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Bring On the Monsters: Tolkien's Translation of Beowulf To Be Published 94

Posted by samzenpus
from the when-grendel-met-sauron dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Tolkien was often criticized by his academic colleagues for wasting time on fiction, even though that fiction has probably done more to popularize medieval literature than the work of 100 scholars. Now John Garth reports that HarperCollins plans to publish Tolkien's long-awaited 1926 translation of the oldest surviving Old English epic poem about Beowulf, a hero of the Geats, who kills the monster Grendel with his bare hands and Grendel's mother with a sword of a giant that he found in her lair. Verlyn Flieger, identifies Beowulf as representing one of the two poles of Tolkien's imagination: the darker half, in which we all face eventual defeat – a complete contrast to the sudden joyous upturn of hope that he also expresses so superbly. 'In truth,' writes Garth, 'it is his ability to move between the two attitudes that really lends him emotional power as a writer.' Tolkien pushed the monsters to the forefront arguing that they 'represent the impermanence of human life, the mortal enemy that can strike at the heart of everything we hold dear, the force against which we need to muster all our strength – even if ultimately we may lose the fight.' Without the monsters, the peculiarly northern courage of Beowulf and his men is meaningless. Tolkien, veteran of the Somme, knew that it was not. 'It will be fascinating to see how [Tolkien] exercised his literary, historical and linguistic expertise on the poem,' concludes Garth adding that Tolkien was the arch-revivalist of literary medievalism, who made it seem so relevant to the modern world. 'I can't wait to see his version of the first English epic.'"
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Bring On the Monsters: Tolkien's Translation of Beowulf To Be Published

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:39PM (#46568455)

    The man's peculiar obsession with Old Norse mythology rivaled anything you would have found in Renaissance-era studies of classical Greek and Roman thought.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:49PM (#46568565)
    In what world is Tolkien not considered News for Nerds?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:50PM (#46568567)

    early 20th century. If Tolkien hadn't written Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion less than a hundred people currently alive would know who he was. Tolkien is remembered for Middle-earth, not for his scholarship. This is a work of scholarship, not Middle-earth, so the fact that it is something Tolkien produced is completely irrelevant.

    Had Tolkien not been a scholar, I seriously doubt his tales of Middle-Earth would have the depth, resonance, and staying power that they do have.

    So Tolkien's academic work is extremely relevant to his works of fiction.

  • by WilliamGeorge (816305) on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:50PM (#46568575)

    If you aren't a fan of Tolkien's writings, you can turn in your nerd card right now.

    I kid, of course... but only just barely...

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:52PM (#46568611)
    I recently sat through The Desolation of Smaug and now I have no appetite whatsoever to watch another Peter Jackson movie. It all started so promising The Fellowship of the Ring, but now his movies have more shark-jumping than Tolkien.
  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Monday March 24, 2014 @06:09PM (#46568805)
    The fact that the Lord of the Rings has appendices with back stories, histories, evolution of languages, and sorts of other little interesting tidbits quite clearly show Tolkien was not only an author but a scholar as well.
  • FINALLY! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jfengel (409917) on Monday March 24, 2014 @06:32PM (#46569073) Homepage Journal

    This has been talked about for decades, but it has sat on the shelf for reasons I haven't been able to figure out.

    I'd heard that it may literally have had to do with the handwriting: the man's handwriting was, shall we say, idiosyncratic, and it takes considerable effort to decipher. His son Christopher devoted a lifetime to it. John Rateliff, who did similar work for drafts of The Hobbit, consulted with a Tolkien graphologist in the process. (He was able to get a rough dating for one scrawl based on the details of the handwriting.) The fact that there even exists such a thing as a "Tolkien graphologist" is absurdly wonderfully.

    Anybody know who edited this piece? Is it Christopher?

    Regardless, I'm looking forward to this. "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics" was one of the most influential pieces of literary scholarship of the 20th century. It completely changed the way we look at Anglo-Saxon storytelling, and put fantasy literature on an entirely different footing. It's a magnificent piece of work, but not having his own translation of Beowulf available was maddening.

  • by pavon (30274) on Monday March 24, 2014 @06:41PM (#46569179)

    The translation of a literary work can be purely scholarly or purely artistic, but usually it is a mix of both. Given Tolkien's mastery of both worlds, and the fact that his love of Beowulf went far beyond linguistic and historical study, it is pretty clear that his translation will be of broad literary interest, not just scholarly.

  • "Given the loathing that Christopher Tolkien feels for the films"
    huh. Now I'm glad Jackson did them. Anything to get under that leeches skin is worth the price of admission.

  • This is a work of scholarship, not Middle-earth, so the fact that it is something Tolkien produced is completely irrelevant.

    False. When translating between languages, the personality and preferences of the translator are extremely relevant. As well, his actual skill at writing and size of vocabulary as well as his familiarity with the period (the scholarly part) determine the aptness of the translation: whether it actually manages to capture the feel of the original.

    Tolkien was an engaging author, therefore it's interesting (to some of us) to see what he did with the work.

  • by antifoidulus (807088) on Monday March 24, 2014 @11:03PM (#46570977) Homepage Journal
    And yes, I am a fan, I am literally in the fan club, had an 8 foot map of Middle Earth as a child and I wore a Frodo Lives! button.

    Could it also be that you are 20 years older than you were when you first read them? What enthralls us in middle school isn't necessarily what will entertain us when we get older. People, unlike books, change as they get older, and sometimes don't even notice themselves doing so...

Optimism is the content of small men in high places. -- F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Crack Up"

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