Author J.R.R. Tolkien wasn’t just a creator of fantastical realms and long-lost languages, he was also a great scholar of literature and mythology from all the way back in what we now refer to as “The Day.” Now, it seems, nearly 90 years after the Lord of the Rings creator translated the Old English epic poem Beowulf, his work will finally be published for all to see. This is according to a Guardian article in which Tolkien’s son and current editor Christopher says, though J.R.R. put in all the work to translating it, he “seems never to have considered its publication.” That’s J.R.R. Tolkien for you, folks; He translated one of the densest works of literature for FUN.
The 11th Century epic poem tells the story of the titular prince who becomes a hero by slaying the monster Grendel and his mother, then gets killed by a dragon many years later. One of the oldest pieces of English myth, Beowulf has been adapted for the screen dozens of times, perhaps most famously in Robert Zemeckis’s ode to the Uncanny Valley in 2007. For any of you who were assigned to read it in school, the title of the longest epic poem in all of Old English is probably a word of dread. However, Tolkien’s version might just be the one we can connect to.
Tolkien said the tome was “laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination”, saying that “the whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real.” Considering Tolkien wrote his Middle-Earth volumes as a reaction to the ending of England’s personal mythology owing to the Norman Invasion of 1066, he likely saw the anonymously-written poem as one of the last great pieces of true English myth.His translation of Beowulf will see publication on the 22nd of May this year in a volume called Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. This will include both his 1927 translation of the 3182 line poem, transcriptions of lectures he gave at the University of Oxford in the 1930s, and his own short story, Sellic Spell.
Christopher Tolkien said of his father’s lectures: “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.”
We’re looking forward to one of the greatest proponents of modern myth tackling a behemoth of epic poetry before he’d written a single Hobbit. What do you think? Are you ready for New-Old Tolkien?