First-Year Read Discussion

We look forward to welcoming you to W&L this summer. Every year, we are blown away by our new students and the talents you bring to campus. One of the first events that allows us to celebrate your intellectual diversity and to begin building community is our First-Year reading experience.

This year we have selected John Gardner's Grendel (1971) as the First-Year read for the class of 2026. During Orientation Week, on September 7 from 1:30 - 2:30 pm, all First-Year students will participate in a faculty or staff led small group discussion of Grendel. Gardner's novel returns to Beowulf and imagines the epic poem from the monster's perspective. But don't worry--you need not read Beowulf to enjoy Grendel!

Consider the following as you read the novel:

  • Why does Grendel both admire and abhor the Shaper, and what do his admiration and abhorrence suggest about the power of artistic creation?
  • What role does the dragon play, and why does Grendel conclude that the dragon "was not a friend"?
  • What do we make of Grendel's focus on "accidents"? Does he conclude that unexpected and undesirable events are meaningless or constructive?

Our discussion of Grendel will constitute the first of countless invigorating analytical explorations you will participate in at W&L. As you prepare to leave home and embark upon your collegiate journey, we hope you find this fictional exploration of the importance of self-definition and the role of art in community formation thought-provoking. Here's to a great conversation in September!