J. R. R. Tolkien made a translation of Beowulf, which is going to be published May 22!
Tolkien, whose academic specialty at Oxford was Old English literature, wrote the best discussion of Beowulf–one that opened up the epic as a glorious work of literature and not just as a historical relic–with his essay “Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics” (available in this collection). So I cannot wait to read his translation. After the jump, a preview from The Guardian.
Hwæt! Almost 90 years after JRR Tolkien translated the 11th-century poem Beowulf, The Lord of the Rings author’s version of the epic story is to be published for the first time in an edition which his son Christopher Tolkien says sees his father “enter[ing] into the imagined past” of the heroes.
Telling of how the Geatish prince Beowulf comes to the aid of Danish king Hroðgar, slaying the monster Grendel and his mother before – spoiler alert – being mortally wounded by a dragon years later, Beowulf is is the longest epic poem in Old English, and is dated to the early 11th century. It survives in a single manuscript, housed at the British Library, and has inspired countless retellings of the myth – recently and famously by the late Seamus Heaney, whose translation won him the Whitbread book of year award in 1999.
Tolkien himself called the story “laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination”, saying that “the whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real”.
Although the author completed his own translation in 1926, he “seems never to have considered its publication”, said Christopher Tolkien today, announcing the Tolkien estate’s new deal with HarperCollins to publish Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary on 22 May. The book, edited by Christopher Tolkien, will also include the series of lectures Tolkien gave at Oxford about the poem in the 1930s, as well as the author’s “marvellous tale”, Sellic Spell.
Tolkien’s “creative attention to detail” in his lectures gives rise to a sense of the immediacy and clarity of his vision”, said his son. “It is as if he entered into the imagined past: standing beside Beowulf and his men shaking out their mail-shirts as they beached their ship on the coast of Denmark, listening to the rising anger of Beowulf at the taunting of Unferth, or looking up in amazement at Grendel’s terrible hand set under the roof of Heorot.”
HT: Colin Cutler