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Butts, Leonard. The Novels of John Gardner: Making Life Art as a Moral Process. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1988. Butts draws his argument from Gardner himself, specifically On Moral Fiction (that art is a moral process) and discusses the ten novels in pairs, focusing on the main characters as either artists or artist figures who to varying degrees succeed or fail in transforming themselves into Gardner’s “true artist.” As Butts defines it, moral fiction is not didactic but instead a matter of aesthetic wholeness.
Chavkin, Allan, ed. Conversations with John Gardner. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990. Reprints nineteen of the most important interviews (the majority from the crucial On Moral Fiction period) and adds one never before published interview. Chavkin’s introduction, which focuses on Gardner as he appears in these and his other numerous interviews, is especially noteworthy. The chronology updates the one in Howell (below).
Cowart, David. Arches and Light: The Fiction of John Gardner. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983. Discusses the published novels through Mickelsson’s Ghosts, the two story collections, and the tales for children. As good as Cowart’s intelligent and certainly readable chapters are, they suffer (as does so much Gardner criticism) insofar as they are concerned with validating Gardner’s position on moral fiction as a valid alternative to existential despair.
Henderson, Jeff. John Gardner: A Study of the Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne, 1990. Part 1 concentrates on Gardner’s short fiction, including his stories for children; part 2 contains excerpts from essays and letters in which Gardner defines his role as a writer; and part 3 provides excerpts from important Gardner critics. Includes chronology and bibliography.
Henderson, Jeff, ed. Thor’s Hammer: Essays on John Gardner. Conway: University of Central Arkansas Press, 1985. Presents fifteen original essays of varying quality, including three on Grendel. The most important are John M. Howell’s biographical essay, Robert A. Morace’s on Gardner and his reviewers, Gregory Morris’s discussion of Gardner and “plagiarism,” Samuel Coale’s on dreams, Leonard Butts’s on Mickelsson’s Ghosts, and Charles Johnson’s “A Phenomenology of On Moral Fiction.”
Howell, John M. John Gardner: A Bibliographical Profile. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1980. Howell’s detailed chronology and enumerative listing of works by Gardner (down to separate editions, printings, issues, and translations), as well as the afterword written by Gardner, make this an indispensable work for any Gardner student.
McWilliams, Dean. John Gardner. Boston: Twayne, 1990. McWilliams includes little biographical material, does not try to be at all comprehensive, yet has an interesting and certainly original thesis: that Gardner’s fiction may be more fruitfully approached via Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism than via On Moral Fiction. Unfortunately, the chapters (on the novels and Jason and Medeia) tend to be rather introductory in approach and only rarely dialogical in focus.
Morace, Robert A. John Gardner: An Annotated Secondary Bibliography. New York: Garland, 1984. An especially thorough annotated listing of all known items (reviews, articles, significant mentions) about Gardner through 1983. The annotations of speeches and interviews are especially full (a particularly useful fact given the number of interviews and speeches the loquacious as well as prolific Gardner gave). A concluding section updates Howell’s John Gardner: A Bibliographical Profile.
Morace, Robert A., and Kathryn VanSpanckeren, eds. John Gardner: Critical Perspectives. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982. This first critical book on Gardner’s work covers the full range of his literary endeavors, from his dissertation novel “The Old Men” through his then most recent fictions, “Vlemk, The Box Painter” and Freddy’s Book, with separate essays on his “epic poem” Jason and Medeia; The King’s Indian: Stories and Tales; his children’s stories; libretti; pastoral novels; use of sources, parody, and embedding; and theory of moral fiction. The volume concludes with Gardner’s afterword.
Morris, Gregory L. A World of Order and Light: The Fiction of John Gardner. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984. Like Butts and Cowart, Morris works well within the moral fiction framework which Gardner himself established. Unlike Cowart, however, Morris emphasizes moral art as a process by which order is discovered rather than (as Cowart contends) made. More specifically the novels (including Gardner’s dissertation novel “The Old Men”) and two collections of short fiction are discussed in terms of Gardner’s “luminous vision” and “magical landscapes.”
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