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Tolkien and the Beowulf Saga 316

Posted by michael
from the everything-old-is-new-again dept.
jackalski sent in this story about a translation of the Beowulf epic by J.R.R. Tolkien being discovered and which is now set to be published next year. Tolkien found Beowulf inspirational.
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Tolkien and the Beowulf Saga

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  • FP! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:34PM (#4979574)
    Imagine a beowulf of the... uh..
  • Imagine... (Score:3, Funny)

    by fraudrogic (562826) on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:35PM (#4979577)
    a Beowulf cluster....oh.
    • damn ....must...post...obvious...joke...first.. oh well.
    • I can imagine clusters of Tolkien geeks waiting in line outside of bookstores decked out in chain mail and chanting in old english.
  • by JudgeFurious (455868) on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:38PM (#4979594)
    Cause in this day and age it wouldn't even begin to surprise me.
    • There would be a CR violation in using Tolkien's name on his translation, except the article clearly says that the professor who found the manuscript got permission from Tolkien's estate to publish it. Thus, the "Tolkien's Beowulf" to be published next year will not be an infringement, since it was done with permission. Indeed, the story of beowulf is in the public domain, but any translation of it would be a derivative work protectible by copyright. If you spent 2 years of your life translating beowulf, I don't have the right to steal your translation and publish it just because the story you translated from is in the public domain. We all know disney steals stuff from the public domain (Brother's Grimm, etc) to base their stories on, and they get subsequent copyrights. Way it works.
      • There would be a CR violation in using Tolkien's name on his translation,

        Rubbish, a person's name isn't copyright. "Tolkien" may well be a trademark, though. His son or other relatives might have some recourse under libel if it brought their name into disrepute (but in this case they've already agreed), but that's not copyright.

        ... Indeed, the story of beowulf is in the public domain, but any translation of it would be a derivative work protectible by copyright.

        Yes, a translation is copyright. Any issues of rights of the original edition are separate (and obviously in this case the original edition is a few centuries out of copyright). The length of protection starts from the first publication, which presumably is this or next year.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:39PM (#4979604)
    New Tolkien book discovered
    December 30, 2002

    A YELLOWING manuscript by J.R.R.Tolkien discovered in an Oxford library could become one of the publishing sensations of 2003.

    The 2000 handwritten pages include Tolkien's translation and appraisal of Beowulf, the epic 8th century Anglo-Saxon poem of bravery, friendship and monster-slaying that is thought to have inspired The Lord of the Rings.

    He borrowed from early English verse to concoct the imaginary language spoken by Arwen, played by Liv Tyler, and other elves in the second film made from the Rings books, The Two Towers.

    A US academic, Michael Drout, found the Tolkien material by accident in a box of papers at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

    An assistant professor of English at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, Dr Drout was researching Anglo- Saxon scholarship at the Bodleian, and asked to see a copy of a lecture on Beowulf given by Tolkien in 1936.

    It was brought to him in a reading room in a large box. Professor Drout, who reads Anglo-Saxon prose to his two-year-old daughter at bedtime, said: "I was sitting there going through the transcripts when I saw these four bound volumes at the bottom of the box.

    "I started looking through, and realised I had found an entire book of material that had never seen the light of day. As I turned the page, there was Tolkien's fingerprint in a smudge of ink."

    After obtaining permission from the Tolkien estate, Professor Drout published Beowulf and the Critics, a version of Tolkien's 1936 lecture, in the US earlier this month.

    Even more exciting will be Tolkien's translation of the poem and his line-by-line interpretation of its meaning, which will be published next summer.

    Tolkien's name on the cover is likely to make the translation a bestseller.

    Professor Drout says Tolkien found inspiration for many of his storylines and characters in Beowulf. The Anglo-Saxon hero's friendship with Wiglaf is mirrored in the relationship between Frodo and Sam in The Lord of the Rings.

    Elves, orcs and ents, the latter a type of giant that becomes a walking and talking tree in Tolkien's work, are all mentioned in Beowulf.

    Merlin Unwin, son of Tolkien's original publisher, said: "Beowulf is a wonderful story, and if you put Tolkien's name to it, it would probably be a great commercial success."
  • sir gawain (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:40PM (#4979608)
    He also did a translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight which (in the copy I have) is bundled with translations of both Perl and Sir Orfeo. IMHO his translation of Sir Gawain is much better than the one we were forced to read in my high school english class. Would have been cool to have had a copy of his Beowulf translation to compare to the one we had.

    I dont know of any online shops that carry the book, but the ISBN number is 0-345-27760-0 if you want to look for it or special order.
  • Great... (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    just in time for the book to be released as an EBOOK with DRM!!!
  • by pyman (610707) on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:41PM (#4979611) Homepage
    Even more exciting will be Tolkien's translation of the poem and his line-by-line interpretation of its meaning, which will be published next summer.

    I really like Tolkien, but I had to really push myself to get through the Silmarillion... Somehow a line by line explanation strikes me as being much less than 'exciting'!

    • I really like Tolkien, but I had to really push myself to get through the Silmarillion

      It gets better the more times you read it. I've read The Silmarillion 4 times in the past year alone (same for The Hobbit and LOTR.) Think of The Hobbit as being written by Bilbo, LOTR by Frodo and Sam, and The Silmarillion transcribed by Bilbo from much older sources. The difference in style makes sense then.
      • I agree. The first time I read The Silmarillion, I was about 11 years old. I had to struggle to make it through, and actually stopped several times because of the stilted biblical-flavor of the language.

        A few years later, I read (the whole series) again and could actually follow everything. Many of the events in the LOTR make far more sense when you have the background knowledge that the Silmarillion gives you.

        Nowadays, I would venture to say that it would make a remarkable film, but not one that Hollywood would (or could) ever produce.
        • Nowadays, I would venture to say that it would make a remarkable film, but not one that Hollywood would (or could) ever produce.

          Maybe this is because I'm a composer, but I always thought the Silmarillion needed to be a cycle of operas rather than a movie. I know at least that Beren and Luthien is a story Wagner would have loved to score if he could have read it.

    • I too pushed myself through the Silmarillion when I was in high school. Why do we subject ourselves to this stuff. Tolkien was a brilliant author and his fully conceived world is what makes his stories so compelling, but I think his translation of Beowulf will be a much greater service to both his readers and society that the Silmarillion.

      Examination of folklore and legends tells us something about our society and our selves. The use of SF and fantasy to explore our real world and history rather than more fantasy would be great way to improve the nerd image among the general population.

      You'll get more chicks talking about Gardner's Grendel than you will bringing up Tolkien.(This is both a joke and an true example.)
      • by TheOnlyCoolTim (264997) <tim...bolbrock@@@verizon...net> on Monday December 30, 2002 @01:10AM (#4979882)
        The Silmarillion is hard because it was never finished. Tolkien had various stories written out to various degrees of completion and then his son combined them all into the Silmarillion. It probably would have been better as a collection of short stories.

        You can't deny that some of the stories are excellent - Fingolfin vs. Morgoth or Beren and Luthien for example. In the movies Peter Jackson seems to be using the parallels between Beren/Luthien and Aragorn/Arwen to flesh out the whole romance storyline that was barely present in the books.

        Even discounting the value of the Silmarillion itself, after reading the Silmarillion you will get much more from the Lord of The Rings.

        Tim
        • by sstamps (39313) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:03AM (#4980003) Homepage
          Absolutely.

          The first Tolkien book I read was the Silmarillion. It was... a wonderful read, for me. There was beauty. There was ugliness. There was tragedy. There was triumph. There was absolute glory and utter defeat. Not only on human scales, but cosmic ones as well. I think, of all the "stories" about the mythical creation of a universe, I find it the most real and most beautiful.

          The sub-creation of a universe is no easy task. I think Tolkien is one of the few people who understood what was necessary to make a believable one, and was able to exceute it so well.

          While the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are awesome stories, knowing the true setting of the world that they partake in makes them that much more real and entertaining. The immersion is really, in my experience, an order of magnitude higher than if I had not read the Silmarillion first.

          Of course, not everyone will share that view; that's OK. Some people don't like fantasy, period, either. To each his/her own.
        • by billbaggins (156118) on Monday December 30, 2002 @03:05AM (#4980153)
          In the movies Peter Jackson seems to be using the parallels between Beren/Luthien and Aragorn/Arwen to flesh out the whole romance storyline that was barely present in the books.
          The love story is there, down to the parallel to Beren & Luthien, you just have to slog through the appendices to get there... too tired to go give you chapter numbers right now, but when Aragorn first saw Arwen, he called her "Tinuviel" because he thought he was seeing Luthien... not to mention the (to me) obvious matter of the man/elf pairing... but yeah, P.J. does seem to be pulling in a lot of good material from the appendices, like Gimli's discourse on dwarf women...
          • Oh yes, the parallels are present in Lord of The Rings (Tinuviel = Morning Star / Undomiel = Evening Star). It's just that in the book, the whole part about her sacrificing immortality seemed to me much less present. Having her actually fight (or even do anything) is also much more Luthien than Arwen.

            Also, by the end of the Two Towers movie it still seems up in the air whether or not Arwen would, under pressure from Elrond, sail off to the West. If she does, then we'll know Peter Jackson is pulling from the Silmarillion. I expect instead though that she'll show up with the Rangers when they meet Aragorn.

            As for Gimli, in TTT he's going a bit too far making the dwarf also be the comic relief. The reference to dwarf women was good, especially as a setup to Eowyn's attraction to Aragorn, and the "toss me" part was alright, but everything else "funny" that wasn't from the books, like the oversized armor and Gimli hopping to see the orcs wasn't cool. The first movie did Gimli much better, especially when they were in Moria.

            Just something that hit my mind... I remember towards the end Frodo and Sam talking, and one of them says something like "Day shall come again," which is of course right out of one of the best scenes in the Silmarillion, but there could have been mention of "day coming again" in LOTR too... My memory is going.

            Tim
            • I have to agree with most of what you said, especially Gimli being reduced to comic relief. But my penantry is bugging me to mention that Tinúviel is Sindarin for "nightingale", not "morning star". Which makes sense when you realize that the morning star is the evenstar, and is the light of Eärendil the Mariner, who wasn't even born when Lúthien died.

        • ...is told later, in appendices and in one of the other books, can't recall which one. Parts of LOTR that Tolkien had to drop due to publishing costs post-WWII were later published.

          There's a great scene set in Minas Tirith, for example, while everybody's just hanging around, killing time and waiting for Arwen to show up. It's Gandalf and some of the other characters, sitting around a room, with Gandalf making some links between this story and _The Hobbit_.

          • The snippet taken out of LotR at Minas Tirith is available in the book Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth edited by Christopher Tolkien. Rather interesting. Not worth buying the book for, but the wealth of supplimental info around LotR and The Silmarillion makes it very worth it. Anyhow, you can probably find it at a library, too.

    • I read the Silmarillion before I started on The Lord of the Rings. I liked it a lot! I found LOTR to be a bit boring and long after the Silmarillion. I haven't men anyone who agrees with me on this though...

      I did finish LOTR eventually, but mainly because I wanted to finish it before performing the five part piece by [euronet.nl] Johan de Meij [euronet.nl], which is much better than the music to pt I or II to the film series. Especially part III Gollum is great. You can find an amateur version of the piece here [137.224.129.22] (I figure since this is by no means a professional performance it's ok to link it).

  • by reezle (239894) on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:42PM (#4979614) Homepage
    I suppose it's an easy way to squeeze another film out of the 'ring' marketing machines... Stamp Tolkien's name to a manuscript, shove it in the bottom of a box, and have a dusty librarian dig it up for you. Instant next-year's-script..

    Wonder how many aspiring writers will be picking up on this new publication method in the coming years?
    • I suppose it's an easy way to squeeze another film out of the 'ring' marketing machines

      Why do that when there are plenty of Tolkien authored works yet to be filmed - the Hobbit hasn't been done, at least not on the scale of LotR, some stories from the Silmarillion could be filmed if you were desperate, and there are umpteen "Unfinished Tales".

      It's of more interest as an example of his inspiration, and it'd be interesting to see Tolkien's take on Beowulf. It's not going to be a massive seller to the general public, who probably have enough trouble getting through LotR, but for those who are interested it'll definitely be worth a look.

      Don't assume that everything is marketing. While it's often the case, believing it of everything will make you as shallow as the advertisers who push that idea.

    • Stamp Tolkien's name to a manuscript, shove it in the bottom of a box, and have a dusty librarian dig it up for you. Instant next-year's-script..

      Unlikely in the extreme, my friend.

      Beowulf was written in Old English, also known as Anglo-Saxon. The language is extremely different from what we now speak. I've just finished reading Beowulf in the original. It was hard, and I've been studying the language for two years already. Doing a translation of Beowulf, especially one that would measure up to Tolkien's high standards, would require a lot more practice than that. You'd have to hire a professional Anglo-Saxonist. There just aren't that many of them. A few hundred, tops.

      You'd have to figure out exactly which sources Tolkien would have worked from. Would he have consulted the original manuscript (MS Cotton Vitelius A. xv)? If so, would there have been a record of that consultation in the British Library, and would you have to fake such a record? If you decide he did NOT consult the original, whose edition would he have worked from? Which editions was he familiar with? Would he also have consulted reprints of late-seventeenth century transcriptions from before the manuscript was damaged in a fire?

      Then, of course, the article mentions that the translation consists of two thousand hand-written pages. Not only do you need to hire a professional Anglo-Saxonist to translate the poem, you also have to hire someone who can fake Tolkien's handwriting for two thousand pages so well that it isn't an instantly recognizable forgery. Not only that, you have to obtain a large supply of vintage paper and ink, or perform expensive aging routines on modern paper to simulate an aged condition, which would be instantly detectable should anyone think to subject that paper to an age test. Which they would if there was any doubt as to the authenticity of the piece.

      Then, of course, you have to figure out how to get your expensive and complicated fake into the Bodleian library. You'll probably have to bribe a librarian. An awful lot of people are now involved. One of them is sure to spill the beans unless you 1) pay them HUGE amounts of money to shut up, or 2) kill them.

      All this so you can make a movie and slap Tolkien's name on it? That's one hell of a lot of work, especially since it would be really, really hard to pull off without detection. Why bother, when you could just spend all that time and effort promoting the movie?

      Cynicism is fine and all, but really. Do think a little harder next time.

      • The two thousand pages of handwriting make it awfully hard to fake. There are people who might very well want to claim that they've discovered a new manuscript by Tolkien and sell it even if they'd done it themselves, though that's a lot of work to not claim as your own once you've done it. True, there aren't a huge number of people who can do AngloSaxon well enough to get away with it, but they *would* be the ones most likely to get access to the Bodleian's stacks to plant it there.

        If it were typed pages, and a lot smaller, somebody who'd done a Babelfish translation might try to get away with a BeowulfClusterF..... nevermind.....

    • It's a nifty method, but it doesn't scale well...

      You have to die for it to work, and that only happens once. Maybe twice if you try real hard. After that people don't believe you anymore =)...

    • Wonder how many aspiring writers will be picking up on this new publication method in the coming years?

      Worked for Harry Flashman [harryflashman.org], and at least one posthumous movie was made from the Flashman papers, found after his death by George Macdonald Fraser.

    • What, you mean a Beowulf movie?

      If done in the 'tradition' of Peter Jackson's movies, it certainly could be much worse [imdb.com]. Much, much worse.

  • by SuperDuG (134989) <be@NOSPam.eclec.tk> on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:43PM (#4979618) Homepage Journal
    Obviously Tolkien was very critical of his own works as this one has been kept in a box for so long. The epic Beowulf has been depicted in so many ways in the past that it is actually quite amazing to see it translated the ways it has been. The Thirteenth Warrior was by far the coolest interpretation to date, I don't care if they did leave out nearly half the tale.

    It's a timeless tale and Tolkein is a great author, this won't reach the best seller list because of the name of the author, but because I'm sure it will be great. Such a shame that it has been hidden for so long.

    • "The Thirteenth Warrior was by far the coolest interpretation to date, I don't care if they did leave out nearly half the tale."

      Sigh. I don't mean to be a troll here, but it is surely not coincidence that you chose a film addaptation of this great work as "the coolest interpretation." ::Sarcasm:: Yes I agree, Antonio Banderas brought clout and intelligence to this film opus. ::Sarcasm:: Not. Of all the interesting 'interpretations' and 'translations' out there of late, you choose the one that is as much based on Beowulf as it is on Crichton's Eaters of the Dead. While I am intrigued to see what Tolkien has to say on this seminal work, I would recommend to those discerning reads who are capable of reading and not just moviegoing to take a gander at Seamus Heaney's new translation. It is a side-by-side metered rendering (of the whole work) by an accomplished poet. Take my advice, and ditch the 13th Warrior. Sorry for the rant, also.
      • Okay usually I don't reply to my post replies because usually they're AC's, but when someone has the respect to not hide behind the AC post I will usually take the time to reply to them.

        Eaters of the Dead was a novel which was influenced by Beowulf and by canabilistic tribes of early men which have been documented. Like most of Crichton's works it is science fiction, but not so unbelievable because of the scientific-proof based background presented in the books.

        Further there are MANY similarities to the epic and the adaptation, hell Crighton even notes that it's an interpretation in his book. I liked watching the video because it showed one thing that was true in the Epic, the Movie, and the Book. That there can be a time when a man can face fear head on and show no weakness to overcome it. It's a David and Goliath tale where the nobodty becomes a somebody.

        What I think is "cool" or "enjoyable" as a movie should truly be up to me. I myself did a college project in which the epic was translated on to film encorperating organized crime (bringing a modern day feel) and light sabers (bringing a joking feel as well). Besides the horrible acting and bad script the soundtrack was quite a hit in the English class.

        If you're telling me that art can be appealing to everyone, then you're sorely mistaken. I would say that I would enjoy Heaney's translation as much as you have enjoyed the thirteenth warrior. Technically unless you can read hella old english, all forms of the poem/epic have been translations.

        Take my advice, accept that many people enjoy many different thigs and not everyone is going to agree with you, I have.

      • take a gander at Seamus Heaney's new translation.
        The best translation is Rebsamen's. And at $6, the price is right.
  • by Rubel (121009) on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:46PM (#4979632) Journal
    Hmmm, I must have read a severely truncated version in high school, because I only remember three supernatural creatures in "Beowulf" -- Grendel, Grendel's mom, and the Dragon.

    Speaking of Grendel, there's a great novel by the same name written by John Gardner.

    Back on topic, Gardner wrote an interesting article [nytimes.com] on Tolkien and his world.
    • I had to find this online, but here you go:
      So lived the clansmen in cheer and revel

      a winsome life, till one began
      to fashion evils, that field of hell.
      Grendel this monster grim was called,
      march-riever mighty, in moorland living,
      in fen and fastness; fief of the giants
      the hapless wight a while had kept
      since the Creator his exile doomed.
      On kin of Cain was the killing avenged
      by sovran God for slaughtered Abel.
      Ill fared his feud, and far was he driven,
      for the slaughter's sake, from sight of men.
      Of Cain awoke all that woful breed,
      Etins and elves and evil-spirits,
      as well as the giants
      that warred with God
      weary while: but their wage was paid them!


      It's in the first "book" of Beowulf, around line 110-115.
    • by Selanit (192811) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:51AM (#4980116)
      Hmmm, I must have read a severely truncated version in high school, because I only remember three supernatural creatures in "Beowulf" -- Grendel, Grendel's mom, and the Dragon.

      Not so; there are only three supernatural beings who have roles in the plot, but others are mentioned. For example, in this passage:

      anon untydras ealle onwocon eotenas ond ylfe ond orcneas swylce gigantas a wið gode wunnon lange rage . . .

      That's from the Robinson and Mitchel edition, titled "Beowulf: An Edition". In case you can't read Anglo-Saxon, here is my (prose) translation:

      From thence all evil things awake: giants and elves and orcs, such giants as strove against God for many ages . . .

      This is a passage describing the origin of all unholy creatures from Cain following his banishment by God. Grendel (and his mother) were descended from Cain. "Eotenas" is a synonym for "giants"; "gigantas" is probably a loan-word from Latin.

      So the version you read in high school is correct, it's just that elves and orcs and giants don't figure very large in the poem. Elves are only mentioned a couple of times, and are always evil; orcs are mentioned all of once in the passage above, and the term is not clearly defined, though my glossary offers "evil spirits of the dead." Giants are mentioned several times, but only as a race that got destroyed in Noah's flood.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:49PM (#4979643)

    "I started looking through, and realised I had found an entire book of material that had never seen the light of day. As I turned the page, there was Tolkien's fingerprint in a smudge of ink."

    If you have Tolkien's fingerprint memorized, it's safe to say you REALLY NEED A NEW HOBBY.

    I feel sorry for this guy's daughter.

    • I caught the ruddy spelling mistake. Should that have read :

      "If you have Tolkien's fingerprint memorized, it's safe to say you REALLY NEED A NEW HOBBIT.."
  • Cashing in... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Xpilot (117961) on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:52PM (#4979653) Homepage
    Looks like publishers are really looking forward to cashing in on the Tolkien-hype we've been getting nowadays.

    I am looking forward to reading this though. Besides the handwriting, is the fingerprint the only proof that this was written by Tolkien? Does his son know about this?
  • Perspective... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by este (600616) <este@subteSTRAWnd.net minus berry> on Sunday December 29, 2002 @11:56PM (#4979664) Homepage Journal
    I found several times throughout the article that references were made to the great "commercial possiblilities" of this find. I think, however, that the real value more lies among Tolkien's fans, who not only have been able to learn of his world's own creation but now also of it's derivation. The depth and complexity of Tolkien's worlds have always inspried wonder, as have the archetypal traits it shares with other cultural folklore, and as such makes it almost more "believeable", drawing the reader in and giving them ideas they can relate to so they can be drawn. This manuscript one one of many works that document Tolkein's intensive research and study of early Anglo-saxon folklore, which gave so much to his own writings. Yes, undoubtedly if it is published and marketed well, it will sell strongly, but it's own existence has more symbloic value than anything.
    • "I found several times throughout the article that references were made to the great "commercial possiblilities" of this find."

      What's really interesting is that Beowulf itself is in the public domain.
      • Here, for example [georgetown.edu]. Insert obligatory joke about reading it before Disney pushes copyright far enough back to cover it.

        What I don't know of is a modern English translation that's in the public domain, or free licensed. Anyone?

      • Sure, the Old English is. Tolkien's translation isn't for 20 years (40 in the United States).

        Good luck reading the original.
  • Could anyone give me a good Internet site that covers his lesser-known works?
  • unless he took a dramatic twist of the text, you're still forced reading the same epic that you were forced to read in highschool... if you are looking for a good twist on the topic, read john gardner's grendel.
    • by TheOnlyCoolTim (264997) <tim...bolbrock@@@verizon...net> on Monday December 30, 2002 @01:17AM (#4979902)
      A translation can make a huge difference. For example, I was reading Aristophanes' "The Clouds", and I was reading a good translation. It was hilarious - like an Ancient Greek episode of the Simpsons (a good episode). My friend, who had a crappy translation, hated it and found it humorless. For example, when the lizard shits in Socrates' face, my book says "a lizard shitted on his face!", which is funny, whereas my friend's book says something like "a lizard befouled upon him.", which isn't.

      Tim
      • The cadence and rhythm of the words is completely lost when translated. Essentially, simply translating it into english is a pointless exercise.

        • transliteration. Or for that matter merely "translating" into a readable grammer. This is what untalented hacks do. A proper translation will go as far as it can to preserve everything, including idiom.

          Poetry is the hardest to translate, but it can be done, particularly in the older metrical non rhyming "saga" type poems.

          If any modern author has an inate sense of the importance of, and a fine ability to produce, proper cadanced epic poems, for God's sake man, it's certainly J.R.R.

          KFG
  • by jpetts (208163) on Monday December 30, 2002 @12:03AM (#4979681)
    This will be wonderful. He had already translated Pearl and Sir Orfeo, two Middle English pieces before he died, plus Sir Gawain and The Green Knight. These are very different pieces though, much more lyrical and romantic. Perhaps the best known translation he did which will compare with this is of a fragment (about 100 lines) of an Anglo Saxon piece called "The Death of Beorthelm". He wrote a sequel, The Homecoming of Beortnoth Beorthelms' Son, as well.

    I am interested to see how his Beowulf will compare with Seamus Heaney's truly masterful work, published a couple of years ago. However, given that Heaney is a poet, and Tolkien was a philologist, I sha'n't be surprised if they differ widely...
    • I am interested to see how his Beowulf will compare with Seamus Heaney's truly masterful work, published a couple of years ago.

      Unfortunately Heaney's translation got involved with a fixup by the booker prize committee which put off a lot of people.

      The book of the year came down to a choice between Heaney's Beowulf and Harry Potter. The ossified farts of the Booker committee gave the Prize to Heaney saying 'Children's books come and go, Beowulf is forever'.

      The idiocy of this remark amazed me. While I have no doubt that students will be having Gilgamesh and Beowulf rammed down their craw in a thousand years time I very much doubt the Heaney translation will be much remembered (except perhaps by a snarky comment in a preface to Potter!). On the other hand we can be pretty certain that Alice in Wonderland and probably even Lord of the Rings will still be arround. And if any book published that year is still in print in 100 years time I'll bet Harry potter is as well.

      What it comes down to is the same set of sniffy attitudes that denigrated Tolkein's work. The other Oxford Dons were not pleased when an obscure professor of philology made the publishing sensation of the decade rather than any of the established names they had been betting on. They certainly did not like the idea that tales of elves etc. was more popular than their 'high litterature'.

      Beowulf is famous for one reason alone, it is the earliest that survived. Now that in itself is no mean feat since a tale that survives as an oral tradition has to be worth telling. But when it comes down to it Homer, Gilgamesh and Beowulf are more important for the way in which they have affected our culture than in themselves. For that reason alone I would rate Tolkein's translation higher since at the end of the day Tolkein did something interesting with Beowulf. Heaney merely translated it.

      Besides Heaney is exactly the type of high litterature type that the Oxford Dons think we should like instead of Tolkein, if only we understood what high art is.

      • +5 Troll (Score:5, Informative)

        by blamanj (253811) on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:52AM (#4980122)
        Unfortunately Heaney's translation got involved with a fixup by the booker prize committee which put off a lot of people.

        Not many literature buffs here, I guess. The Booker Prize [bookerprize.co.uk] is given for new fiction, and so Heaney's Beowulf isn't even eligible.

        However, the two books did go head to head in 1999 for a somewhat less influential award, the Whitbread Prize [whitbread-...ards.co.uk]. Both Heaney and Rowling won in their respective categories (poetry and children's), but the Whitbread judges go on to pick a "book of the year" from all the winners, and they did pick Beowulf as the book of the year.

        That aside, I really don't think you can make a case that Rowling writes better than Heaney.
  • Sometimes I think he'd dig up his father's bones, wire them up on puppet strings, and tour them around the world if it could make him more money. Unlike the posthumous "Lost Tales" this find is by a creditable third party, attributable in its entirety to Daddy T, and the royalties shall no doubt flow as thick as orc blood at Helm's Deep. Christopher dreams happy dreams tonight.
  • by Myriad (89793) <myriad@theEULERbsod.com minus math_god> on Monday December 30, 2002 @12:14AM (#4979710) Homepage
    Hmmm, I was under the impression that a Tolkein Ring based Beowulf custer wasn't the most efficient way of doing this...

    (duck) :)

  • Image a beowulf of these connected by Tolkien-ring with DRM and I'm not going to buy one until it supports the Ogg Vorbis format and ...oh, I'll just STFU now...
  • Seamus Heaney (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bgfay (5362) on Monday December 30, 2002 @12:34AM (#4979786) Homepage
    If anyone is interested in reading _Beowulf_, they should get the Seamus Heaney translation. It's difficult to imagine anything better than this. I read the story in high school and again in both college and graduate school but it wasn't until I read the Heaney translation that I understood what all the fuss was about. It's an incredible book and it seems to have taken the ear of a poet to get the translation right.

    And if you get a chance to hear someone who can read the original, go to it. Just gorgeous stuff even if it's pretty tough to follow.
    • I agree; the Heaney translation reads very well to the modern ear. It's NOT a good translation to compare with the original; Heaney took some very large liberties. This is fine, considering he wasn't producing an academic version. So yes, the Heaney is a good buy; just don't try to use it as a learning aid if you're studying Old English.
  • by Baldrson (78598) on Monday December 30, 2002 @12:42AM (#4979809) Homepage Journal
    I can hardly wait to see the Salon article by Hugo Award Winner David Brin(TM) telling us how Grendel [bulfinch.org] is the good guy saving the dainty little things of civilization from barbaric heathens like Beowulf.
  • by trance9 (10504) on Monday December 30, 2002 @12:45AM (#4979824) Homepage Journal

    First and foremost I think that Tokien was inspired by the war he fought in, WW1: Huge battles and complex alliances between murky powers in which little English folk from the countryside get caught up, don't fully understand, and yet trust that somehow they are acting for the better--meanwhile massive slaughter, marshes full of dead people, and so on.

    On the literary side, though, he does seem to have borrowed from all sorts of great legends. I'm sure Beowulf must be one, as the LOTR, etc., are quests. Tolkien clearly believes (in his stories anyway) in caste society: dividing people up into noble classes, low classes, and so on--the line of kings figures prominently in his work.

    Moreover his creation mythology interestingly enough mixes the Christian mythology of Lucifer into a Norse mythology setting. You have Melkor rebelling against Eru much as Lucifer rebelled against God, and the whole Melkor/Morgoth/Sauron thing sounds remarkably like the story of Lucifer's fall from grace. And you have the Elves being kicked out of Valinor much as Christian mythology has men being kicked out of the Garden of Eden--with the twist of free choice.

    And yet the whole thing is in a Norse mythological setting--with the gods living in great halls across the ocean--and you could even sail there if you were a good enough seafarer, and a range of gods who are somehow a higher caste than men, and yet somehow also their equals. (The Vala, Elves and Men all having been created by the same maker, Eru).

    In a way I think much of British quest literature has been an attempt to weave the old tales of Beowulf into the fabric of Christian mythology, and I think that's exactly what Tolkien does.
    • OK, I'm linking to my own site here, cause OMACL seems to be down for the count.

      You're absolutely right in your Christian elements--still to be chatted about is Tolkien's use of the Story of the Volsungs [blackmask.com] -- text that most feel is his primary source.

      Then, like Wagner, he also read up on the
      Nibelungenlied [blackmask.com] (though not to the same extent as Wagner) as well as the Elder Edda [blackmask.com]

      If you're not into reading online, I do recommend a Haney translation.
    • reading the letter by tolkien at the beginning of the (latest? dunno about earlier prints) silmarillion lights his inspirations pretty well.

      noted though, he wanted to have a mythology that wasn't christian, as brits already had such in the tales of the knights of the round tables..

      the way 'magic' is used in tolkiens stuff greatly (imho) is like how it is portrayed in kalevala, a finnish mythology/poem collection, the spells/powers are done (mostly) by singing/playing a song.

      a good timeline of kalevala is at [finland.fi]
      http://virtual.finland.fi/finfo/english/kaleva7. ht ml. tolkien said to have had much inspiration of it. it is imho very tiring to read though, being versed as a poem and some words are not used anymore in everyday finnish, note that tolkien learnt finnish to read kalevala..

      you might find some names like Ilmatar a bit 'tolkienish' ;), but that's just how he made elvish (ilma means air, '-tar' means that it is mistress/woman, in finnish)
  • a word (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Triv (181010) on Monday December 30, 2002 @12:51AM (#4979842) Journal
    ...to those who now want to read Beowulf:

    Don't. Listen to it instead. It was a myth, part of an oral tradition. You really don't get the same thing out of reading it.

    There's a recording available of Seamus Heaney reading his translation of it here. [amazon.com]

    Triv
    • Interesting point. I recently saw a program on The History channel regarding the last living "teller" of a scandanavian ballad. I can't remember the name, but I do remember it involves a "Sampo". why do I remember this? because Mystery Science Theatre 3000 "Myst"ed a movie about the story a few years ago, and I remembered the word "Sampo" when I saw the piece. The story is apparently contemporary to Beowulf, more or less. Oral tradition is something that I'm afraid will not survive very much longer, apart from quoting TV sitcoms...
    • The style of some of the back-story in LOTR, and certainly the Silmarillion always seemed more appropriate for reading out aloud, much like the sagas and Beowulf, which inspired Tolkein.

      One interesting aspect of Beowulf is the inpenetrable nature of the text for the casual reader, which suddenly becomes clearer when read aloud. After all, the language is related to modern English.

  • by Jorge Quinonez (637324) on Monday December 30, 2002 @01:08AM (#4979880)
    Tolkien scholars have known about the Beow. translation and commentary for decades. This is nothing but a blatant attempt by either the publisher or the scholar to hype and market their book. It wasn't 'discovered'. It has always been in the Tolkien Collection at the Dept. of Western Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. And thus available to any qualified scholar. However, in all fairness, Michael Drout (the editor), may probably be the first scholar to actually have the time, motivation and energy to accomplish the task of actually getting this thing published. Also, I believe the figure of 2000 pages sounds a bit inflated, its far less than that. In my view, Tolkien's Beow. work would probably have been published by now by the Tolkien Estate if they had thought it worthwhile. But with any book selling like crazy that has Tolkien's name on it: Now is the time to do it.
  • But ever wonder how things like this seem to pop up when something is very popular??
    This sounds like a Hollywood insider special edition timming event
  • by bahwi (43111) <incoming.josephguhlin@com> on Monday December 30, 2002 @02:01AM (#4979999) Homepage
    There are other translations, you know, if you're one of those people who reads the book before seeing the movie, maybe read one translation before the other?

    http://www.lone-star.net/literature/beowulf/ [lone-star.net]
  • Hobbit/LOTR has pretty much always been acknowledged to have been inspired on Saxon and particularly Norse Mythology as describe in the Edda (elder edda and younger edda).

    Nothing new here, he read the stuff in its original. As you all should if you're so intrigued - good resume filler.

  • If you REALLY want to experience Beowulf as it was meant to be experienced, LISTEN to it, don't read it! Even better, listen to it in the original Old English instead of a translation. The alliterative prose of the original is very powerful.

    When I was in college I held a reading of it at night on the beach around a roaring bon fire. I began reading a verse translation, but would slip into Old English at key points to accentuate the action. It worked really well, and people who didn't understand Old English still thought it was fantastic.

    There's an unabridged version on CD [amazon.com], however there is an abridged version on tape recorded in 1962 that sounds better, if you can find it.
  • According to the National Geographic Special that came with the 4 cd set (its great - get it -) the Finish Kalevala was more an influance than Beowulf to Tolkien. If you check this [nationalgeographic.com] page it lists some of the orgins of some of the character names in the LotR.

    People forget that Tolkien was one of the world's great authorities on all forms of Northen European Lang. and Lit. He had a lot more than Beowulf to draw on. Many linguists have commented on how much Tolkien leaned on Finnish when he created Elvish.

  • From the report:

    Tolkien's name on the cover is likely to make the translation a bestseller.

    I find this sad. What would be more praiseworthy would be if what was to make it a bestseller were the fact that somebody might be interested in another side to Tolkien. However, I suspect that this will be a huge bestseller that few purchasers will take the real time and effort required to understand in the context of Tolkien's major influences, and specifically Anglo-Saxon literature.

    My guess is n copies bought, n/10 copies read through.

    Of course, I am just an 3l33tist...
  • Clear Influence (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ahoehn (301327) <[nh.eoh] [ta] [werdna]> on Monday December 30, 2002 @03:25AM (#4980208) Homepage
    Disclaimer: IAAEMBNAP (I am an english major, but not a professor)

    When reading LOTR I always felt that Tolken used heroic and Arthurian styleing and language to wonderful effect. The first time I read LOTR when I was younger I felt that he must have just gotten confused near the end of his work when he extensively used heroic language, now re-reading it with a bit deeper appreciation of literary technique I am always impressed with the appropriateness of Tolken's use of heroic and Arthurian language. It's plain that Tolken used his intense immersion in the language of Heroic and Arthurian epics (imagine how intense the immersion must have been to learn the original language and then create a translation) to good effect in his writing.

    Having read Beowulf, Sir Gwain and the Green Knight, and LOTR all within the last 6 months a few distinct stylistic parallels have stood out to me. The romance between Eowyn and Aragorn is scented with the aura of Arthurian legends. They were always big on a sort of strange courtly love that at times bordered on infidelity, but was apparently socially acceptable. (Think Lancelot and Gwenevire). When looked at in the context of Arthurian legends the story of Eowyn and Aragorn makes a wonderful kind of sense, but without that context it can be a bit confusing. Likely that is why the movie chose to portray that story in a manner which isn't quite faithful to the literary effect of the book.

    The other strong prominent Aurtherian influence in LOTR seems to be the importance of 'doing the right thing'. While heroic epics like Beowulf, (and the Odyssey and others for that matter) are centered completely around the hero and his conception of right and wrong, Arthurian epics are based on a definite moral code, and their conflicts often rest on the 'the code' conflicting with the heroes personal desires. Look at the conflict between destroying the ring (the absolute good) and various characters' desires to use the ring to fulfill personal desires.

    The most Heroic "Beowulf'ian" part of LOTR is its' "improbability." In a heroic epic it's much more important for the story to come to its rightful conclusion than to have the taste of realism. Therefore it's perfectly acceptable, (and probably necessary) for Beowulf or Aragorn to perform unbelievable feats of strength, valor, or leadership. If the reader can get over their sense of the impossible, the feat's unbelievable'ness and the language's brief matter of fact descriptions will just push the reader further into the fantasy world and develop their feelings about the hero.

    Tragically post reads too much like an essay I'd write for an English class, but I was just impressed with the distinctness of the parallels when I read the article. The moral is that Tolken's study of Beowulf and Sir Gwain and the Green Knight probably had a bit to do with the way that LOTR turned out.
  • Grumble, mutter (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Rogerborg (306625)

    You see, this is why I'm so pissed off with the psuedo-Games Workshop fantasy armour and weapons in the film versions. LotR is clearly - explicitely, even - based on the Saxon period, which means elbow-and-mid-thigh length mail byrnies and spatulate broadswords with short crossguards and single hand grips, not proto-lorica segmentata and hand-and-a-half monstrosities.

    Er, or maybe I need to get laid more.

  • by po8 (187055)

    So what are the odds that this is a hoax/fraud?

    Surely if Tokien did a 2000-page translation of Beowulf, it would have taken long enough for someone to have noticed what he was up to, and remember it later? And the thumbprint thing sounds like a classic con.

    On the other hand, it seems likely that the Tolkien estate would have refused permission to publish unless they were convinced of the authenticity of the work, so perhaps there's more to it than the brief referenced story reports...

    Interesting timing, though.

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