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From the epic to the novel : A comparative study of Beowulf and Grendel

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2003
Dalbak, Emine
This thesis compares the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf and John Gardner's novel Grendel in terms of their generic relations within a framework of Bakhtin's genre theory. The analysis restricts its theoretical framework to basically two essays by Mikhail M. Bakhtin, namely "Epic and Novel" and "Discourse in the Novel" included in Michael Holquist's The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin (1981). This study argues that Beowulf represents a monologic world, which is hierarchically distanced from the present. As Bakhtin puts it, the epic presents an already completed world placed in an absolute past, which demands a pious attitude as it is hierarchically above the reader. Gardner's Grendel, on the other hand, is a retelling of the Beowulf story through the monster's eye in the contemporary world. It suggests a dialogue between the elevated world of the epic hero Beowulf and the novelistic world of Grendel to achieve multiplicity in a truly Bakhtinian sense. For Gardner's version enables the monstrous "other", which is Grendel, to raise its voice. By changing the temporal order and narrative perspective, Gardner succeeds in re-writing an epic story in the novelistic zone of maximal proximity to the present. This thesis, however, argues that although Gardner's Grendel displays all the novelistic features, basically multiplicity and contemporaneity, as put forward by Bakhtin, it still celebrates the ideal world of the epic.