Study Guide

The World According to Garp Introduction

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The World According to Garp Introduction

In the world according to Shmoop, The World According to Garp is a pretty big deal.

The novel follows the life of T.S. Garp, a small fellow with a big dream: to become the greatest writer in the world. And guess what? His path is not without obstacles (it'd be a much shorter book otherwise), including the runaway literary success of his feminist mother, the slow disintegration of his marriage, and countless personal traumas. But despite these setbacks—and maybe because of them—Garp becomes, as he likes to say, the "real thing."

But that's just scratching the surface. Along the way, you'll meet an endearing cast of characters like John Wolf, the fast-talking publishing executive, and Roberta Muldoon, the former Philadelphia Eagle and now transgender icon. You'll encounter bizarre political movements like the Ellen Jamesians, loveable old coots like Dean Bodger, and less loveable young weirdoes like Pooh Percy.

That's not bad for one book, right? It's no wonder the novel—author John Irving's fourth—was a huge hit when it was published in 1978. It was a finalist for the National Book Award for Fiction in 1979, going on to win the award the following year. And then, of course, there's the 1982 film adaptation starring Glenn Close and Robin Williams. You know you've made it when Patch Adams himself is starring in the movie adaptation of your book.

So set aside your own perspective for a while, and get ready for The World According to Garp.

What is The World According to Garp About and Why Should I Care?

If you thought the Red Wedding from A Game of Thrones was rough, then just wait until you read The World According to Garp.

In the novel, John Irving makes you fall in love with his characters… only to throw them into harrowing situations with huge consequences. A parent's paranoia grows into something totally malevolent; an innocent affair ends in tragedy; and a desire to improve the rights of women ends in political assassination. Good times, right?

Thing is, this is how life works sometimes. Although The World According to Garp is about many things—from sexuality to gender roles to political extremism—the novel is fundamentally about the sometimes amusing, sometimes horrifying, absurdity of life.

The reality is that no matter how much we plan, no matter how many Google calendars we fill out, we're never going to be able to control this thing called life. The good news, though, is that by spending some quality time with our good friend T.S. Garp, you just might just learn a thing or two about how to survive this wild ride—or at least how to enjoy it while it lasts.

The World According to Garp Resources


Irving on the Internet
Want to learn more about Irving's other novels? Check out his website, which provides a gateway into his life and fiction.


The World According to Garp (IMDB)
Irving's novels consistently have killer blockbuster adaptations, and The World According to Garp is no exception. This classic film stars Robin Williams as T.S. Garp.

The World According to Garp Trailer
Check out this vintage trailer for Garp's film adaptation. As you might be able to tell, the film differs from the book in many respects.


Q and A with J.I.
This interview with Irving focuses on his views on sexual identity, which play a big role in The World According to Garp.

The Art of Fiction no. 93: John Irving
This exhaustive interview doesn't merely look at The World According to Garp—it looks at the entirety of Irving's long career.

An Interview with Irving
Take a look at this brief chat with Irving, in which he discusses his unique writing process and ideology.


How Does He Do It?
Check out this short talk with Irving where he talks about his disciplined—though not entirely consistent—writing habits.

John Irving at Home
This intimate interview with Irving is more like a short film than a boring news piece—you're definitely going to want to check this one out.

What's in a Name?
In this interview, Irving talks about growing up without a father—yet another parallel detail he shares with Garp—and the power of naming.


"Proud and Unpretentious: Lessons from John Irving"
This radio piece from author Joshua Braff touches on Irving's place in the modern literary pantheon.

The World According to Garp Radio Serial
The BBC adapted Garp into an old-school radio play. Slap on a fake mustache and a monocle and go back in time.


Phillips Exeter Academy
Irving attended this legendary prep academy, which provided the inspiration for the Steerling School.

Irving on the Cover of Time
We're adding this one solely on the basis of the ridiculous 80s outfit that Irving wears here. It's amazing.

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