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

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 MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:52PM (#46568597) Journal

    Part of it was his love of Germanic languages. Part of it was that the Germanic pagan folk and religious traditions were best preserved into Christian times by Norse chroniclers, whereas the West and East Germanic traditions were largely lost. To get at the English mythology he so wanted to see, the only real route was through the Scandinavians.

    That being said, Beowulf is an Old English poem, even though it describes events in Denmark. I don't anyone knows if Beowulf has a history before the 7th century, so whether it was someone writing down an old tale known from the time before the Anglo-Saxon invasions of England, or a unique work all its own is unknown.

    The Germanic peoples lived in an interesting complex of related cultures and languages in the early centuries AD, and while Germanic had already split into its major divisions; West Germanic (ancestor of English, Dutch and German), East German (Gothic, long extinct) and Northern (the Scandinavian languages), there was a considerable amount of commonality between these groups. Particularly in and around modern Denmark, the West and Northern Germanic peoples lived in close quarters, so it wouldn't be surprising if North Germanic tales made it into the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

  • One needn't stretch too far, to view Beowulf as the literary manifestation of an older, orally transmitted tradition. The "Geats" are derived etymologically from the "Goths", the famous early Germanic people known to the latest classical antiquarians: [] []

    Funny, to classify this as "Northern". The eventual disposition of the Germanic people were in Europe's outer northwest regions, but the culturally defining aspect of the people were present, even as they were occupants of the Balkan peninsula, and swathes of steppe, far to the east.

    The Indo-Iranic hero tradition is similar in ethos and story development to the Teutonic myths. Small reason for surprise, really - when one considers the near common origin of Caucasus and steppe tribes, some which eventually invaded as Aryans in Asia, others who pushed westward as proto-Germanic migration and invasion.

  • Inseparable (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2014 @07:36PM (#46569631)

    Tolkien's major contribution to the study of Beowulf was to assert that it was more than just a bit of antiquarian poetry to be mined for fragments of linguistic and historical, but rather a work of art to be appreciated as poetry – monsters, dragons and all. That he also crafted legends to be enjoyed for their own sake (rather than as quasi-historical pastiche a la William Morris) is no accident. His translation of Beowulf (and the 'Monsters and Critics' material that will be published in that volume) is an exemplar of his thesis on story-telling and legend.

  • by tepples ( 727027 ) <> on Monday March 24, 2014 @08:25PM (#46570025) Homepage Journal

    and they can make a movie out of it.

    Robert Zemeckis already did, over half a decade ago [].

The best defense against logic is ignorance.