May 21, 2014

'Beowulf' by J.R.R. Tolkien


Tolkien's version of Beowulf will soon be released. There has been some scholary controversy over this release from those who study Anglo-Saxon literature, as well as Beowulf scholars. The Tolkien scholars have been waiting awhile for this one for a while. 

Tolkien's expertise on Beowulf and his own literary powers have made this translation a work every Tolkien fan will want to treasure.

This edition includes the translation in prose and an illuminating commentary, based on a series of lectures given by J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford in the 1930s.

Through Tolkien’s clarity of vision, it is as if you 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.

This edition also includes Sellic Spell, a ‘marvellous tale’, a story written by Tolkien suggesting what might have been the form and style of an Old English folk-tale of Beowulf, in which there was no association with the ‘historical legends’ of the Northern kingdoms. 



‘The translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was an early work, very distinctive in its mode, completed in 1926: he returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication. This edition is twofold, for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s; and from these lectures a substantial selection has been made, to form also a commentary on the translation in this book.
From his creative attention to detail in these lectures there arises a sense of the immediacy and clarity of his vision. 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.
But the commentary in this book includes also much from those lectures in which, while always anchored in the text, he expressed his wider perceptions. He looks closely at the dragon that would slay Beowulf “snuffling in baffled rage and injured greed when he discovers the theft of the cup”; but he rebuts the notion that this is “a mere treasure story”, “just another dragon tale”. He turns to the lines that tell of the burying of the golden things long ago, and observes that it is “the feeling for the treasure itself, this sad history” that raises it to another level. “The whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real. The ‘treasure’ is not just some lucky wealth that will enable the finder to have a good time, or marry the princess. It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.”

Harper Collins is to release two print editions of this book (as well as an ebook) : a hardback, and the typical deluxe edition.

Here is the cover art for the standard edition hardback:


978-0-00-759006-3

And the deluxe edition:


978-0-00-759007-0

As you can see, during the past few years Harper has been doing some nice deluxe editions for those who like to collect those. I myself will most likely get the paperback when it's released next year sometime. 
These editions will be available wherever you can buy books, and most notably, off of tolkien.co.uk . 

For other poem translations that Tolkien did, check out The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun and The Fall of Arthur. Both of those have been published in similar editions in hardback, deluxe, and paperback. 

Other poem translations include Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Saga of King Heidrek the Wise (done by Christopher Tolkien and is only available at this time as a print on demand title from tolkien.co.uk ), and Finn and Hengest. There have been a few others but it seems they are no longer in publication. 

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