About four decades ago, a teacher and a few of her students sent a letter to John Gardner about “Grendel.” He replied and explained a little more in depth his books meaning and a variety of other things. First off, he talks about the original story: Beowulf. Gardner writes that in it, a central message is everything ends (kinda depressing). At some point in time, no matter how hard a person may try otherwise, every action taken or words said or piece created, will cease to be important. He then goes on to explain why his book is far more optimistic than the original work. Gardner says as a novelist, his job is to explore the meaning of things (and not “ram it down the reader’s throat”). But, in his entire letter Gardner does kind of force these ideas upon the reader, and basically outright call anyone who doesn’t understand a child. However, since Gardner is an amazing philosophical writer I guess he can do that.
Also in his letter, he elaborates on the scenes where Beowulf and Grendel interact. Grendel is so fascinated and excited by Beowulf’s arrival because he sees this as an opportunity to end his loveless, meaningless life. And even then, Beowulf is more then what Grendel wanted; he has “the intelligence to force Grendel to see his mistake”. Gardner also talks about the wall scene in “Grendel” and how that physical wall is supposed to represent life’s walls (love, death, people, etc.). Gardner says towards the end that his art, and all art, is there to help the reader understand things he or she didn’t before. Everyone may get something slightly different out of a work, but the central meaning is there. In “Grendel”, Gardner says the central question is “that if the world really is meaningless (as it now stands) how should I live?” However that is interpreted is up to the reader, not Gardner. Personally, I found the letter to be really interesting and Gardner’s personal writing had some (because I can’t think of another word) sass to it.