For over a thousand years Beowulf's monster was revealed only through the adjectives of his enemies. They, on the other hand, basked in the glow of their propagandist. With the publication of Grendel in 1971, Gardner took the details of the original, turned the tables, and gave us the monster in his own words.
Instead of mindless, brutish violence, here is a monster of thoughtful, well considered, brutish violence, who searches for meaning even as he drinks the blood of his victims. He sees the Danes as drunken, boastful, and treacherous. Hrothgar is a schemer separated from lesser men only by the degree of his success. What little wisdom the King of the Danes possesses he owes to his memory of his own cunning and to the misery brought on him by Grendel's raids. Unferth is no longer merely petty; he is pathetic. Beowulf is not so much a character as a calculator with the strength of a force of nature.
Grendelis a modern counterpoint to the original that can stand alone, but is enriched by and helps to enrich our reading of the seventh century epic. It is a celebration of the endlessly new and varied avenues of meaning and imagination afforded us by even the oldest and seemingly remote of works.
"An extraordinary achievement...very funny, original and deft, altogether lovable, poignant, rich with thought and feeling...immensely enjoyable."
--The New York Times
"It deserves a place on the same shelf as Lord of the Flies, Cat's Cradle, and Catcher in the Rye."
--Christian Science Monitor