Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Gardner, John

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(1933-1982) US academic and writer. The relationship between his work and Genre Fantasy – or any other genre – is conspicuously distant, given the indifference to genre made evident in On Moral Fiction (1978), a tract against the "nihilism" of Postmodern literature: for JG, writing in genre formats might well have seemed tantamount to surrendering to inauthenticity. He is best-known for Grendel (1971), his first fantasy novel, which constitutes a kind of Twice-Told version of Beowulf from the point of view of the Monster, and although JG's attempts to re-create in contemporary prose the rhythms of the Beowulf poet are stylistically congested – he has, for instance, nothing of the control over diction and rhythm of a genuinely fine re-creator like Kenneth Morris – the monster's embittered (and prophetic) assessment of the meaninglessness of his existence, and of the fatal pretentiousness underlying the human rage for order (see Thinning), are powerfully conveyed. Jason and Medea (1973) also begins to present its material in a twice-told manner, down to the verse format in which it is narrated; but times and venues shift, the tale turns into a New York legend for a space, and continues to the End of the World.

Most of the stories assembled in The King's Indian: Stories and Tales (coll 1974) go together to make up a set of Fables modelled on recognizably US ways of rendering Story. The title novella is told in a manner evocative of the Tall Tale, while invoking Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838) and Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851) in a complexly self-referential artifact of storytelling, which takes its unreliable narrator on a ship into southern waters in search of his Double. In the Suicide Mountains (1977), which takes elements from various Russian Folktales, features the coming together of three suicidal protagonists who Learn Better through observing and listening to each other; there is Magic involved, and an abbot plays the role of Liminal Being.

Some of JG's later novels also incorporate, loosely, fantasy elements. The interior Quest saga told by the eponymous Giant narrator of Freddy's Book (1980) seems ultimately delusional, if the text is meant literally as fantasy; but the book is an engrossing examination of its protagonist's deep need for a fantasy structure to explain – and to in effect allegorize – his life. Mickelsson's Ghosts (1982) plays some of the same games in terms of Supernatural Fiction. "Shadows" – an uncompleted novel assembled in Stillness and Shadows (coll 1986) – features a detective haunted by a presence his Amnesia prohibits him from identifying.

JG was a scholar of medieval literature, and much of his work in this field – typical examples being The Complete Works of the Gawain-Poet in a Modern English Version (trans 1965) and The Gawain-Poet (1967), a study – are of importance.

JG is not to be confused with the UK thriller writer John Gardner (1926-2007). [JC]

other works: Three volumes of tales for children, being Dragon, Dragon, and Other Timeless Tales (coll 1975 chap), Gudgekin the Thistle Girl and Other Tales (coll 1976 chap) – stories of Revisionist Fantasy – and The King of the Hummingbirds and Other Tales (coll 1977 chap); three librettos for Operas by Joseph Baber, being Rumpelstiltskin (1978 chap), Frankenstein (1979 chap) and William Wilson (1979 chap), all assembled as Three Libretti (omni 1979); Vlemk the Box-Painter (1980); The Art of Living and Other Stories (coll 1981).

other works (nonfiction): The Forms of Fiction (anth 1962) with Lennis Dunlap; Le Morte Arthure (1967); The Alliterative Morte Arthure, The Owl and the Nightingale, and Five Other Middle English Poems, in a Modernized Version (trans 1971); The Construction of the Wakefield Cycle (1975); The Poetry of Chaucer (1977); The Life & Times of Chaucer (1977); Gilgamesh (trans 1984) with John Maier.

John Champlin Gardner Jr


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.