Grendel was published in 1971. Ostensibly a retelling of the Beowulf epic, Grendel is in fact a dark fable concerned with the philosophical underpinnings of society and individuality, as well as the place of art in a world of competing ideologies. It is Gardner's third published novel, and his most famous work.
More than simply the epic tale told from the monster's point of view, Grendel is in fact an examination of the meaning of life. Grendel's quest for meaning is in fact the quest of every human being to find a worldview fitting his or her experiences. Gardner wanted to do more than just give Grendel a voice: he wanted to voice the frustration of an entire generation at its seeming dislocation from the world around it. Grendel's dichotomous need to belong and rejection of the human community echoes the counterculture of the '60s, which sought to change its society while often settling for "dropping out" of societal norms.