyment of the book.  

I had a classmate who carried a tattered copy of Ulysses (the one with the fantastic Ernst Reichl cover design) almost everywhere he went.  No matter what the discussion was about in any of our courses, he managed to wave the book around while proclaiming that it was by far the best book ever written, and his most prized possession.  And it was the greatest influence of his life also.  In case no one figured that out the first fifty times that book made an appearance.  A discussion of physical changes occurring to land art evolved into how every time he read Ulysses it evolved in his mind into something different.  A discussion about virtual reality became a lesson on Joyce's use of stream of consciousness in his writing.  And so on.

My dear readers, I suddenly understand how my Ulysses loving classmate went over the cliff edge.  I, recently pondered how to introduce Grendel to a conversation with a young friend who was complaining to me about how badly her life sucked.  I feel like we could really take that "my boyfriend dumped me" conversation to a whole other level.  

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