J.R.R. Tolkien's 1926 Beowulf Translation Finally Being Published

J.R.R. Tolkien's 1926 Beowulf Translation Finally Being Published

J.R.R. Tolkien's translation of the classic Old English text Beowulf will be published for the first time by Harper Collins.

Anyone who knows anything about English literature knows that Beowulf is a big deal. The oldest existing Old English epic poem, it's been privy to countless translations by a variety of famed and influential authors. Standing among was none other than J.R.R Tolkien, the famed author behind The Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, while he finished his translation in 1926, Tolkien's version of the famous story was never published.

That being the case, it's recently been announced that Tolkien's estate will be releasing an edition of the author's version with publisher Harper Collins. The book will also include several lectures Tolkien gave on the poem as a professor at Oxford as well as his short story Sellic Spell. Beowulf, of course, tells the tale of the titular Geatish prince and his battles against the monster Grendel, its mother and then, years later, a dragon. As with other author's other posthumous releases, his translation of Beowulf will be edited by his son Christopher Tolkien.

While the publication of a new version of an ancient text may not seem like the most thrilling piece of news in the world, the Tolkien edition of Beowulf is arguably a big deal, especially considering his tremendous affection for the source text. If nothing else, it will serve as an interesting companion to some of his academic works on the book, such as his essay Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, which is widely regarded as one of the most influential explorations of the story.

Source: The Guardian

Permalink

Looking forward to it. For all his flaws as a writer (coughTomBombadil), he knew his Beowulf.

Thunderous Cacophony:
(coughTomBombadil)

What was wrong with Tom Bombadil?

OT, looks like I have another book to pick up. I wonder if he added to the story and/or how much his spawn edited.

mechalynx:
OT, looks like I have another book to pick up. I wonder if he added to the story and/or how much his spawn edited.

No Guy Gavriel Kay involvement, thank the Valar.
CRRT on his own stays very true to the source.

I am definitely picking this one up. Hope there's a nice hardcover release.

Cool. Though my favourite retelling of Beowulf has always been Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton.
Starts off with the real life accounts of Ahmad ibn Fadlan and his experience with the Volga Vikings, later dipping into fantasy.

Thunderous Cacophony:
(coughTomBombadil)

mechalynx:
What was wrong with Tom Bombadil?

Seconded. Tom was alright.

OT: Oooh, nice. It's like finding a completed version of Coleridge's Kubla Khan. (Douglas Adams notwithstanding.) Color me interested.

FalloutJack:

Thunderous Cacophony:
(coughTomBombadil)

mechalynx:
What was wrong with Tom Bombadil?

Seconded. Tom was alright.

He was totally pointless. He's some sort of super-powerful being (not even the Ring can effect him, and EVERYONE is effected by the Ring) who just hangs out in a little house in the woods. He rescues the Hobbits from a couple of dangers, but doesn't do anything to prepare them for what's ahead. There's a reason why he's cut from most adaptations: he contributes nothing to the plot*, but still takes up a massive number of pages, at least a couple of chapters if I remember correctly.

I've got a personal vendetta against the singing little punk; his section was my big stumbling block getting into LOTR as a kid, because it was pointless and seemingly endless. He seems like the personification of the worst habits of Tolkien: needless detail lavished over something that should be worth a few paragraphs at best, grinding the story to a halt.

* and very little to the mythology; he's just some mysterious figure who hangs around banging his magic wife, but doesn't seem to contribute anything to the ideas of the battle between good and evil, the importance of small people, or any of the other themes present in the book. Tolkien eventually said something about him being the spirit of pacifism or something like that, but that doesn't gel with the rest of the books; Hobbiton was pacifist and introverted, but they still got destroyed by Saruman, because evil doesn't care what you think or want, it only wants to destroy. Meanwhile, there is the strong implication that Bombadil could go skipping into Mordor and pull Sauron's tower down, but doesn't because he doesn't care enough (although he'll take in the hobbits and rescue them from a bunch of barrow-wrights at the drop of a hat).

Thunderous Cacophony:
Zoop

Well, clearly you've thought this one over, though I feel the amount of hate you're ramming at the guy is the same I use on the whole of Final Fantasy 8. I understand that people DO this, but I'm not sure it's quite worth the effort.

Thunderous Cacophony:

FalloutJack:

Thunderous Cacophony:
(coughTomBombadil)

mechalynx:
What was wrong with Tom Bombadil?

Seconded. Tom was alright.

He was totally pointless. And so on...

Fair enough, though to me it was part of the charm of Tolkien. Why wouldn't there be creatures that just don't give a toss about Sauron and his trinkets? The world existed before Sauron and goes on existing after he's defeated. Lord of the Rings, not Lord of Everything.

This is great news. I've been wanting g them to release his Beowulf for years. I'm surprised it took so long.

I have Seamus Heaney's translation and I'm looking forward to Tolkien's.

mechalynx:

Fair enough, though to me it was part of the charm of Tolkien. Why wouldn't there be creatures that just don't give a toss about Sauron and his trinkets? The world existed before Sauron and goes on existing after he's defeated. Lord of the Rings, not Lord of Everything.

Yeah, I actually think Bombadil is a very important character for world building, because a central theme of the LOTR is that this seemingly all encompassing quest to save the world is in the end just a footnote in the eons of vibrant history the world has already seen and will see more of.
There are other moments, like when Frodo realises one of the trinkets he was given (I think it was the Elven starlight, although I might be wrong) was actually the same magical artifact that featured in many tales and myths he had loved to read and hear about when he was young, and he ponders that, just like the many heroes of old that had fought with, or over this thing, he would one day only exist in tales and legends for children as the artifact itself continued it's magical influence on the world being wielded by heroes and feared by villains.

There's a bit in the Movie where Sam asks Frodo if they'll get stories and songs written about them - same thing.

I love it because it puts the sheer magical scale of the world into context, and it makes you feel like you are reading one small footnote of a wider, greater story, instead of a self contained tiny plot that begins and ends with the protagonists.

On topic I'm really looking forward to this. Tolkien was first a linguist, second an author, and Beowulf has some fantastic prose. I'm totally going to buy this for my dad (and steal it off him when he's read it!)

It's been a very long time since I read LotR, but I always took Tom to be one of the Valar or a being close enough to them as not to make a difference, and that he's been around so long that he has almost zero fk's to give about fleeting mortal dilemmas (beyond his lands). Kind of like Fangorn, the only reason they got involved was because Saruman chopped down the trees. After all, Sauron is just Morgoth-lite, an evil douche to be sure, but a smaller scale in comparison. But like I said, it's been an incredibly long time since I've read them.

Thunderous Cacophony:
Tolkien eventually said something about him being the spirit of pacifism or something like that, but that doesn't gel with the rest of the books; Hobbiton was pacifist and introverted, but they still got destroyed by Saruman, because evil doesn't care what you think or want, it only wants to destroy. Meanwhile, there is the strong implication that Bombadil could go skipping into Mordor and pull Sauron's tower down, but doesn't because he doesn't care enough (although he'll take in the hobbits and rescue them from a bunch of barrow-wrights at the drop of a hat).

The exact opposite was implied. They stated at the Council of Elrond that even Bombadil in his seclusion would be not be unaffected should Sauron take over and that eventually he would fall, "last as he was first." That definitely doesn't imply that Bombadil could just go and topple Sauron at the drop of a hat. Bombadil has power over himself and his home. He has renounced control over everything outside his sphere of influence, even though should the rest of the world fall he will fall with it.

Is Bombadil important to the narrative? No, not at all. But he was important to the world that Tolkien made. Bombadil is a very enigmatic character and Tolkien intended for him to remain that way. I love that there is this mystery right in the beginning of the book that hasn't been solved, even 60 years after it was published.

OT: I'm really excited for this. Tolkien changed the way the world looked at Beowulf, so reading his translation should be a great experience.

StewShearer:
J.R.R. Tolkien's 1926 Beowulf Translation Finally Being Published

Anyone who knows anything about English literature knows that Beowulf is a big deal. The oldest existing piece of Old English literature, it's been privy to countless translations by a variety of famed and influential authors.

While Beowulf is certainly an important and unique piece of literature, I am quite certain that it is not the oldest surviving example. It exists in only one original MS from around the year 1000. That MS is therefore the only source for the poem so its exact history and creation date are totally unknown. There are, however, earlier examples of Old English literature.

I am quite looking forward to reading this version!

mechalynx:

Thunderous Cacophony:

FalloutJack:

Seconded. Tom was alright.

He was totally pointless. And so on...

Fair enough, though to me it was part of the charm of Tolkien. Why wouldn't there be creatures that just don't give a toss about Sauron and his trinkets? The world existed before Sauron and goes on existing after he's defeated. Lord of the Rings, not Lord of Everything.

I just have to point out that as one of the Maiar Sauron actually existed before the world did. But I think your larger point is correct. Also It was suggested to me by one of my university profs that he thought that Bombadil was probably related more to Tolkien's earlier interest in and writing of "fairy stories," which was an aspect of Middle Earth that became somewhat lost over time as Tolkien developed his histories. Nevertheless that kind of thing remains part of the background of his world and in that sense Bombadil is probably some sort of spirit that came into the world, but is not of the Maiar. Anyway, I personally do like Bombadil, he's just well a delight, a breather so to speak for the Hobbits and the reader after escaping from the old forest. Kids today are too damn impatient! >:(

Reading a book isn't a race. Sometimes a good story is enjoyable because it's exciting, sometimes because it makes you think or laugh, and sometimes it's just the simple pleasure of imagining an enjoyable world. Tolkien's brilliance was in combining all these elements.

Sitting by the sea on a warm spring evening certainly isn't exciting, but it can be a wonderfully enjoyable experience. The "slow" parts of the LotR don't have to do anything to be enjoyable, they can simply be enjoyed on their own as almost intentional breaks or respites from the other events.

It never ceases to baffle me that so many people have a problem with that or with lengthy descriptive paragraphs. You are really meant to simply picture the world in your mind and feel the experience as the characters do. A one page summary of events is certainly a more efficient way to get across the information of a plot, but does not a good story make.

Anyhoo, to each their own etc. etc.

That was a lot longer than I intended.

Elvaril:

Thunderous Cacophony:
Tolkien eventually said something about him being the spirit of pacifism or something like that, but that doesn't gel with the rest of the books; Hobbiton was pacifist and introverted, but they still got destroyed by Saruman, because evil doesn't care what you think or want, it only wants to destroy. Meanwhile, there is the strong implication that Bombadil could go skipping into Mordor and pull Sauron's tower down, but doesn't because he doesn't care enough (although he'll take in the hobbits and rescue them from a bunch of barrow-wrights at the drop of a hat).

The exact opposite was implied. They stated at the Council of Elrond that even Bombadil in his seclusion would be not be unaffected should Sauron take over and that eventually he would fall, "last as he was first." That definitely doesn't imply that Bombadil could just go and topple Sauron at the drop of a hat. Bombadil has power over himself and his home. He has renounced control over everything outside his sphere of influence, even though should the rest of the world fall he will fall with it.

Is Bombadil important to the narrative? No, not at all. But he was important to the world that Tolkien made. Bombadil is a very enigmatic character and Tolkien intended for him to remain that way. I love that there is this mystery right in the beginning of the book that hasn't been solved, even 60 years after it was published.

I didn't remember that mention at the Council of Elrond. I was giving such high regard to his power in that any constraints on him seemed self-imposed at most; evil washes off him like water off a duck's back, he's been around since the beginning of time (I distinctly remember him saying he was older than the first Dark Lord), and according to Gandalf he could have theoretically safeguarded the Ring if he wasn't likely to misplace it. Looking through the book, it basically says that Sauron could defeat him only by destroying the Earth (which presumably means turning it into a blasted hellscape), but that Tom wouldn't be a useful to the Free Peoples because he is outside, and doesn't seem to understand, the struggle of good and evil.

Still, I understand your love of the mystery of him.

Dimitriov:

StewShearer:
J.R.R. Tolkien's 1926 Beowulf Translation Finally Being Published

Anyone who knows anything about English literature knows that Beowulf is a big deal. The oldest existing piece of Old English literature, it's been privy to countless translations by a variety of famed and influential authors.

While Beowulf is certainly an important and unique piece of literature, I am quite certain that it is not the oldest surviving example. It exists in only one original MS from around the year 1000. That MS is therefore the only source for the poem so its exact history and creation date are totally unknown. There are, however, earlier examples of Old English literature.

I am quite looking forward to reading this version!

mechalynx:

Thunderous Cacophony:

He was totally pointless. And so on...

Fair enough, though to me it was part of the charm of Tolkien. Why wouldn't there be creatures that just don't give a toss about Sauron and his trinkets? The world existed before Sauron and goes on existing after he's defeated. Lord of the Rings, not Lord of Everything.

I just have to point out that as one of the Maiar Sauron actually existed before the world did. But I think your larger point is correct. Also It was suggested to me by one of my university profs that he thought that Bombadil was probably related more to Tolkien's earlier interest in and writing of "fairy stories," which was an aspect of Middle Earth that became somewhat lost over time as Tolkien developed his histories. Nevertheless that kind of thing remains part of the background of his world and in that sense Bombadil is probably some sort of spirit that came into the world, but is not of the Maiar. Anyway, I personally do like Bombadil, he's just well a delight, a breather so to speak for the Hobbits and the reader after escaping from the old forest. Kids today are too damn impatient! >:(

Reading a book isn't a race. Sometimes a good story is enjoyable because it's exciting, sometimes because it makes you think or laugh, and sometimes it's just the simple pleasure of imagining an enjoyable world. Tolkien's brilliance was in combining all these elements.

Sitting by the sea on a warm spring evening certainly isn't exciting, but it can be a wonderfully enjoyable experience. The "slow" parts of the LotR don't have to do anything to be enjoyable, they can simply be enjoyed on their own as almost intentional breaks or respites from the other events.

It never ceases to baffle me that so many people have a problem with that or with lengthy descriptive paragraphs. You are really meant to simply picture the world in your mind and feel the experience as the characters do. A one page summary of events is certainly a more efficient way to get across the information of a plot, but does not a good story make.

Anyhoo, to each their own etc. etc.

That was a lot longer than I intended.

You are correct on the "piece of literature" part. It is the oldest surviving Old English epic poem, but not the oldest text period. My bad.

StewShearer:
While the publication of a new version of an ancient text may not seem like the most thrilling piece of news in the world, the Tolkien edition of Beowulf is arguably a big deal, especially considering his tremendous affection for the source text. If nothing else, it will serve as an interesting companion to some of his academic works on the book

I'd say it's much more than that. The Middle Earth mythos was explicitly an attempt to build England it's own mythology in the style of existing Nordic mythology, since Tolkien felt there was a great lack of native mythology (Celtic, Gaelic and others already having their own). So seeing his take on the actual sort of thing he based the style of his own work on should be interesting to anyone who likes Lord of the Rings, not just those interested in the academic side of things.

Thunderous Cacophony:
He was totally pointless...

I take it you've only ever read (or seen) Lord of the Rings, and not any of the rest of Tolkein's work. Bombadil didn't have much of a place in LotR because he was basically a cameo from the extended universe. He wasn't there because he fulfilled an important role in this particular story, but simply because he existed in the universe and therefore characters travelling through it could encounter him. It's like having various items and characters briefly mentioned or seen in Marvel's movies, even though they have nothing to do with it at the time. They may be pointless in that appearance, but they give hints of connections to the wider universe.

So yes, looked at in total isolation, Bombadil is a pointless deus ex machina whose role could easily have been filled by an existing character like Gandalf. And Glorfindel is a similarly pointless character who showed up to save Frodo and then was never mentioned again and could have easily been replaced by Gandalf or Elrond (or Arwen as in the film). In an isolated book, you generally want to keep the number of characters relatively low and not introduce people who will never be mentioned again after a couple of pages. But Lord of the Rings doesn't exist in isolation any more than any of the Marvel films do, so it's a bit silly to complain that cameos and references to the wider universe are pointless just because you aren't familiar with that universe and don't realise what they're references to.

Edit: Although I should note that the Old Forest section is still my least favourite part of the Lord of the Rings. Part of the problem is that he originally started writing it as a much more light-hearted direct sequel to the Hobbit, rather than the finale to his Middle Earth mythology, so there's quite a disconnect in tone. So it's not that I'm a particular fan of Bombadil's, it's just that I understand why he is there and what his connection is to things outside this one book.

Kahani:
On Cameos

You're right in that I haven't read any Tolkien past The Hobbit and LOTR (I've poked around the extended universe on the internet/in gamebooks, but never read the original stuff. However, the point of the cameo is as a nod to fans. I've got no problem with Glorfindel because if you just read the LOTR he's a powerful elven ruler, while if you read the Fall of Gondolin you know more about the character, how he came to be so powerful, his backstory, etc. It's a proper cameo in the way that it works in both the constrained and the wider narrative without any extra explanation needed.

Meanwhile, Bombadil is a reference that is dragged out way too long and works against the LOTR as a self-supported book. If he had been in the book briefly to offer aid and shelter to the hobbits for a night/a few pages (with Gandalf providing exposition on what that means later), it would have been fine. As it was, the three chapters that focus on him seem really disconnected (I didn't know that they were originally planned for a different book, but that makes sense) and what could have been a brief and worthwhile cameo turned into the literary equivalent of your college roommate showing up on your doorstep and moving in for six months.

Thunderous Cacophony:
Meanwhile, Bombadil is a reference that is dragged out way too long and works against the LOTR as a self-supported book. If he had been in the book briefly to offer aid and shelter to the hobbits for a night/a few pages (with Gandalf providing exposition on what that means later), it would have been fine. As it was, the three chapters that focus on him seem really disconnected (I didn't know that they were originally planned for a different book, but that makes sense) and what could have been a brief and worthwhile cameo turned into the literary equivalent of your college roommate showing up on your doorstep and moving in for six months.

Oh, I don't disagree there. As I say, that's easily my least favourite part of the books. I just don't think it's quite fair to characterise it as "completely pointless". It may be an overly long cameo that doesn't fit well with the rest of the book, but there is a reason for him to be shown as part of the larger universe. "Badly implemented" and "shouldn't have tried to implement at all" aren't quite the same thing.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here