John Champlin Gardner, Jr. was born on July 21, 1933, in Batavia, New York. His parents were John Champlin, a lay preacher and dairy farmer, and Priscilla Gardner, an English teacher. When he was almost twelve, Gardner accidentally ran his younger brother over with a large farm machine, killing him. Gardner suffered from related flashbacks and nightmares for the rest of his life.

As young man, Gardner attended Washington University in St. Louis, graduating with honors in 1955. He then went to the University of Iowa for graduate school, where he studied creative writing and medieval literature. His doctoral dissertation was a novel that combined both of these interests.

Gardner then taught at Oberlin College, and continued teaching at various universities during the course of his life. Known for both teaching creative writing and writing frequently himself, Gardner wrote 35 volumes of work in only 25 years. His publications included novels, short stories, plays, translated works, instruction, essays, reviews, literary criticism, opera librettos, poems, children’s books, and a biography.

During and after his life, Gardner’s works incited considerable controversy. Grendel, written in an experimental style that contrasts with many of Gardner’s more traditional novels, was the only one of his works to enjoy an almost wholly positive critical response. His most controversial work was On Moral Fiction, which criticized most modern literature as cynical and amoral. According to Gardner, art is meant to support morality, which is a lasting human truth, not a social construct.

Likewise, Gardner criticized many of the most important philosophical, literary, and social movements of the 20th century, such as existentialism and postmodernism, along with the people who contributed to them. This frustrated critics, since his own works often used postmodern techniques and explored existential themes. Gardner’s views have since affected critical interpretations of Grendel and Gardner’s other works,...

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