Beowulf
The translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was an early work completed in 1926: he returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication.Suitable for tablets. Some special characters may not display correctly on older devices.We recommend that you download a sample and check the 'Note to the Reader' page before purchase.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.'Sellic Spell, a 'marvellous tale', is 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.

Beowulf Details

TitleBeowulf
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 9th, 2019
PublisherHarperCollins Publishers
ISBN-139780007590087
Rating
GenreClassics, Poetry, Fantasy, Fiction, Mythology, Literature

Beowulf Review

  • Sean Barrs the Bookdragon
    January 1, 1970
    The story of Beowulf is a timeless tale full of blood, glory and passion. It’s a fantastic epic and I love reading it. The Seamus Heaney translation is right on the mark. Tolkien’s version, however, is prose. And I find this a little odd because part of the beauty of an epic is the poetry in which it’s told through. Tolkien’s certainly has a strong rhythm, and it flows forward eloquently, but it’s not divided into lines and the words and sentences merge into paragraphs rather than stanzas. For m The story of Beowulf is a timeless tale full of blood, glory and passion. It’s a fantastic epic and I love reading it. The Seamus Heaney translation is right on the mark. Tolkien’s version, however, is prose. And I find this a little odd because part of the beauty of an epic is the poetry in which it’s told through. Tolkien’s certainly has a strong rhythm, and it flows forward eloquently, but it’s not divided into lines and the words and sentences merge into paragraphs rather than stanzas. For me, Beowulf needs to be a song, an ode to a hero and his legendry life, to be sung around mead halls with instruments echoing long into the night. I need to feel the grandness of the story. Prose just doesn’t do it. So right from the start this felt a little different. The story is here, of course, and Tolkien was ever faithful to it but the way in which he has told it is uncomfortable and unbefitting the nature of it. Towards the end of the book, there are certain sections that Tolkien has translated into poetry, but these are only single scenes and are not told with the rest of the work. The Lay of Beowulf, a short poem depicting the battle between Beowulf and Grendel, is perhaps the best part of the book, but it’s told as an aside and added right at the end behind the extensive commentaries. It’s unimportant to the prose work, despite it being the best piece of writing in here. Christopher Tolkien offers an explanation for the work: Tolkien translated this when he was only thirty-four years old; he had another twenty years of study ahead of him, so in a way it is a little juvenile when considered against the wealth of knowledge the author would one day gather through his professorship. Christopher believes his father meant to come back to this work one day, to finish it and make it better like he intended to do with so many of his works that were published long after his death.So this was good, in its own right, I just wanted it to be a little more poetical to capture the grandness of the story. Blog | Twitter | Facebook | Insta | Academia
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  • Richard
    January 1, 1970
    This book contains Tolkien's scholarship, comments and literary output inspired by Beowulf, one of the oldest and longest surviving poems in Old English. Many readers know and venerate him as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). But this is a timely reminder of the academic side of his life.In his prose translation, Tolkien strives to reflect something of the rhythm, cadence and beauty of the original. The comments on the technical aspects of the text, taken from lectures d This book contains Tolkien's scholarship, comments and literary output inspired by Beowulf, one of the oldest and longest surviving poems in Old English. Many readers know and venerate him as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). But this is a timely reminder of the academic side of his life.In his prose translation, Tolkien strives to reflect something of the rhythm, cadence and beauty of the original. The comments on the technical aspects of the text, taken from lectures delivered over the years at Oxford, show us several things. First, he knew the epic poem and the Old English language very well indeed. Second, he had thought long and hard about it. And third, he was not afraid to criticize the "received text" where he thought it corrupt, providing his own suggestions as to the best possible rendering. In fact, Tolkien is such a virtuoso that he retro-translates a prose rendering of his own back into Old English. This is not arrogance; it is Tolkien flexing his academic muscles. One of the most interesting things about this is that it provides fascinating glimpses of where Tolkien derived some of the material for his later works. Hrothgar, the gift-giving, feast-loving lord of Heorot, becomes Theoden, the lord of the Golden Hall at Edoras. Unferth, the devious courtier becomes Grima Wormtongue. The thief stealing the two-handled cup from the hoard of the sleeping dragon becomes Bilbo's first success as a hired burglar. These are just a few examples. But more important is the spirit of the era of Beowulf. It was a time when fearlessness, prowess in battle, generosity, feasting, and storytelling were highly prized. And Tolkien managed to infuse much of this into his own Middle Earth.
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  • Terry
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 starsI'm already an admirer of the poem Beowulf (and Old English literature in general) and am also a die-hard Tolkien fan so the fact that I loved this book isn’t perhaps a surprise. I certainly expected to like it when I started, but wasn’t prepared for the fact that it would reveal to me a side of Tolkien of which I was always generally aware, but never gave enough thought to. I refer, of course, to his position as a scholar, and specifically one of Old English language and literature. I 4.5 starsI'm already an admirer of the poem Beowulf (and Old English literature in general) and am also a die-hard Tolkien fan so the fact that I loved this book isn’t perhaps a surprise. I certainly expected to like it when I started, but wasn’t prepared for the fact that it would reveal to me a side of Tolkien of which I was always generally aware, but never gave enough thought to. I refer, of course, to his position as a scholar, and specifically one of Old English language and literature. I of course knew that this was his ‘official’ job, but as with many admirers of the Professor, I think I generally took for granted that his ‘real’ life and work was that which produced the Lord of the Rings and the larger mythology of Middle-earth, letting any consideration of his ‘official’ scholarship go by the wayside (especially in light of the fact that Tolkien did not exactly publish a voluminous amount of scholarly work in his lifetime). As I’ve come to believe through following the Mythgard Academy lectures on the History of Middle-earth series, however, it seems more and more obvious that not only did Tolkien’s professional work as a scholar deeply inform his literary endeavours, but in many ways his fictional works can be seen to be the true publications that bore the fruits of his professional research and deep thinking. That being said this glimpse into the ‘purely’ academic side of Tolkien’s life was an illuminating one.In this book we see Tolkien in his academic element, adroitly tackling the seminal surviving work of Old English literature, the heroic-elegiac poem Beowulf. Tolkien had already made waves in Beowulf scholarship with his groundbreaking essay 'The Monsters and the Critics' in which he both argued for the value of the legendary aspects of the poem and defended the craftsmanship of the poet, both views that were not generally held in esteem by the mainstream scholarship of the day. Now we finally have Tolkien's own version of the great poem along with copious commentary and notes regarding the various historical, linguistic, and literary complexities of the work. In addition in this volume is 'Sellic Spell' (or ‘Wonder Tale’ as it could be translated into modern English) Tolkien's attempt to re-create a version of the folk tale that might have lain behind the legendary elements of the poem. This book shows in no uncertain terms Tolkien's mastery of his subject and absolute assurance with his materials. While reading one never feels that he hasn't thought long and deeply on the text and the culture that produced it so his conclusions certainly have the ring of conviction and authority (even if one may disagree with them from time to time). Tolkien argues that Beowulf provides us with a unique view of the point of contact between two disparate cultures: the pagan world that was passing away and the Christian one which was becoming predominant. It is also something of a merging between two different genres of literature: the melding of a fairy or folk tale about a hero of legend overcoming monsters and cleansing the land (both his own and a foreign one) with the more historical tales and references of the rise and fall of two great Germanic houses: the Danes and the Geats (with many others making appearances in the background). Up until the point when Tolkien wrote ‘The Monsters and the Critics’ the reigning consensus was very much that the very existence of the mythical or folk tale elements of Beowulf were ‘problematic’ and took away from the ‘valid’ content of the poem, namely the references to people and events that may have had historical veracity during a time for which we have few, or no, other literary references. Tolkien turns this received criticism of Beowulf on its head when he says: "[the poet told the story well] At any rate in the first part. The second part perhaps less so: in any case it is too much interrupted by the weight of history outside the immediate event." (pg. 271) This is perhaps Tolkien overstating his case in the face of the received wisdom of the day, as it does not ultimately appear that he felt the historical content was ultimately detrimental to the legendary aspects of the poem; Tolkien instead seems to see the melding of the fairy (or folk tale) elements with history as an integral aspect of the poem and eventually argues that they need not be seen as being in contention, but rather work together to successfully build the whole edifice. In essence the Beowulf poet adds a layer of depth and reality to his poem by incorporating the many references and allusions to both other peoples and political events from history with the legends and folktales that live at the centre of his story. This structure allowed him to embody his work with those 'only glimpsed but unattainable vistas' in the distance that Tolkien himself was to use so effectively to add depth and reality to his own sub-creation of Middle-earth. It is not surprising that one can see Beowulf as one of the fundamental models which Tolkien used in building his own literary creation, though this debt would appear to lie not only in the obvious parallels to its legendary and cultural content, but even in the literary and thematic structure of the poem itself.Even though this is an academic work I would definitely say that it is a far cry from being a dry or tedious one. It’s certainly not ‘light’ reading and one probably ought to have at least some interest in both the content and structure of Beowulf when coming to this text. There are, for example, many in-depth discussions of word use and meaning (in addition to references to long-dead cultures and traditions) to be expected from a professional philologist, but I nearly always found these discussions engaging and quite often amusing. Indeed, seeing Tolkien's sometimes acerbic, though lightly veiled, jabs at the critics and theories of his day (many of them part of the received wisdom of the field) is great fun and gave me a greater appreciation for his extensive learning, thoughtfulness, and wit. He was certainly not afraid to state his opinion clearly and in no uncertain terms against any and all comers. Tolkien's perfectionism and difficulty in getting things ready for final publication aside I wonder whether this may not speak to why this was never published in his lifetime, and why his son even waited many decades after his father's death to consider publishing it at all.This is definitely a great read that is a must for anyone who wants an erudite and educational look at the poem Beowulf, as well as one that provides an excellent first-hand glimpse at Tolkien the scholar working in his element.
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  • Lucinda
    January 1, 1970
    STRENGTH IS LIFEFor the strong have the right to ruleHONOUR IS LIFEFor with no honour one may as well be deadLOYALTY IS LIFEFor without one’s clan one has no purposeDEATH IS LIFEOne should die as they have lived A hero is someone who steps up when everyone else backs down .. JRR Tolkien’s distinctive, idiosyncratic translation of the epic, Anglo-Saxon poem shows a simplistic clarity of vision. You can feel everything as though subconsciously you’re a part of the past. [I.e. standing alongside STRENGTH IS LIFEFor the strong have the right to ruleHONOUR IS LIFEFor with no honour one may as well be deadLOYALTY IS LIFEFor without one’s clan one has no purposeDEATH IS LIFEOne should die as they have lived A hero is someone who steps up when everyone else backs down .. JRR Tolkien’s distinctive, idiosyncratic translation of the epic, Anglo-Saxon poem shows a simplistic clarity of vision. You can feel everything as though subconsciously you’re a part of the past. [I.e. standing alongside Beowulf whilst his men attentively listen to the taunts of Unferth!] Sombre, poignantly tragic, unnervingly sinister and curiously comprehensive this exquisite tale is steeped in history that harkens back to bygone ages – beyond memory of song yet not of imagination. the three battles; Grendel, Grendel’s mother and the Dragon are so acutely captured within lyrical prose, *[for instance ‘Hrothgar's sermon’ which conveys caution regarding one’s pride] you can almost hear the dulcet tones of the tale carried upon the breeze of your thoughts… Set in Scandinavia, Beowulf’s remarkable deeds of valor and ethical feats are relived with considerate authenticity. This particular translation also includes Tolkien's own retelling of the story of Beowulf in his tale, Sellic Spell. The most prevalent theme within Beowulf is the importance of the heroic code, which is exemplified through Christian themes and humanistic ideology. It’s the core values of the main protagonist, as he matures from a gallant warrior into a wise leader that truly touches you with candid truism – for, the text is relevant and relatable today as it would have been when written. The truth is that Heroes are ordinary folk who make themselves extraordinary. Quote {lines 2666-68} - Your deeds are famous, so stay resolute, my Lord, defend your life now with the whole of your strength. I shall stand by you .. After all that is said and done, the one Question that remains is not who isn’t going to let you but rather who is going to stop you?!
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  • Nikki
    January 1, 1970
    I'm full of wonder right now. Not so much at the translation of Beowulf -- Tolkien was well-versed in the language and knew what he was doing, and the tone is often reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, which emphasises his attempts to weave his own stories with the old stories of England -- but at all the commentary published together here. Pretty much every issue I considered in my undergraduate class/es on Beowulf is touched on here -- the pagan aspects, the episodes, potential interpolations I'm full of wonder right now. Not so much at the translation of Beowulf -- Tolkien was well-versed in the language and knew what he was doing, and the tone is often reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, which emphasises his attempts to weave his own stories with the old stories of England -- but at all the commentary published together here. Pretty much every issue I considered in my undergraduate class/es on Beowulf is touched on here -- the pagan aspects, the episodes, potential interpolations, mythic and historic origins -- and dealt with in a confident, convincing way. Tolkien's close reading of the text is exemplary. I don't feel like I have the knowledge to criticise his work, but I do know that it's incredibly worth reading.As with most of the other posthumously published work by Tolkien, though, this isn't really something for the layman. It's not exactly technical, but in delves into the minutiae so much. For a translation of the poem for an interested but not greatly knowledgable layman, I'd still recommend Seamus Heaney's translation as lively, well-considered and interesting. For commentary on the poem, general introductions are still enough. But for anyone who is more deeply interested in Beowulf, then this is an amazing resource. His treatment of the plot of the poem as a short story, 'Sellic Spell', doesn't entirely convince me as a precursor story to Beowulf (it rings very strongly of fairytales, to me, and not so much to a sort of mythic background) but is interesting nonetheless.In terms of fans of Tolkien's fiction as well as or instead of his academic work, there are gems here for us too. His translation of Beowulf really emphasises the Beowulfian elements in The Hobbit, and the way he phrases things, though slightly more archaic, is definitely familiar. His commentary mentions words you might recognise from his novels -- maþm, OE 'gift', for example, as long as you remember that þ = th...All in all, this may be because of my personal interests and the fact that I have done some academic work on Tolkien, but I think this is generally more valuable than most of the other work brought out posthumously by Christopher Tolkien, and I found CT's editing most logical and less of a barrier here than ever since The Silmarillion. I got very excited about it, and while I got an ebook to have it right away, I will shortly obtain a hardcover for my collection, and count it worth it.
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  • Stephanie
    January 1, 1970
    I'M SO EXCITEDI JUST CAN'T HIDE IT*frolics through a meadow of tiny pine trees and dragon scales*
  • Joseph Fountain
    January 1, 1970
    The Geat Warrior (not a typo, not Great Warrior, but Geat Warrior), Beowulf does battle with the Demon Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon.Even in translation, this is still a bit challenging to read in spots. Still, it is an exciting tale, and an important piece of literature.No whit do I account myself in my warlike stature a man more despicable in deeds of battle than Grendel doth himself. Therefore I will not with sword give him the sleep of death, although I well could. Nought doth he k The Geat Warrior (not a typo, not Great Warrior, but Geat Warrior), Beowulf does battle with the Demon Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon.Even in translation, this is still a bit challenging to read in spots. Still, it is an exciting tale, and an important piece of literature.No whit do I account myself in my warlike stature a man more despicable in deeds of battle than Grendel doth himself. Therefore I will not with sword give him the sleep of death, although I well could. Nought doth he know of gentle arms that he should wield weapon against me or hew my shield, fierce though he be in savage dees. Nay, we two shall this night reject the blade, if he dare have recourse to warfare without weapons, and then let the forseeing God, the Holy Lord, adjudge the glory to whichever side him seemeth meet.This version, translated by J.R.R. Tolkien is published with Sellic Spell: Tolkiens retelling of Beowulf in modern English prose, which of course was much easier to read. My full review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimeques...
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  • Robert
    January 1, 1970
    Tolkien made this translation of the most famous extant Anglo Saxon poem early in his career. It's prose which disappointed me when I found out - after purchase! - it is very rhythmical, but I don't suppose it approximates the experience of reading the original very well. Still, I've always liked the story. Flagon thinks the Dragon is hard done by and that everybody (including the Dragon) should have calmed down and discussed the situation properly - that's what he'd have done! Then Beowulf coul Tolkien made this translation of the most famous extant Anglo Saxon poem early in his career. It's prose which disappointed me when I found out - after purchase! - it is very rhythmical, but I don't suppose it approximates the experience of reading the original very well. Still, I've always liked the story. Flagon thinks the Dragon is hard done by and that everybody (including the Dragon) should have calmed down and discussed the situation properly - that's what he'd have done! Then Beowulf could have had a nice retirement and the Dragon could have had another long nap.There is a lengthy commentary attached to the translation, taken from Tolkien's notes for lectures and so forth. I'm in no position to weigh in on any of the scholarly arguments raised or how much modern opinion has moved on from where Tolkien stood. Apart from clarifying some obscure points, the main thing I got from reading the commentary was a sense of what issues are faced by editors trying to produce a modern edition or translation of Beowulf and by extension Anglo-Saxon and other Mediaeval literatures and a strong impression of the breadth as well as depth of Tolkien's scholarship and expertise. He demonstrates knowledge not just of Anglo-Saxon literature in toto but of all Mediaeval literature and the history of northern Europe, stretching back into the Dark Ages, including archaeological inferences. Further, he understood all the relevant philology, too. Of course this means I was left way out of my depth at times.Perhaps (for me) the best part of this book came next - Sellic Spell. This is Tolkien's attempt to write a folk-tale based on the "fairy-story" elements of Beowulf before the historical/legendary elements were merged to produce the story we know. This is delightful. Tolkien's other published fairy stories are very good and this is no exception. His best prose occurs when he is aiming at the folk-tale style and this is no exception.Finally there are two versions of a verse re-telling of the first part of Beowulf (in a Tolkien-contemporary idiom), which are short but fun.If you want an accessible translation of Beowulf and a sense of what the associated academic problems are, this is a worthwhile book. If you are an expert in Anglo-Saxon literature this might prove interesting in terms of showing what Tolkien thought in detail about the greatest Anglo-Saxon poem that remains to us. If you want to study the poem seriously this is decidedly not the place to start, though.
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  • Keith Davis
    January 1, 1970
    There is a famous quote about poetry translations that says if a translation is faithful then it is not beautiful and if it is beautiful then it is not faithful. Tolkien's translation of Beowulf is extremely faithful.Tolkien was a scholar of Old English and wrote a paper titled "Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics" which is considered one of the most significant works in Beowulf scholarship. He was of course also the grandfather of all modern Fantasy fiction. These two factors taken together m There is a famous quote about poetry translations that says if a translation is faithful then it is not beautiful and if it is beautiful then it is not faithful. Tolkien's translation of Beowulf is extremely faithful.Tolkien was a scholar of Old English and wrote a paper titled "Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics" which is considered one of the most significant works in Beowulf scholarship. He was of course also the grandfather of all modern Fantasy fiction. These two factors taken together make his translation of Beowulf all the more disappointing.The translation was completed in 1926, decades before his famous Fantasy works, and he did not attempt to publish it during his lifetime. The work is a very literal translation that is sometimes an awkward read. Of much more interest is the 200 pages of commentary Tolkien provides, explaining in great detail his translation process and word choices.For an example, look at the following passage from Tolkien's translation, starting with line 110. "Thereafter not far to seek was the man who elsewhere more remote sought him his couch and a bed among the lesser chambers, since now was manifested and declared thus truly to him with token plain the hatred of that hall-keeper; thereafter he who escaped the foe kept him more distant and more safe."The meaning is there, that the survivors of Grendel's first attack sought safer places to sleep than the hall of Hrothgar, but the phrasing is so strange it requires multiple readings to understand.Here is the same passage from Seamus Heaney's translation: "It was easy then to meet with a man shifting himself to a safer distance to bed in the bothies, for who could be blind to the evidence of his eyes, the obviousness of that hall-watcher's hate? Whoever escaped kept a weather-eye open and moved away."Finally from Burton Raffel's translation: "Then each warrior tried to escape him, searching for rest in different beds, as far from Herot as they could find, seeing how Grendel hunted when they slept. Distance was safety; the only survivors were those who fled him. Hate had triumphed."Tolkien gives up a near word for word translation, but the resulting structure sounds very strange to modern readers. Raffel coveys the meaning of the passage, but makes no attempt to retain the wording or original structure of the poem. Heaney strikes a fine balance between the two extremes, keeper closer to the wording of the Beowulf poet but conveying it in a clearer manner than Tolkien.To return to Yevtushenko's quote about translation, Tolkien is faithful but not beautiful while Raffel is beautiful but not faithful. If you want to read an interesting commentary on translating Old English into modern English I would recommend Tolkien's book. If you just want to enjoy reading Beowulf I would recommend Seamus Heaney's translation.
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  • Althea Ann
    January 1, 1970
    It's strange that Tolkien is credited with kickstarting modern scholarship on 'Beowulf,' yet, until now, his translation was unpublished. I've read other translations before, but I don't recall which ones specifically. I followed this reading up directly with the Heaney translation, which is apparently the standard in today's college classes. (It wasn't yet published either, last time I read 'Beowulf.') The Tolkien direct translation is more 'difficult,' but both (I cannot verify, but I got the It's strange that Tolkien is credited with kickstarting modern scholarship on 'Beowulf,' yet, until now, his translation was unpublished. I've read other translations before, but I don't recall which ones specifically. I followed this reading up directly with the Heaney translation, which is apparently the standard in today's college classes. (It wasn't yet published either, last time I read 'Beowulf.') The Tolkien direct translation is more 'difficult,' but both (I cannot verify, but I got the feeling) more accurate and more lovely to the ear, with evocative and musical language. Tolkien's language and imagery is both vivid and elevated; and gives the reader the feeling of a glimpse into the past.Reading the accompanying commentary (together with notes from Christopher Tolkien) is great because there's a lot of discussion of what the figures of speech mean and what words not only mean but what their implications are, considering the society using them. (Which kind of rubs it in that, "no, you really don't understand the original like Tolkien does, and very likely no one alive does.") The 'commentary' is written rather informally, and indeed I could almost imagine myself in a classroom at Oxford,listening to Tolkien lecture. The book, as a whole is *almost* as good as taking a full-semester college seminar on the poem.In addition to the translation, notes and commentary, this volume also includes two versions of Tolkien telling the story of Beowulf in the style of a folk tale; and two versions of it written as a ballad - which, IMHO, HAS to be recorded by some excellent bands very shortly! Seriously, one of the best pieces of poetry I've ever read. Gorgeous language; you can literally hear the music as you read.
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  • Nonethousand Oberrhein
    January 1, 1970
    To boldly go where monsters are foughtA multi-layered edition that offers different ways to be enjoyed. Be it with the Old English poem competent translation, or with the erudite commentaries to the translation, or with both authorial re-interpretations (in prose or in poem) of the fight with Grendel, the reader will find much to love about this book, about legends, and about the ancient civilisations the legends are made of. To be read with heart, head and guts… thanks professor Tolkien!
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  • Suzannah
    January 1, 1970
    Tolkien's translation is amazing.I've yet to read the commentaries.
  • Stephanie
    January 1, 1970
    Translation: 3/5 stars - prose, a little archaic, good translation of the gist of the text but loses a lot of the imagery and poetryCommentary: 5/5 stars - I learned a lot and it is frightening how much Tolkien knows about this subjectSellic Spell: 4/5 stars - cool retelling, broLay of Beowulf: 3/5 stars - kinda random, leaves a lot out, but a very nice little poem
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  • Rossdavidh
    January 1, 1970
    I read "Beowulf" as a child, or perhaps in my early teens, when I found it while staying at my grandparents' house during the summer. I retained some dim memories of the story, mixed up a bit with parts of "Grendel" by John Gardner which I read in high school, but not enough for me to really compare Tolkien's translation to the Burton Raffell version I read, uh, gosh, 35-40 years ago. I can say, however, that reading Tolkien's translation (with notes) is a lot like taking a course in a topic you I read "Beowulf" as a child, or perhaps in my early teens, when I found it while staying at my grandparents' house during the summer. I retained some dim memories of the story, mixed up a bit with parts of "Grendel" by John Gardner which I read in high school, but not enough for me to really compare Tolkien's translation to the Burton Raffell version I read, uh, gosh, 35-40 years ago. I can say, however, that reading Tolkien's translation (with notes) is a lot like taking a course in a topic you only kind of like, from a teacher who's so excited about it that their excitement rubs off on you and you start to get excited about it as well.Less than a quarter of the book is actually JRRT's translation of "Beowulf", the oldest still existing work in the Enlish language (albeit a version of English that is about as foreign to our speech as French or German). There is also a preface where Christopher Tolkien explains why it took this long for him to get around to sharing his father's translation with us; we also get to learn that at age eight his father sang for him a shortened poem of Beowulf that he had written. My daughter doesn't get a lot of that sort of thing from me.The bulk of the book is Tolkien's examination of the parts of the original text where there is some question as to what exactly is being said. Some words are found nowhere else, some were probably originally proper nouns that the scribe miscopied because they didn't know the reference, and some appear to be Christian updating to try to allow the pagan story of Beowulf to get approval from (or at least avoid banning by) the church of the time.I also learned for the first time that Beowulf appears (to those who know enough about such things to make an educated guess) to be a fusion of historically based legend with folk tales. JRRT made a reconstruction of the folk tale which Beowulf might have come from, and titled it "Sellic Spell". There were also a lot of other tales of nobles behaving badly towards one another (comparable in many ways to the tales of Camelot) that Beowulf was more or less stuck into, and Tolkien's notes help us to separate and identify these many strands which the original poet wove together (as well as anyone can do it now, with all of the source material gone).One thing it brought home to me was how the modern appetite for fan fiction and other derivative art forms, is really just a reemergence of an older way of storytelling. The 20th century style, where each author creates their own separate fictional universe, cut off from the others of the time, is a creation of copyright law more than anything. Older story cycles, like Camelot or Arabian Nights or the Ring Cycle that Wagner drew on, were constantly bringing in stories (historical or mythical in their origin), and mashing them together.Unfortunately for us, Beowulf is nearly all that remains of the many such tales of Old English, and most of what it references (that would have been well known to the originally intended audience) is a mystery to us. Not quite as much of a mystery, though, once you have an expert guide you through it, so that at least all which is known or guessed at, is available to you. There are times, reading this book, when you can almost imagine yourself in the Old English hall, listening to the skald's voice by firelight.
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  • Ithil
    January 1, 1970
    Aunque compré este libro cuando salió no ha sido hasta ahora cuando lo he leído. Y lo he leído motivada por una asignatura de literatura de la universidad. Gracias a esto, he perseverado con la lectura pero ya esta.¿Por qué no lo he dado por finalizado? Sencillamente, mientras iba leyendo el comentario del poema, me he dado cuenta que no estoy reteniendo casi nada del mismo. Es muy interesante a nivel etimológico pero no consigo retener nada de su lectura por lo que siento como que estoy perdien Aunque compré este libro cuando salió no ha sido hasta ahora cuando lo he leído. Y lo he leído motivada por una asignatura de literatura de la universidad. Gracias a esto, he perseverado con la lectura pero ya esta.¿Por qué no lo he dado por finalizado? Sencillamente, mientras iba leyendo el comentario del poema, me he dado cuenta que no estoy reteniendo casi nada del mismo. Es muy interesante a nivel etimológico pero no consigo retener nada de su lectura por lo que siento como que estoy perdiendo el tiempo al leerlo. Y es tedioso, oh, muy tedioso.Recapitulando. Si eres fanboy de Tolkien y quieres todos sus libros, cómpralo.Si conoces Beowulf y te gusta y quieres leer la traducción de Tolkien, cómpralo.Si ninguno de estos dos casos es el tuyo yo me lo pensaría. Sí, es interesante, pero al cabo de un rato se hace un petardazo. Esto es aburrido. Y esto viniendo de una persona persistente. Así que me duele en el alma ver el nombre de Tolkien al lado de dos estrellas, pero honestamente, este libro no me ha inspirado más allá del "pos oc".
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  • Othy
    January 1, 1970
    An amazing addition to Beowulf scholarship. In his commentary on the poem, Tolkien demonstrates the argument of his seminal Beowulf essay: that the poem is best read as a poem, not either as a purely historic document (as it was in his day) nor as a New-historical document (as it too often is in our day). Tolkien's readings keep the poem from fragmenting into a mass of confusion but instead shows it as a work of a variety of interconnected parts: it pulls from historical knowledge and fable/tale An amazing addition to Beowulf scholarship. In his commentary on the poem, Tolkien demonstrates the argument of his seminal Beowulf essay: that the poem is best read as a poem, not either as a purely historic document (as it was in his day) nor as a New-historical document (as it too often is in our day). Tolkien's readings keep the poem from fragmenting into a mass of confusion but instead shows it as a work of a variety of interconnected parts: it pulls from historical knowledge and fable/tale traditions, utilizes poetic diction to a highly aesthetic degree, and is, in the end, just simply a good story. I have rarely come across a better group of readings of this poem and, as a student of Beowulf myself, I find the commentary to be invaluable to both my understanding and enjoyment of the poem. Tolkien's two ventures into creative work (Sellic Spell and the Lay of Beowulf) are also extremely enjoyable and act as their own aesthetic commentaries on the world of the poem.
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  • Ron
    January 1, 1970
    Beowulf is a unique work in the history of English literature. By chance—or providence—this single Old English tale survives, giving moderns a window into a world, and a language, very different from our own. And yet a culture and language which was our direct antecedent. More than you want to know about this epic poem can be found on Wikipedia.J. R. R. Tolkien undertook this prose translation early (1920s) in his tenure as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford. The accompanying Beowulf is a unique work in the history of English literature. By chance—or providence—this single Old English tale survives, giving moderns a window into a world, and a language, very different from our own. And yet a culture and language which was our direct antecedent. More than you want to know about this epic poem can be found on Wikipedia.J. R. R. Tolkien undertook this prose translation early (1920s) in his tenure as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford. The accompanying commentary was drawn from his later lecture notes. Tolkien did not publish this translation for reasons explained in his 1936 lecture “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” and “On Translating Beowulf” (in the book The Monsters and the Critics and other essays). In short, Tolkien thought that anything short of an alliterative poem lost too much in translation. He also recognized such as an almost impossible feat—to translate an Old English alliterative poem into a modern English alliterative poem. This translation is not, therefore, the latest nor most definitive. It is significant for Tolkien’s notes and its place in his literary heritage.If you’re new to Beowulf, first read the poem itself—skip the introductions and notes. Yes, it will be hard going, but wade through it slowly. Savor the tone and glean what you do understand. Then read the commentary. Unfortunately, since Tolkien prepared these notes for those studying Old English, there’s a lot of philology mixed in with his ruminations about the back story and meaning of Beowulf. But enough gems hide in those strata to make the reading worthwhile.Beowulf is important for something else. Here the thoughtful reader finds the bedrock on which Tolkien built Middle Earth. Yes, in this story we find the culture, the heroic people, even the mythology and “history” which inspired Tolkien’s famous works. The great hall, ancient swords of power, the burgled dragon, the old king, even (line 112) “eotenas ond ylfe ond orceas” (If you can’t translate at least two of those for yourself, turn in your copy of The Lord of the RingsLord of the Rings.) Yes, it’s all here, except the hobbits. Those were Tolkien’s invention.How Beowulf connects to Middle Earth is obliquely discussed in “On Fairy-Stories” in The Tolkien Reader.Included also is “Sellic Spell,” Tolkien’s attempt to deconstruct the greater work, identifying the “fairy” elements. Entertaining. (See also Tolkien’s Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode for another fragment.)Even more, here also is the sad feeling—in the final speech of Hrothgar and the death of Beowulf—of a culture trying to reach up through the darkness around it to grasp at the dimly remembered glory, power and riches of empires and emperors long gone. Cultures like Anglo-Saxon England and the men and elves of Middle Earth’s Third Age.“Here we learn what men of the twilight of time thought of themselves. And, of course, the writings and the elegy are good in themselves, and not misspent – since the ashes of Beowulf himself are now to be laid in a barrow with much the same gold … and pass into the oblivion of the ages – but for the poet, and the chance relenting of time: to spare this one poem out of so many…. Of the others we know not.”Read and enjoy.
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  • Lisa
    January 1, 1970
    I always find it interesting to read Tolkien's ventures outside of Middle Earth but really, reading his most recently released works such as The Fall of Arthur and this, his own translation of the original old english epic, Beowulf, it doesn't feel a world apart from the world Hobbits inhabit. The reason for this is that Tolkien, once a professor of Ango-saxon at Oxford University, was obviously influenced by the literary works he delivered lectures on. His interest in old languages lead him to I always find it interesting to read Tolkien's ventures outside of Middle Earth but really, reading his most recently released works such as The Fall of Arthur and this, his own translation of the original old english epic, Beowulf, it doesn't feel a world apart from the world Hobbits inhabit. The reason for this is that Tolkien, once a professor of Ango-saxon at Oxford University, was obviously influenced by the literary works he delivered lectures on. His interest in old languages lead him to create the wonderful elvish languages of his fictional Arda. It is only natural then, that Professor Tolkien would be fascinated by the earliest surviving poem written in old english. Translations of Beowulf into modern English have obviously been done before many, many times, and Tolkien's own version is another to add to this list, however fans of Tolkien will recognise his familiar storytelling within the text itself, it is very reminiscent of the way The Lord of the Rings is written. Tolkien's Beowulf feels very Tolkien-esque, and therefore I love it.This particular first edition also contains Tolkien's Sellic Spell, his own short story based on the Old Norse Saga Hrólfs saga kraka and most excitingly, what Tolkien scholars consider to be the inspiration behind the character of Beorn the shapeshifter in The Hobbit.If you love Tolkien's stories, and have an interest in his writing and influences this is an absolute must.
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  • Cáitín Ní Loingeacháin
    January 1, 1970
    This is the second translation I have read on Beowulf and must say I found that it was easier to follow then the first. I enjoy the break down and the reasons given for the word choices and also what the authors thought about ideas that have been spoken on
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  • Ness Kingsley
    January 1, 1970
    Listen, never have I wished to defenestrate a book as much as I did this one. It. Killed. Oh - the translation itself? Yeah. That was fine. I'm looking forward to reading a different translation, to have a different take on the same tale. Sellic Spell? Yes! Loved it. It was epic. There is a reason I've given it three stars.The rest, you say. THE REST?!!! I was in no scholarly frame of mind. I picked up this book because I thought: hmm, Beowulf - that sounds like a real cool story. Do you think i Listen, never have I wished to defenestrate a book as much as I did this one. It. Killed. Oh - the translation itself? Yeah. That was fine. I'm looking forward to reading a different translation, to have a different take on the same tale. Sellic Spell? Yes! Loved it. It was epic. There is a reason I've given it three stars.The rest, you say. THE REST?!!! I was in no scholarly frame of mind. I picked up this book because I thought: hmm, Beowulf - that sounds like a real cool story. Do you think it sounds like a real cool story? Giants! Dragons! Heroes! Yes – that’s sounds like a cool story.Hahahahahaha.(That laughter is hysterical by the way.)I didn't read the title properly. The 'commentary' nearly extinguished my life spark. I've had to read this in teeny bits because it killed my brain. Had I gone in expecting a scholarly work by one of the world's great authors ... then yes, I could have done it. I would have enjoyed it. I would have savoured it and proudly brandished my knowledge to the world.But I didn't. I wanted to read about giants and a bloke called Beowulf. I was lured in. Aaaand then the surprise was sprung: manuscripts C, B(iiiiii) and Z were gently wafted in my face, old English nouns demanded my attention, obscure possible meanings on passages shouted at me. IT WASN'T HFJKDLJFDLK it was HFJDK who married ALKFJDLK!I just ...Here's when you shouldn't read this book: a) if you were expecting a solid 425 pages full of Beowulf and dragons and giants. (view spoiler)[It's not. It's really not. Do you want to know how many pages the actual translation takes up? 92 pages (I could be wrong. I wouldn't know. My brain is dead). 118 if we're including the complete Sellic Spell. CAN YOU SEE HOW MANY PAGES THAT LEAVES?!!!! (hide spoiler)]b) if you are planning on reading this in the early morning on the way to work.(view spoiler)[Such a bad idea. Honestly. If your brain is rusty in the morning, and you need a little while to warm up the old grey matter ... don't. Honestly. Don't. Your windows, walls and aye, your own brain will thank you (hide spoiler)]c) if it's your first time reading BeowulfHere's when you totally should read this book:a) if ye old English is your jam (you will really appreciate Tolkien's detailed notes. His very detailed notes. AND his son’s detailed notes on Tolkien’s detailed notes).b) if you love Beowulf and want to understand more of its background/translation/variations/hows/whys/whereforesc) you love Tolkien and could read his version of the phonebook.In conclusion: Beowulf is great. I like the fellow. The commentary? Parts were interesting, even for a first time reader of the tale. But ... I've struggled through it, reached Sellic Spell (which was really enjoyable) and finally, finally finished. One day, I might return and laugh heartily at my ignorance. But today? I'm just glad I've reached the end and no windows have been broken.
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  • Jeremy
    January 1, 1970
    I read Sellic Spell: The Final Text (pp. 360–86)—Tolkien's "attempt to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon tale that lies behind the folk-tale element in Beowulf" (p. 355; cf. p. xiii: "an imagined story of Beowulf in an early form")—on July 6, 2016. Surprisingly humorous. Sellic Spell means "wondrous tale" or "strange tale" (p. 358) or "marvellous tale" (p. 348) and is used in Beowulf: "some wondrous tale rehearsed in order due" (p. 74, emphasis added; see p. 349: "It was not just a wild invention, but I read Sellic Spell: The Final Text (pp. 360–86)—Tolkien's "attempt to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon tale that lies behind the folk-tale element in Beowulf" (p. 355; cf. p. xiii: "an imagined story of Beowulf in an early form")—on July 6, 2016. Surprisingly humorous. Sellic Spell means "wondrous tale" or "strange tale" (p. 358) or "marvellous tale" (p. 348) and is used in Beowulf: "some wondrous tale rehearsed in order due" (p. 74, emphasis added; see p. 349: "It was not just a wild invention, but a known tale properly unfolded").I read "The Lay of Beowulf" (pp. 415–25) on July 7, 2016. Tolkien's son Christopher "remember[s] his singing this ballad to me when I was seven or eight years old, in the early 1930s" (p. 416).Lewis mentions Beowulf as a sellic spell in Ch. 3 of his Preface to Paradise Lost.
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  • Viktoria
    January 1, 1970
    Красиво.
  • Jon Beadle
    January 1, 1970
    How can a person read Tolkien and not be utterly delighted? In this volume you have a prose version of the original story, translated by Tolkien himself - the man responsible for single handedly resurrecting Beowulf studies in the west, much to the displeasure of high school students everywhere. But the best parts are the moments when Tolkien uses the story to illustrate the fact that the author of Beowulf was most likely a Christian. This is significant, as Tolkien notes, because it reveals an How can a person read Tolkien and not be utterly delighted? In this volume you have a prose version of the original story, translated by Tolkien himself - the man responsible for single handedly resurrecting Beowulf studies in the west, much to the displeasure of high school students everywhere. But the best parts are the moments when Tolkien uses the story to illustrate the fact that the author of Beowulf was most likely a Christian. This is significant, as Tolkien notes, because it reveals an attitude many Christians had towards pagan mythology, that was honoring without being totally dismissive in any kind of reductionist fashion. Pagan mythos was half right. The gods (in a northern sense) often partnered with men to slay the monsters. This was, in a sense, an ignorance that God would forgive, a pre-Christian society that would easily hear and receive a Christian cosmology. I can’t wait to read his essay entitled “Of Monsters and the Critics,” which was references in the commentary, which was like sitting in class with Tolkien as your chatty professor. So why not 5 stars? I’m annoyed by the editor, Christopher Tolkien, who has chosen to include earlier versions from the manuscripts as a way to..well...show us the process his father went through to make the translation work? I guess? It just seems like clutter. Bores me to death. 4/5!
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  • Marko Vasić
    January 1, 1970
    I do love Tolkien's lectures and notes enclosed to translations, but his translations (both Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) I find somehow "dry", scholarly accurate and highbrow, hence I endure much to keep attention on lines. The only reason that I gave 5 stars is that after Tolkien's translations, any other translation is mere easy to comprehend and enjoy in. Thus I consider professor's notes and commentary as legit didactic tool 🙂. On the other hand - Christopher Tolkien is sheer I do love Tolkien's lectures and notes enclosed to translations, but his translations (both Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) I find somehow "dry", scholarly accurate and highbrow, hence I endure much to keep attention on lines. The only reason that I gave 5 stars is that after Tolkien's translations, any other translation is mere easy to comprehend and enjoy in. Thus I consider professor's notes and commentary as legit didactic tool 🙂. On the other hand - Christopher Tolkien is sheer logorrhoeic person who, I would say, is eager to perplex things, very fond of redundancy i.e. facts' overwhelming, and even "Twinkle, twinkle little star" will make uncertain and complicated to comprehend. And so he did with almost 300 pages idle spent, deciphering stanzas and its variations in meaning - pure intellectual onanism that made me flummoxed for many times.
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  • Lino's Version
    January 1, 1970
    BeowulfA translation and commentaryTogether with Sellic SpellJ.R.R. TolkienEdited by Christopher Tolkien2014It is well laid out, but too scholarly for a light read. Not really in the mood to study. Quick read…but did not get into it.
  • Tom
    January 1, 1970
    I have sometimes heard people remark on the sense of loss that is so prominent in Tolkien's fiction, and wonder where it comes from. It is convenient and probably not incorrect to point to his experiences in World War One and the deaths of all but one of his closest friends by 1918. John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War is a worthwhile read on this score, as is Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory (though he never mentions Tolkien). But if you're familiar with The Lord of the Rings, y I have sometimes heard people remark on the sense of loss that is so prominent in Tolkien's fiction, and wonder where it comes from. It is convenient and probably not incorrect to point to his experiences in World War One and the deaths of all but one of his closest friends by 1918. John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War is a worthwhile read on this score, as is Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory (though he never mentions Tolkien). But if you're familiar with The Lord of the Rings, you can't help but see how Tolkien fits in with the other writers Fussell discusses, who are far more famous as World War One writers.But all of these men, whether Sassoon or Owen, Blunden or Tolkien, "walked eye deep in hell, believing in old men's lies," all lost friends, and together they all saw the world they shared pass away before their eyes. Much of modern literature first springs from the way this war shattered Western Civilization. The absurdity and alienation and uncertainties begin here. Tolkien's literary response to the War is quite different, but it is no less a response because of that. These connections deserve further scrutiny. But not here.Yet before that for Tolkien there was already Beowulf and Anglo-Saxon literature, so much of which has a mournful tone. It runs through Beowulf like a cold stream. Right near the end of his commentary Tolkien coins the apt phrase "elegiac retrospect" (p. 351) to describe the poet's remarks on lines 1876-1908, which tell of the forgotten original owners of the dragon's hoard. The phrase eloquently suits so much of what we read throughout the poem and in Tolkien generally.Now none of the material in this book, whether translation, commentary, Sellic Spell, or the two lays that come at the end were ever prepared or meant for publication. So we cannot fairly judge them as if they were. What we have in this book is more like all the material that Christopher Tolkien published in his History of Middle-Earth than it is like the translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; and Christopher Tolkien does his customary, outstanding job of sorting out the layers of texts and revisions. The translation is thus far more of a scholarly exercise, making little or no attempt to rearrange the words into a word order more easily understood in Modern English, or to make the language and ways of thought more accessible. Old English is an inflected language in which word order is far more flexible than in Modern English; and in which idioms and modes of expression are entirely different than now. These are facts which anyone translating for publication must take into account, and changes must be made to transform the original into something intelligible for readers who are not experts in the original. So comparing it to the translation of Heaney (or anyone else) therefore doesn't get us very far. Nor is my Old English proficient or recent enough to allow me an opinion of the accuracy of the translation that is of any worth. But I think it's safe to say I am in good hands with Tolkien. Reading it, for the reasons I mentioned above, is more of a challenge, but I often found that reading it aloud helped me find the proper phrasing for understanding what was being said.The commentary I found fascinating and illuminating. I have read enough scholarly commentaries on texts in ancient languages with which I am familiar, and which have similar problems owing to the texts being preserved for centuries only in handwritten form, to be able to think that the commentary he offers is of a high quality. This probably surprises no one who knows what Tolkien did for a living, but I think it bears saying anyway. The only drawback is that it ends well before the end of the poem. That was a great disappointment. But I loved every minute of what was there.Another element in this book is Sellic Spell (meaning "strange tale"), which is a very interesting attempt to imagine both in Modern and Old English the story that lay behind Beowulf itself. It would be an intriguing exercise to set the two texts side by side and compare them in detail. Lastly there are two versions of a brief lay or song of Beowulf, one of which Christopher Tolkien remembers his father singing to him in the early 1930s.On the whole this is a very good edition of Beowulf to have and use for study. The translation is, as I noted, a scholarly exercise, not a polished and finished product meant for publication. The commentary is excellent, but perhaps too learned to be of great help or pleasure to one unfamiliar with the text.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    I am the perfect target-audience for this book: I studied Old English in college, I teach Beowulf to high school students, and I have loved everything Tolkien-related since I was a kid. I didn't just read and re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings growing up; when I got to college I studied OE, Icelandic sagas, German medieval literature, and Nordic mythology because I wanted to read and study the same stuff Tolkien spent his professional teaching life reading and studying. So this new tra I am the perfect target-audience for this book: I studied Old English in college, I teach Beowulf to high school students, and I have loved everything Tolkien-related since I was a kid. I didn't just read and re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings growing up; when I got to college I studied OE, Icelandic sagas, German medieval literature, and Nordic mythology because I wanted to read and study the same stuff Tolkien spent his professional teaching life reading and studying. So this new translation of the poem, complete with commentaries and other imaginative works related to the poem, is right up my alley. There's kinda no way for me to not like this book.That being said, I'm kinda surprised by just how much I LOVED it. First, I must caution that this translation is not the most accessible. Readers coming to Beowulf for the first time might want to read a verse translation like Seamus Heaney's or even the Burton Raffel version.But for the "experienced" Beowulf reader, I think this edition is invaluable, not only for Tolkien's more literal translation, but also for the crazy-good and illuminating notes that he's written about everything from the famous "whale-road" kenning to the historical background of the Freawaru/Ingeld episode. I found myself constantly surprised and delighted by these notes, each time learning something new about the poem -- its language, its author, its source material, its themes.But I don't want to slight the translation itself by focusing only on the commentaries. Many professional reviews I've read were less than kind to Tolkien's actual translation, comparing it unfavorably to Heaney's popular work. And while it's true that Tolkien's translation is prose, not poetry, he still manages to maintain the flavor and rhythm of the OE alliterative style. Even more importantly, Tolkien's very literal translation gives us a better feeling for what the poem actually sounded like to its audience 1,000 years ago. There's a real earthiness to what Tolkien has achieved here; it feels ancient and down-to-earth at the same time. It's something wondrously strange as well as something touchingly human. After I finished the entire book (including the commentaries, the Sellic Spell and the lays), I went back and re-read some of the poem itself, just to relive some of Tolkien's best bits of translation. These parts were better the second time. This is a translation that I'll return to often, I think.Finally, I absolutely loved the Sellic Spell and the lays/songs about Beowulf's exploits. The Sellic Spell in particular was a wonderful "re-imagining" of what a Beowulf folktale would be like. Tolkien is such an imaginative scholar; he's in love with the poem itself, but he's also fascinated by the various sources and inspirations that the Beowulf-poet must have used. The fact that we no longer have those sources is all the more tantalizing. I really enjoyed how Tolkien tried to reconstruct such folk tales, and for the Sellic Spell alone, I'm glad I read this edition of Beowulf. Add the Sellic Spell and the lays to the translation and the commentaries, and Tolkien's Beowulf is essential for lovers of Old English and Anglo-Saxon literature. It's not a book for casual readers or readers who only know Tolkien from Hobbit/LOTR. It's for fans and scholars who want to delve much deeper into Tolkien's influences and into one of the great works of English literature. What sets it apart from many of the popular translations of Beowulf is that it is both a refreshing work of art and of scholarship.
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  • David Mosley
    January 1, 1970
    Christopher Tolkien must see the end of his career (and life) in the not too distant future. The rapidity with which previously unpublished works of his father have been coming out in the last 3 decades is staggering when all is considered. That said, I love Christopher Tolkien for it and the Tolkien Estate and the fans of Tolkien (not simply the fans of any one of his works) will be the lesser for it.What Christopher Tolkien has provided us with in this volume is threefold. The first is Tolkien Christopher Tolkien must see the end of his career (and life) in the not too distant future. The rapidity with which previously unpublished works of his father have been coming out in the last 3 decades is staggering when all is considered. That said, I love Christopher Tolkien for it and the Tolkien Estate and the fans of Tolkien (not simply the fans of any one of his works) will be the lesser for it.What Christopher Tolkien has provided us with in this volume is threefold. The first is Tolkien's translation of the Anglo-Saxon epic, Beowulf with accompanying notes. The translation is excellent. Tolkien decided on a prose translation (as opposed to Heaney's verse). Nevertheless, Tolkien's prose does two things Heaney's translation cannot. The first is to give the full sense of each word and phrase. Not being bound to the necessary limits of poetry, Tolkien can help us better enter the sense of the text. What Tolkien also gives us, however, is the sense of rhythm and alliteration without versification. Read portions of the text aloud and you will find yourself reading to a rhythm and that much of the alliteration is kept intact. The second thing Christopher Tolkien gives us is his father's lectures on the Poem. Tolkien's lectures at Oxford only covered the first half of Beowulf (that was all that was required of the students in those days), but his commentary is nonetheless excellent. Tolkien helps make sense of Anglo-Saxon turns of phrase as well as establishes the historial (as he calls it) aspect of the poem and the fairy-story aspect. The text is given in the form Christopher found in his father's notes, so it is not polished prose, but it is worth the read for those interested in the poem itself.The third and final section of this book is Tolkien's own retellings of the story of Beowulf. First are the three versions of Sellic Spell (Anglo-Saxon for wonder story). This is Tolkien's attempt at uncovering and writing the purely fairy-story aspect of Beowulf, divorced from the historial. The first version is the latest and most polished and does not include Grendel's mother's attack on Heorot nor Beowulf's (or as he is called in Sellic Spell Beewulf) battle with the dragon and his death. The second version is older, includes much from the "final" but does not include certain characters and does include Grendel's mother's attack on Heorot. The final version is the Anglo-Saxon which Christopher provided without translation to show his father's fluency in the language. After Sellic Spell, there are to Lays of Beowulf, both of them verse retellings, in rhyming couplets (primarily), of the poem up to the defeat of Grendel's mother (in the longer version and Grendel in the shorter) with a hint at Beowulf's death by dragon. These retellings show not only Tolkien's gifts as writer and poet, but also his understanding of and love for the poem itself.This text is an essential for all who have a deep interest in Tolkien, myth, fairy stories, and Beowulf.
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  • Joshua Nuckols
    January 1, 1970
    I especially liked Tolkien's poem: The Lay of Beowulf. I want to sing it as a ballad.
  • Steve Cran
    January 1, 1970
    BeowulfMost known for Hobbit and mysterious rings, author JRR Tolkien gives over a translation of an ancient Norse tale while his son Christopher gives some rather informative and interesting tidbits of information. Along with the usual translation and background information JRR gives over his own rendering of the tale.As the story goes a monster named Grendel is  terrorizing King Wrothgars famous hall Heorot. THe Ogre devours people whole. Hearing of  this from the land of the Geats is Beowulf BeowulfMost known for Hobbit and mysterious rings, author JRR Tolkien gives over a translation of an ancient Norse tale while his son Christopher gives some rather informative and interesting tidbits of information. Along with the usual translation and background information JRR gives over his own rendering of the tale.As the story goes a monster named Grendel is  terrorizing King Wrothgars famous hall Heorot. THe Ogre devours people whole. Hearing of  this from the land of the Geats is Beowulf who comes over with a company of men. The king of the Geats is Hygelac. Beowulf's father is Ectheow. The gernealogy was built in to a realistic time period but as the author informs us the story had been retold numerous times and was probably a fairy tale in origin. Beowulf is not really a historical character as his name appears nowhere else in literature or history books. While the the Pagan past was close by and there are references to it by the time the famous poem was redacted the Danes had already been christianized. Still  things were there to remind us and the tale is littered with old and new testament references.Upon arriving there Hrothgar tends a feast to welcome the geat while an instigator named Unferth mock Beowulf about an old swimming match inj which Beowulf was delayed due to Nixes or Sea Demons that he had to fight off. which made it seem like his opponent won the match . It must be noted that Beowulf did not enjoy super high status. He had to prove himself. Beowulf had lots of strength but was rather young. As a youth he was used to swimming in the sea. The night the beast comes Beowulf wrestles with him and tears his arm off. THe monster flees to his underwater lair. But the problem for Hrothgar are far from over. the beast has a mother. Beowulf goes in pursuant of the beast. Going to the underwater layer Beowulf kills the mother and finishes off Grendel. Brining back the head Beowulf earn great reward. He goes back to hygelac's kingdom with new status. He eventually marries the kings daughter and reigns for fifty years. Peace is finally ended when someone steals a dragon's treasure and the dragon ends up ravishing the cuntryside. Beowulf must go to battle one more time.JRR Tolkiens own version is called t"THe Sellic Spell" names are altered as are Beowulf's origins.I will let you read it to find out.
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