The Act of Creation in Grendel and Frankenstein
Man has always been driven to create. We constantly shape the world around us by inventing stories of heroes and monsters, by crafting complex but passionate ideals about good and evil. Some relish in the power that this manipulation of reality wields; others are more innocent in that they are simply yielding to a universal longing for something in which to believe.
In both John Gardner's Grendel and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, creation is a central theme. Victor Frankenstein is inexplicably driven to make a creature like himself, though he doesn't have any external reason for doing so. The monster himself enacts a kind of creation; he seeks to understand the truth of human nature by reading man's works, but also indulges in his own stories and fantasies of a life lived among friends. Shelley explores to some extent the morality of such creation (at least on the part of Victor Frankenstein), but Gardner is more interested in what the act of creation reveals about the nature of existence.
In Grendel, nearly all of the characters are driven to shape the world to their ideas. Hrothgar spends his life crafting a government. Grendel's mother is described as loving her son "not for myself, my holy specialness, but for my son-ness, my displacement of air as visible proof of her power (138)." Both Grendel and the Shaper constantly seek the ability to reshape reality with words. While they have differing motives, all of these acts of creation give power and significance to the creator. As Baby Grendel desperately convinces himself, it is the act of observing and commenting on what is outside that makes one real: "I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist. All the rest, I saw, is merely what pushes me, or what I push against. (16)"
Throughout the story, Grendel makes constant references to his whispering as a means of protection against falling into the void of total meaninglessness. As long as he can continue to shape the world around him, even if only he can hear, he knows that he is really there. Grendel recognizes that reality is subject to interpretation; for this reason, the safe world he has built around his own importance is gravely threatened by the song of the Shaper (the poet of Hereot, and also representative of the author of the original story to which the characters of Grendel are bound). Grendel knows that the lofty stories of a great, wise Scyld are not true, that Hrothgar's empire is one of hypocrisy and greed. At the same time, the Shaper causes to exist another version of the truth. This contradiction terrifies Grendel and he seeks first to make true the Shaper's reality, by joining the humans as a friend and repenting his alleged sins. When he realizes that this is obviously impossible his only option is to destroy any trace of the majesty described by the Shaper in order to affirm the dragon's...