Gardner -- who died nearly 25 years ago-- shared much with his most famous creation. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that, in his public assessments of some of his most esteemed fiction-writing peers, Gardner was as brutal and reckless as Grendel. In his scathing 1978 polemic On Moral Fiction , he calls Philip Roth "creepy" and dismisses Saul Bellow as "an essayist disguised as a writer of fiction"; Mailer, Albee, Vonnegut and many others come in for similar drubbings. Their work was not just bad, in Gardner's view, but dangerous.Also, check out this moving essay by Steven Bauer called The Blessing about his relationship with John Gardner, who mentored him through his early days as a writer. Bauer gives a wonderful insight into Gardner as he presented himself to the literary world and what he was to his students, whom Gardner is famous for mentoring relentlessly.
As John Gardner approached the podium, the bustle and buzz increased. The man who prepared to speak looked very like the man I’d seen around the Bread Loaf campus, but even bigger, as though this public occasion had magnified him. His crumpled shirt was dignified by the bright splash of a tie. He bid us good morning, pushed his thick white hair out of his eyes, and informed us that in the next hour he would tell us everything we needed to know about the writing of fiction. From another’s mouth, these words might have seemed arrogant, self-serving, even ridiculous, but John spoke them with the gravity of someone about to reveal an elaborate mystery. I sat up straight, opened my notebook.