Monday, October 28, 2013

shaper vs. dragon

In John Gardner’s novel, Grendel, the universe is split into two: good and evil. In general, the shaper is perceived to be “good”. In the human societies, he gives men purpose. He defines “good” and “bad”, and records histories. Grendel, our narrator, is conflicted with the shaper. He is moved by the shaper’s song and the meaning that he reveals in this universe, but at the same time he sees through the lies that the shaper creates. The shaper rewrites history to glorify humans and their wars. The Danes believe his lies easily, but Grendel is not that naïve. He was present for the events and remembered them differently. However, there is a part of him that wants to believe in the shaper. He asks his mother in the earlier chapters about their existence and purpose in the world, but she simply conveyed to him through her body language, “don’t ask.” In the shaper’s version of the truth, Grendel is a monster born from the fight between two brothers, Caine and Abel. His miserable life is explained by the fact that Grendel was on the losing side and had God’s wrath brought down upon him. And while the story of Caine and Abel does not change any aspect of his life, it does establish a role for him to fulfill. The dragon on the other hand, offers no explanation for Grendel. There is only one truth: we all are born and we will all die. Life is a pointless accident. It starts and ends quite suddenly. In the long run, his actions will not matter. Fate is already set, and as time passes everything would be forgotten. The dragon has the ability to see the past, present, and future, but he does nothing to change the future. He tells Grendel, “  My knowledge of the future does not  cause the future. It merely sees it, exactly as creatures at your low level recall things past.” (page 63)The actions that will be remembered will be misinterpreted as “good” or “evil”, regardless of intentions. While the shaper seems to be a vital part of the human society, giving them  reason to live, it is Grendel himself that motivates the humans. Like the dragon whose desire and purpose in life is to seek out gold and sit on it,  the humans are driven by their desire to defeat Grendel. So in the end, it is not the shaper that drives the humans, but Grendel himself. However, it is unclear whether fate is driving Grendel to make certain decisions.  The real question is what is driving Grendel to be the monster he is. The dragon would interpret his actions as being Grendel’s free will. However, according to the shaper, his actions would be due to the forces of “good” and “evil”. In the end, after the 5th chapter, Grendel seems to have chosen the dragon’s side. He is set free to go on a rampage after basically told that he should “do as he likes”. This unfortunately will have dire consequences on the Danes. 

1 comment:

  1. I agree with your general description that the Shaper gives Grendel a sense of hope like he gives the people, but moreover, he also gives Grendel a role in society that gives him a sense of importance and that there's something worth fighting for as well as dying for in life. A sense of value to himself. Yet Grendel then goes on to reject all of that and when the Shaper finally dies in chapter 10 of Grendel, he fully morphs into the Dragon's perspective and abandons the Shaper's beliefs? What does this say about the Shaper? Considering the whole picture, is the Shaper effective?

    I loved your blog because it captures so many of the elements that John Gardner incorporates in Grendel. This was such an interesting read :')