Beowulf

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has acquired the U.S. rights to publish BEOWULF: A Translation and Commentary, a previously unseen work by J.R.R. Tolkien. This new book has been edited by Christopher Tolkien, who comments:

 

‘A translation of Beowulf was completed by J.R.R. Tolkien before he became professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford. He returned to it only for hasty and cursory correction in later years, yet much light would be shed on this translation in his University lectures that were expressly devoted to the text, and from them a commentary has been devised for this book.

 

‘From his creative attention to detail in these lectures there arises a pervading sense of his vision. It is as if Tolkien entered 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.

 

‘The commentary in this book includes much from those lectures in which, while always anchored in the text, Tolkien expressed his wider perceptions. He looked closely at the dragon that would slay Beowulf ‘snuffling in baffled rage and injured greed when he discovers the theft of the cup’; and he rebuts the notion that Beowulf is ‘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.’

 

‘Also included is Sellic Spell, a ‘marvellous tale’ of Beowulf written by Tolkien in the style of an Old English folk-tale, in which there was no association with the ‘historical legends’ of the Northern kingdoms.’

 

This is the first book by J.R.R. Tolkien since The Fall of Arthur. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will publish BEOWULF: A Translation and Commentary on May 22, 2014.