Grendel and the Higgs Boson

I’ve just finished reading John Gardner’s Grendel and I had to write a short blurb about it. This is what I wrote, I intended to make it longer, but I had a page limit.

The Higgs Boson.

Grendel’s attitude and his behavior are highly elegant and philosophical. And as Ayn Rand once put it, “all work is an act of philosophy” and extending the assumption further, all existence is an act of philosophy as well, especially Grendel’s. It is because of this that Grendel is the only solid character and the only defining thing in the entire novel. The story is entirely defined and dependant on him.

If it were not obvious from the title of the novel, Grendel asserts himself as the stronger (and almost only) force in the work. Unlike in other works, where titular characters are unaware of their situation or their influences, Grendel is aware of his situation: “Nothing was changed, everything was changed, by my having seen the dragon (Gardner, 75)” He is aware of both the fact that for the world around, him, everything remains exactly the same, yet as for himself and the dragon, everything is different. Grendel is incredibly aware of the changes, or rather, the flux, of his existence and its ultimate meaninglessness. Grendel’s world is reduced to himself, although this discovery, this philosophy, does in no way stand against its opposing force: the importance of the self and the individual.  His voice then, characterized by short, descriptive clauses: “I blink. I stare in horror (Gardner, 5)” sets the tone for the further expression of his ego, and allows for the reader to understand that the world is reduced to Grendel because he considers himself to be the only thing worth noticing.

Grendel’s reductionist philosophy takes him down a nihilistic rabbit hole: “nihil ex nihilo (Gardner, 150)” Out of nothing, nothing exists, except for the observer, that is, both Grendel and the reader. This is exemplified and clearly pointed out in the one statement that defines him: “I understood that the world is nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly place our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or that I push against, blindly- as blindly as all that is not myself pushes back. I create the whole universe, blink by blink. (Gardner, 21-22)”

Each sentence containing the word ‘I’ is then set apart, not merely as a causality, but as a rigid, undeniable and unquestioning statement of Grendel’s unshakable sense of life. It is obvious, that Grendel Is. Like the Higgs Boson, Grendel gives existence to himself and it is only when he tricked by Beowulf that he shows any sign of losing his control, even then as he lies bleeding to death, his final words haunt and define the future of his destroyers: “So may you all (Gardner, 174)”


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