Atheism In Gardner's Grendel, By John Gardner

801 Words 4 Pages
Philosophy is the perpetual vortex of thought and the true substance of nightmares for many college students. A subject so grandiose, it attempts to define indefinable words like evil, morality, and love. Yet, philosophy leaves its own imprint on each human being, and each thing that human creates. John Gardner’s Grendel, a reimagining of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf, features fundamental philosophical ideas running through its core. In Grendel, Gardner explores topics such as nihilism, atheism, and isolationism to explain his view on the negative aspects of the human experience.
Grendel’s overarching theme is the purpose of life. The titular character spends most of the novel determining whether or not he was meant to exist in this world,
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During the dragon’s discussion with Grendel, he largely dismisses the Shaper’s perceived sense of the world, explaining, “[The humans] have dim apprehensions that such propositions as ‘God does not exist’ are somewhat dubious,” (Gardner, 65). Being the “omniscient” being he is, the dragon admits that man has reservations about there higher beliefs. This again reinforces Grendel’s central idea: the meaning of life. Since the beginning of time, man has tied religion to its existence to provide a moral compass and for guidance in how a life should progress. The idea presented by the dragon reinforces his prior point, for if there was no higher power to please, why should sentient beings act morally? Later, as Grendel toys with the blind priest near the Danes’ religious shrine, he ponders with inklings of monotheism, “The King of Gods is the ultimate limitation…and His existence is the ultimate irrationality,” (Gardner, 131) yet, in doing so, doubts his current thinking and the foundation of the Danes polytheistic faith, implying his confusion. With no clear doctrine, and waning support, religion in Hrothgar’s society feels like a task of obligation and not devotion, furthering Gardner’s underlying claim that religion’s instability can and will lead to its

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