Arches & Light: The Fiction of John Gardner

Arches & Light: The Fiction of John Gardner

Arches & Light: The Fiction of John Gardner

Arches & Light: The Fiction of John Gardner


Arches and Light demonstrates the depth and complexity of Gardner's fiction, as well as his utterly consistent moral vision. Cowart argues that Gardner's career, from The Resurrection to Mickelsson's Ghosts, reveals an incremental mastery and a remarkable singleness of purpose.


Schopenhauer has analysed the pessimism that characterises modern thought, but Hamlet invented it. The world has become sad because a puppet was once melancholy.


According to John Gardner, the credit for Grendel's defeat ought properly to go to the Shaper, not to the beefy and humorless Beowulf. Proof against the small-scale heroics of the territorial imperative, Grendel might have continued to harass the Scyldings indefinitely had art not shaped a more substantial heroic ideal to nurture a deliverer. But Gardner goes beyond making the Shaper his hero. He makes Grendel the narrator of his novel, and in that role the monster becomes in effect the Shaper's rival artist. Thus the battle between Grendel and Beowulf, a contest of strength, takes second place in importance to the indirect competition between Grendel and the Shaper--a contest of art. The story ultimately concerns the triumph of good art over bad, for in it Grendel manages only self-indictment. He unwittingly produces a case history of the bad artist, as John Gardner would define such a monster.

Gardner inadvertently misled a few critics with his remark, in an interview, about Grendel's becoming an artist when Beowulf twists his arm and makes him sing: "At the end of the novel Grendel himself becomes the Shaper. Beowulf bangs his head against the wall and says, feel. Grendel feels--his head hurts--so Beowulf makes him sing about walls. When the Shaper dies a kid is chosen to succeed him, but the real successor is Grendel." But . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.