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Published: 23-09-2019

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Signs of Astrology, Shown in Grendel as Symbols

In the novel Grendel, by John Gardner, the author associates each chapter with a different astrological sign, such as Aries, Gemini, and Sagittarius, not only to enhance the role of nature in the story, but also to better chronologize Grendel’s growth and retreat in his philosophical development. In addition, this designation even mimics that which he struggles to grasp: the information of the continuation of the universe without having him soon after his death, even although his world has come to an finish.

Beginning the novel with the very first sign, Aries, Gardner introduces the stereotypical trait of cyclical considering. The ram, which is the symbol for Aries, indicates an additional spring coming about, spurring Grendel to lash out as he finds himself trapped in an “endless progression of moon and stars” (p.5). Not only does the “cyclical” trait indicate that Grendel is frustrated with the never ever-ending loop he feels stuck in, but it also, along with the mention of “moon and stars”, clues the reader in to the use of the signs as a vehicle to communicate Grendel’s own cycle from existentialist on to empiricist on to nihilist and back when again. In other words, the affirmation that Grendel’s own existence is, in itself, the very circular, repetitive approach that he abhors.

The reader travels along with Grendel by means of his experiences and phases of philosophical believed. From him realizing that he “alone creates the universe, blink by blink” (p.22) following getting attacked by the bull of Taurus— ushering in his keep in an existential mindset —to his head “splitting” (p.44) into dual realities under Gemini. That split within him— a creation of Gemini’s symbol, twins —is employed to illustrate the fervor and inner turmoil he feels as he is torn among that newfound existentialism and the inviting lies of religion that the Shaper brings along. The Shaper, a harp-player who sings of a loving God to the Danes, the residents of young King Hrothgar’s mead hall, is a show as properly of these fast-witted and smoothly eloquent Gemini traits that he utilizes to trap the subjects beneath the pleasant lies of a benevolent force that drives all things to come about for a explanation allowing the emotional humans to feel that their struggles are not in vain. Grendel, nevertheless, his cold and inhuman audience, becomes stuck somewhere among the notions of the inanimate, unfeeling universe he feels he has come to know and a fatherly, caring, Cancer-esque God painted by this man who nourishes and nurtures via false hope— what he finds he has the capability to want and be seduced by, just as the Danes do and can.

Later on in the novel, when Grendel has accepted his part as “the Destroyer” (p. 72-73) and as a nihilist, each concepts presented to him by the Leo-likened Dragon, he initiates himself as such by wreaking havoc on the mead hall. During this attack, the reader abruptly finds themselves in a grave realization that Grendel’s life will quickly end a sudden deviation that yanks them away from their preceding vantage point they shared with him. Below the sign of Sagittarius, whose image is an archer, Grendel sees a Scylding hunter fell a hart with a bow and arrow— foreshadowing his personal rapidly-approaching demise. The demolition of his philosophical development is also brought on as he stumbles upon the false priests who preach religion but practice nothing— representative of the centaur (the half-man, half-horse beast) who is the archer of Sagittarius. As Grendel unknowingly and uncaringly awaits the coming of the “water bearer” (p.151) of Pisces— the Geat Beowulf —that will in the end finish him, he observes as both his nihilistic mindset and his attraction to religion are ended by the quasi-priests getting exposed.

It is only when that sea-bearer comes and occupies Grendel’s self-centered, one particular-creature planet, displaying the Piscean emphasis on connectedness within the universe that Grendel’s Aquarian individuality plays a stark contrast against, that he returns to exactly exactly where he was when the story started. As soon as once more obtaining himself as a helpless cog in the ever-churning globe that he can decide on to generate inside or be run by, he realizes that he can in no way escape till he is forced out by death, at that moment being administered gruesomely to him by Beowulf.

All through the novel, Gardner supplies symbols of the indicators or traits of the signs to illustrate Grendel’s circular growth and regression in his views regarding the universe, but it is eventually at his time of demise that supplies a correct representation the vicious cycle he battles and loses against­­­— as we all do.
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