Among other things -- novelist, teacher, literary critic, librettist,storyteller
-- John C.
Gardner was a medievalist. He wrote two books about Chaucer, translated the
Alliterative Morte d'Arthur, the works of the Gawain Poet, and several other
shorter poems, and wrote a novel (Grendel) based on the Old English Beowulf. He
freely admitted being influenced by Chaucer (especially in his use of the narrator in
Jason and Medea) and Dante. It seems reasonable to infer that what attracted him to
the Middle Ages was its vision, its way of seeing things.
The Medieval world view, at least that of Christianized Europe, was
sacramental. It held that the physical world was a vast emblem of an invisible world, the
world of spirit. For the Middle Ages, the idea of signs was not simply an
intellectual, verbal construct as it is for the 20th century. Rather, the
relationship between the sign and the thing it represents is intimate and
incarnational. Eucharistic. The only remnant of this way of seeing things is
in the Roman Catholic doctrine on transubstantiation, the idea that the wafer
of bread is literally the body of Christ.
This paper will attempt to demonstrate that much of Gardner's fiction
a world that is sacramental, at least in a broad sense if not a strictly
medieval sense. His protagonists are seekers of transcendence who inhabita
universe that is full of awe and mystery.
updated on 25 March 1999