As in Resurrection (1966) and The Wreckage of Agathon (1970) Gardner demonstrates his agility at juggling metaphysical notions while telling a diverting tale. Here he has used as a means of discovering man's unsavory ways that muzziest of monsters, Grendel, from the Beowulf chronicle. As in the original, Grendel is a bewildering combination of amorphous threats and grisly specifics -- he bellows in the wilds and crunches through hapless inhabitants of the meadhall. But Grendel, the essence of primal violence, is also a learning creature. Itc listens to a wheezing bore with scales and coils, a pedantic Lucifer, declaim on the relentless complexity of cosmic accident. He hears an old priest put in a word for God as unity of discords, where nothing is lost. And Grendel continues to observe the illusions of bards, kings, heroes, and soldiers, occasionally eating one. After the true hero arrives sprouting fiery wings, to deal the death blow, he shows Grendel the reality of both destruction and rebirth. Throughout the trackless philosophic speculation, the dialogue is witty and often has a highly contemporary tilt: "The whole shit-ass scene was his idea, not mine," says Grendel, disgusted by a sacrificial hero. At the close one is not sure if the savior is "blithe of his deed," but Gardner, the word-pleaser, should be.