ContextJohn Champlin Gardner was born in Batavia, New York, on July 21, 1933, to John Champlin, a dairy farmer and lay Presbyterian preacher, and Priscilla Gardner, an English teacher. A few months shy of his twelfth birthday, Gardner inadvertently killed his younger brother Gilbert in a gruesome accident, running him over with a heavy farm machine. The incident haunted Gardner for the rest of his life in the form of nightmares and flashbacks, and the deep psychological wound it caused inspired and informed much of Gardner’s work, particularly the posthumously published novel Stillness (1986).In his youth, Gardner developed an interest in cartoons and comics, and that medium’s fantastic, over-the-top quality pervades his fiction. Gardner often uses grotesque, cartoonish imagery to distance readers emotionally from his characters, so as to avoid overly sentimental interpretations. An avid cartoonist and illustrator himself, Gardner insisted that all of his novels written for the Knopf publishing firm be illustrated. Grendel(1971), for example, features the nearly abstract woodcuts of Emil Antonucci, which serve to enhance the novel’s surreal, fanciful tone.Gardner went on to graduate Phi Beta Kappa from Washington University in St. Louis in 1955 and then attended the University of Iowa for graduate study. At Iowa he studied medieval literature and creative writing, eventually combining his two academic interests in his doctoral dissertation, a novel called The Old Men.Gardner accepted a teaching position at Oberlin College in Ohio directly after leaving Iowa, and he continued to teach at various universities for the rest of his life. He gained prominence as a teacher of creative writing, particularly at institutions such as the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference in Middlebury, Vermont.Gardner was a prolific and mercurial writer, producing a remarkable thirty-five volumes in just twenty-five years. The breadth of his output is equally impressive: though most noted for his novels, Gardner also published poetry, plays, short stories, opera librettos, scholarly texts, and children’s picture books. Even his novels do not share a coherent, sustained style or tone: they vary from the highly stylized, densely allusive Grendelto more traditionally realist works such as Nickel Mountain (1973). Critical response to Gardner’s work has been equally divided, and throughout his publishing career the release of a new Gardner work was an occasion for much critical debate. Grendelwas, in fact, the first and only Gardner volume to receive near-unanimous critical acclaim, though three of his novels—The Sunlight Dialogues (1972), Nickel Mountain,and October Light(1976)—were popular best-sellers.Gardner’s work is often classified as postmodernist. In the early part of the century, writers such as T.S.