Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Freddy’s Book explores the central themes and meanings that occupied John Gardner throughout his career as an author, especially how an individual must act in order to be a decent human being and how an artist (who is always in some fashion a “monster”) can both celebrate those actions and encourage them. This is what Gardner seems to have meant in his repeated discussions of moral fiction, which are articulated in Freddy’s Book. Art is both artifice and reality. It re-creates the real world while creating an independent world of its own. The characters in this novel, whether they are popular lecturers such as Jack Winesap, academic historians such as Sven Agaard, or romantic visionaries such as Freddy Agaard, are engaged in the same tasks. So, however, are persons in the “real world,” such as King Gustav or his all-too-human servants, Lars-Goren and Bishop Brask. Each of them, in his individual fashion, must confront and defeat devils in many forms, whether of despair, cynicism, or popular indifference. The important point, which Lars-Goren and Bishop Brask come to understand and which Freddy Agaard articulates, is to face these devils, for it is in the confrontation itself that victory lies.