The Dragon of John Gardner's Grendel is the omniscient voice of nihilism. He claims to know all across time and space - and claims to understand that it all adds up to nothing. His pervasive influence is felt by Grendel as an odor or an invisible ancient presence.

Columbia Encyclopedia describes a dragon as a:

mythical beast usually represented as a huge, winged, fire-breathing reptile. For centuries the dragon has been prominent in the folklore of many peoples; thus, its physical characteristics vary greatly and include combinations of numerous animals. The dragon has often been associated with evil.

CE also tells us that "In ancient China the dragon was associated with fertility and prosperity."

A trace of this postive quality comes across in Gardner's characterization of the Dragon. He is thoroughly dangerous, greedy and effete, a know-it-all who has poisoned Grendel's mind. And yet, is a reader not attracted to - or at least entertained by - this ancient curmudgeon who spouts rude derision, nihilism, and philosophical jargon about the nature of existence? Still, in his Letter to Miss West and Students, Gardner takes pains to assert that these are "the opinions of a snake."

Grendel thinks the Dragon "might be telling me gibberish on purpose" (70). Is he? What would you need to know in order to determine this?

dragon (Columbia Encyclopedia)
Polenth's Weyr
Dragons of the British Isles
The Serpent as Divinity

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