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Beowulf and the Critics (Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, Vol. 248) 1St Edition Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0866982900
ISBN-10: 0866982906
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Product Details

  • Series: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies
  • Hardcover: 461 pages
  • Publisher: Mrts; 1St Edition edition (December 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0866982906
  • ISBN-13: 978-0866982900
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,014,636 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on January 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book is a much longer, easier to read version of Tolkien's famous 1936
lecture of Beowulf, called "The Monsters and the Critics." I've read
"Monsters and the Critics," and liked it, but Beowulf and the Critics is
much better, not only because it is easier to follow, but because Tolkien
puts in a lot more interesting material, including two very good poems
about dragons. According to the editor, Tolkien started writing this book
for his students at Oxford, and it shows.
Tolkien argues that Beowulf is a great poem and that the monsters in it (a
troll named Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon) are essential to the
poem's theme. I think he makes his case. He also provides a summary of
the study of Beowulf, from the discovery of the manuscript until he wrote
this book in the 1930's, which is actually much more interesting than it
The editor has written a good, clear introduction that explains how all
this scholarly material relates to Tolkien's other work in Old English and
to his Middle-earth books. The notes are unbelievably extensive, and while
I didn't read straight through them all, the things I did look up were
explained very clearly.
While there aren't any Hobbits, dwarves or elves, I still strongly
recommend this book to anyone who really wants to know how Tolkien's mind
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JRR Tolkien's 1936 "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" is generally accorded to be a seminal study of the great Old English poem "Beowulf", focusing attention upon the work itself as a consciously crafted piece of literary creation rather than as merely something of historical or quaint antiquitarian interest. "Beowulf and the Critics" presents two extended lectures from the mid-1930's that were successive steps towards Tolkien's final essay. The greater length of these lectures, perhaps especially "Version B", may provide an easier path to appreciating Tolkien's views of the poems than the more dense "The Monsters and the Critics". Editor Michael Drout provides voluminous explanatory notes about every possibly obscure reference in Tolkien's lectures. In addition, lengthy textual notes are provided so that the interested scholar may trace the process of revision used by Tolkien in writing his lectures.
In his preface Drout mentions the likelihood that there are two natual audiences for this book: Those who read it because the name "Tolkien" is on the cover; and those who read it because "Beowulf" on the cover. (And Drout writes that "the most valued audience of all [is] those who read the book because it says both 'Tolkien' and 'Beowulf' on the cover" -- I'm pleased to count myself in that group.) To be candid, those Tolkien enthusiasts who pick up the volume expecting to find discussions of elves and hobbits will be disappointed. There are few direct references to Tolkien's better-know fictional works (although there is an interesting extended footnote discussing the relationship of Shakespeare's "King Lear" to certain aspects of "The Lord of the Rings.
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This volume is well designed to convey a huge amount of information in as painless a form as possible. It is a meticulous edition, with commentary, of two manuscripts by J.R.R. Tolkien, representing stages of his thought in the years before his British Academy lecture, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" (1936; published 1937). That short work has been described as being, although not the beginning of "Beowulf" criticism, the beginning of all *modern* "Beowulf" criticism. It was a revised and condensed version of a longer work, which had already gone through two drafts, presented here as edited by Michael Drout, as the "A" and "B" Texts (designations apparently beloved by medievalists).

The 1936 lecture is the title piece in the 1984 collection of some of Tolkien's essays, with which this book should NOT be confused, and is found in several anthologies of "Beowulf" criticism. It is beautifully expressed, and vigorously argued, but, with its compressed references to old disputes, at times a little hard to follow in detail. I found that careful readings of R.W. Chambers' magisterial "Beowulf: An Introduction to the Study of the Poem" (1921; third edition, 1953) and use of Fr. Klaeber's great edition (1922, 1928, 1936), both referred to by Tolkien, were very helpful, and worth the time (if not essential!) for any student of the poem anyway. But the critical (or uncritical) consensus Tolkien was attacking long ago faded from the scholarly mind. (It persists in third-hand opinions, often repeated by people who should know better.
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This is the second, revised, edition of 978-0866982900 (Beowulf and the Critics (Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, Vol. 248)), though Amazon doesn't link the two. Based on the preface, it's substantially improved over the first edition (which I've only looked at briefly), most notably in rendering Tolkien's underlined text in italics. This edition is a magnificent work of scholarship on Professor Drout's part; his explanatory notes are worth checking even if you catch Professor Tolkien's references, since he provides copious detail and full contexts for the quotations. Scholars back then showed commendable nobility, and could _write_, even some of those Tolkien was refuting: "...only they are on the right side, though it is not the side that wins. The winning side is Chaos and Unreason; but the gods, who are defeated, think that defeat no refutation." (W.P. Ker) And Klaeber (one of Tolkien's main targets), quoting a review of the published essay by another of Tolkien's targets, R.W. Chambers: "the finest appreciation which has yet been written of our finest Old English poem "

As for Professor Tolkien's essay, the second draft is well worth reading even if you've read the final, published version. The B draft here presented is greatly inferior to the final version, which shows how hard Tolkien worked to achieve his apparently effortless style; but it's far longer, and covers far more material. One tip: use at least three bookmarks, to keep you place for the text, the explanatory notes for version B, and the explanatory notes for the A version, to which the B notes often refer.
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