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Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary Hardcover – May 22, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (May 22, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0544442784
  • ISBN-13: 978-0544442788
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.8 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"A thrill . . . “Beowulf” was Tolkien’s lodestar. Everything he did led up to or away from it . . . Perhaps, in the dark of night, he already knew what would happen: that he would never publish his beautiful “Beowulf,” and that his intimacy with the poem, more beautiful, would remain between him and the poet—a secret love." -- New Yorker

"Both scholars and lay readers have long awaited Tolkien's "Beowulf" translation and its related materials, and everyone will find something of enduring interest in this collection. For Tolkien, "Beowulf" was both a brilliant and haunting work in its own right and an inspiration for his own fiction. It is a poem that will move us as readers, not forever but as long as we last. Or as Tolkien says, "It must ever call with a profound appeal—until the dragon comes." -- Wall Street Journal

"Tolkien-as-guide is delightful, an irresistibly chatty schoolmaster in the Chaucerian mold . . . His learning and Beowulf’s patterns of gloom and fragile light feel intimately related . . . his noble translation joins the ranks of the narrowly saved." – Slate

"This rendition—edited by his son Christopher and published for the first time—will delight fans . . . lovers of Tolkien's work will agree that this is a book long overdue." – Publishers Weekly
"A marvel of vigor and economy . . . Essential for students of the Old English poem—and the ideal gift for devotees of the One Ring." — Kirkus

About the Author

J.R.R. TOLKIEN (1892-1973) is the creator of Middle-earth and author of such classic and extraordinary works of fiction as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. His books have been translated into more than fifty languages and have sold many millions of copies worldwide.


CHRISTOPHER TOLKIEN is the third son of J.R.R. Tolkien. Appointed by Tolkien to be his literary executor, he has devoted himself to the editing and publication of unpublished writings, notably The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-earth.

Customer Reviews

Just go straight to the story.
Lucien Desar
Besides the text of Beowulf, the book also contains Tolkien's notes and commentary on the poem, and Christopher Tolkien has added an important introduction.
Biblio-Michiganian
It’s a fine translation, true to the form of epic poetry, and stirring to the heart, especially when read aloud.
Glynn Young

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

73 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Graham Tedesco-Blair on May 22, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tolkien's translation of Beowulf dropped today, and goodness gracious is it a beautiful thing. Not only the poetic-prose translation itself (in prose form, but with an ear to how long sentences are and to alliteration), but copious footnotes by Christopher Tolkien about the translation and its composition from the existent manuscripts that JRR had left behind; a couple hundred pages of lecture excepts from JRR's famous lecture series on the poem that are just gorgeous in detail and scope; The Sellic Spell, a piece of Beowulf fan-fiction that JRR wrote about the early adventures of Beowulf/attempt to reconstruct the original tale from which Beowulf is a later version of; and The Lay of Beowulf, a shorter version of the story in verse for singing your children to sleep.

This is the good stuff. I'm already enjoying it as much as Seamus Heaney's verse translation (read alongside, not instead of: Heaney is more raw and emotional, Tolkien more beautifully complex, both are worth your time), and the commentary is amazing. My only beef is that it doesn't include The Monsters and the Critics, Tolkien's famous lecture about the poem's critics and its place in history, but as its quite long and is easily available both online and in a separate volume, I can over look it.

I read something like this, and I wish all writers could be so well served by their heirs. Brian Herbert, I'm looking in your direction...
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Format: Kindle Edition
The last few years has seen the release by the Tolkien Estate of several hybrid books that combined original retellings/translations of ancient hero legends (Sigurd, Arthur) with further commentary by J.R.R. Tolkien (on the source material) and Christopher Tolkien (on his father’s work). The latest in this series is Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, which has perhaps incurred greater interest since outside of his fiction, Tolkien is perhaps best known for his famed essay, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” As with the prior two, one’s enjoyment of this new work will be dependent on one’s delight in /toleration of some pretty arcane scholarship. Personally, I enjoyed all of them, including this latest, but then, I’m a huge Tolkien fan, I’m an English teacher who owns several copies of Beowulf translations and teaches the legend every year, I love the song “Grendel” by Marillion and the book Grendel by John Gardiner, and give me a good footnote or twenty and I’m alight with joy. I couldn’t be more the target audience unless I threw myself into a dragon-prowed boat and laid waste to some English coastal towns. Your mileage therefore may vary.

The book contains an introduction by Christopher (from now on I will use Tolkien to refer to the father and Christopher to the son), Tolkien’s prose translation of Beowulf, “Notes on the text of the translation” (both Tolkien’s and Christopher’s), “Introductory note to the Commentary” (Christopher’s explanation of his editing of this father’s comments), “Commentary Accompanying the Translation of Beowulf” (drawn from Tolkien’s lecture notes), “Sellic Spell” (three versions of Tolkien’s attempt at telling what might have been the old source folktale for the legend as we have it), and “The Lay of Beowulf” (two short poems/songs by Tolkien).
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By John D. Cofield TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Had J.R.R. Tolkien never written The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, or The Silmarillion his fame today would rest on his long career at Oxford University as professor of Anglo-Saxon. There he did pioneering work in philology, but his greatest renown would come from his life long labor of love: studying the great poem Beowulf. Much of Tolkien's work on Beowulf, especially his revolutionary essay "The Monsters and the Critics," has been widely available for many years. Now Christopher Tolkien, serving as his father's literary executor, has give us another treasure: J.R.R. Tolkien's own prose translation of Beowulf.

Christopher Tolkien states in his Preface that the translation was completed by 1926, when his father was 34 and still in the early years of his career. Over the next twenty years Tolkien continued to study and reflect on Beowulf, writing essays and giving lectures and classes. In preparing Tolkien's translation for publication his son had to choose between several different manuscripts and then deal with the truly arduous task of selecting from a vast body of work those notes and commentaries which would be most illuminating. The result is an amazing almost line by line analysis of the translation. As yet I've only had time to dip in here and there, but wherever I've looked I've found some fascinating insights and new information, such as that "Hwaet", the famous first word of Beowulf which Tolkien translated as "Lo!" is an anacrusis or "striking up" that derived from minstrels, or that Beowulf's "ice-bears" could not have been polar bears since that species was not known in Europe until much later.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Ian M. Slater TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is (another) posthumous collection of writings by J.R.R. Tolkien, this time largely academic, and only occasionally (and indirectly) connected to Middle Earth matters; it is published under the general title of "Beowulf, A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell," but it actually contains a little more material than indicated.

It is a must-have for *really* committed Tolkien fans, and all Tolkien scholars, and will probably be found of value to any admirers of "Beowulf" (and Old English poetry in general) who don't already fall into the former categories. Those whose dedication to Tolkien is more limited *may* want to give it a pass, at least in its hardcover (and Kindle) incarnations -- although the current prices are very attractive. (I am a little dubious about reading it on a Kindle, given that I use lots of colored place-markers, keying the commentary to the translation....). I hope that the following description, and evaluation, will prove useful to those considering purchasing it.

The volume at hand contains several distinct, but related pieces, assembled by Christopher Tolkien from his father's manuscripts (including typescript copies, which contain fewer problems with Tolkien's notoriously difficult handwriting). It does *not* contain his published (and famous) British Academy lecture, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," nor Tolkien's introductory and supplemental material from C.L. Wrenn's revision of the old Clark-Hall prose translation of Beowulf (both of which are to be found in the collection "The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays.
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