WAITING ON WEDNESDAY: Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien

You guys don’t understand how epically excited I am over the release of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s Beowulf translation on May 22 through HarperCollins. I feel like I’ve waited ages for this to happen, and now that I have my preorder notice in my mailbox, I am beyond thrilled. One of the hardest uni exams I ever had to take was an oral exam in medieval studies, and a great portion of it featured Beowulf amongst other literary works of its time in both original and translated versions. Ever since, Beowulf has always had a special place in my heart because it was the only epic poem that I actually had fun with while delving into its verses and history. However, I always held out for a greater translation, for something that would move my heart a little bit more than the ones I had worked with before. So now to have its translation by my favourite writer of all time finally in such close proximity, it kind of feels like a miracle to me to have it featured in a Waiting On Wednesday post. I adore the cover so much, too! It’s so simple yet fits perfectly and is worthy of the content. Anyway, YAY! The wait isn’t long now! This book will make me so, so, so happy!

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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.
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.

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3 thoughts on “WAITING ON WEDNESDAY: Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien

  1. This is awesome. I had no idea that he even did a translation of it. Beowulf has been one of my favorite stories for a long time.

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