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Gardner, John [2]

Entry updated 25 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1933-1982) US author and academic who achieved popularity with his large contemporary novel, The Sunlight Dialogues (1972); much of his work is fantastic, but none of it is in fact sf [for full entry see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. His second novel, The Wreckage of Agathon (1970), is a fantasy of history set in an anachronistic Sparta; his third, Grendel (1971), mordantly recasts the Beowulf legend from the Monster's point of view, and renders – more pointedly than Thomas Burnett Swann in his many thematically similar elegies – Anglo-Saxon Man's triumphs as allegorical of the rise of the cruel, modern, industrial world. Further works that contain fantastic elements include Jason and Medeia (1973), a fantasy novel in a quasi-verse format; several tales assembled in The King's Indian: Stories and Tales (coll 1974), including "The Ravages of Spring" (April 1973 Fantastic), a contorted metaphysical fiction involving Clones; Freddy's Book (1980), which contains a book-length medieval fantasy written by an eight-foot-tall twentieth-century Monster; and Mickelsson's Ghosts (1982), which attempts to subsume the ghost story and other narrative conventions into a mundane frame.

More relaxedly, several titles for children and Young Adult readers – including Dragon, Dragon and Other Tales (coll 1975 chap), Gudgekin the Thistle Girl and Other Tales (coll 1976 chap), The King of the Hummingbirds and Other Tales (coll 1977 chap), In the Suicide Mountains (1977), based on Russian folk themes, and Vlemk the Box-Painter (1979), in which the transformative power of art is articulated through a magic portrait – demonstrate an easy grasp of the fantastic he (it seems foolishly and inconsistently) thought inappropriate in his now half-forgotten adult work.

Though clearly attracted to various supernatural and classical traditions, Gardner had little apparent interest in the sf or fantasy genres, which are scantly treated in On Moral Fiction (1978), in which he argued for a traditional viewpoint, excoriating what he saw as Postmodernist nihilism. He has often been credited with, and seems to have stated at various times in various wordings, the dictum that there are only two plots in the world (pace Robert Graves), a wisdom most often paraphrased as: (1) a person goes on a journey; (2) a stranger comes to town (see Mysterious Stranger).

Gardner died in a motorcycle accident. He should not be confused with the thriller author John Gardner. [JC/GF]

see also: Mythology.

John Champlin Gardner Jr

born Batavia, New York: 21 July 1933

died near Susquehanna, Pennsylvania: 14 September 1982

works (selected)

about the author


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