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Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  5,442 Ratings  ·  296 Reviews
The translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was an early work, very distinctive in its mode, completed in 1926: he returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication. This edition is twofold, for there exists an illuminating commentary on the text of the poem by the translator himself, in the written form of a series of lect ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published August 4th 2015 by Mariner Books (first published May 22nd 2014)
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Bookdragon Sean
The story of Beowulf is a timeless tale full of blood, glory and passion. It’s a fantastic epic and I love reading it. The Seamus Heaney translation is right on the mark.

Tolkien’s version, however, is prose. And I find this a little odd because part of the beauty of an epic is the poetry in which it’s told through. Tolkien’s certainly has a strong rhythm, and it flows forward eloquently, but it’s not divided into lines and the words and sentences merge into paragraphs rather than stanzas.

For m
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Richard
This book contains Tolkien's scholarship, comments and literary output inspired by Beowulf, one of the oldest and longest surviving poems in Old English. Many readers know and venerate him as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (LOTR). But this is a timely reminder of the academic side of his life.

In his prose translation, Tolkien strives to reflect something of the rhythm, cadence and beauty of the original. The comments on the technical aspects of the text, taken from lectures d
...more
Terry
4.5 stars

I'm already an admirer of the poem Beowulf (and Old English literature in general) and am also a die-hard Tolkien fan so the fact that I loved this book isn’t perhaps a surprise. I certainly expected to like it when I started, but wasn’t prepared for the fact that it would reveal to me a side of Tolkien of which I was always generally aware, but never gave enough thought to. I refer, of course, to his position as a scholar, and specifically one of Old English language and literature. I
...more
Lucinda
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: j-r-r-tolkien

STRENGTH IS LIFE
For the strong have the right to rule

HONOUR IS LIFE
For with no honour one may as well be dead

LOYALTY IS LIFE
For without one’s clan one has no purpose

DEATH IS LIFE
One should die as they have lived


A hero is someone who steps up when everyone else backs down ..


JRR Tolkien’s distinctive, idiosyncratic translation of the epic, Anglo-Saxon poem shows a simplistic clarity of vision.
You can feel everything as though subconsciously you’re a part of the past. [I.e. standing alongside
...more
Nikki
I'm full of wonder right now. Not so much at the translation of Beowulf -- Tolkien was well-versed in the language and knew what he was doing, and the tone is often reminiscent of The Lord of the Rings, which emphasises his attempts to weave his own stories with the old stories of England -- but at all the commentary published together here. Pretty much every issue I considered in my undergraduate class/es on Beowulf is touched on here -- the pagan aspects, the episodes, potential interpolations ...more
Stephanie
Mar 22, 2014 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I'M SO EXCITED

I JUST CAN'T HIDE IT

*frolics through a meadow of tiny pine trees and dragon scales*
Joseph Fountain
The Geat Warrior (not a typo, not Great Warrior, but Geat Warrior), Beowulf does battle with the Demon Grendel, Grendel's mother, and a dragon.

Even in translation, this is still a bit challenging to read in spots. Still, it is an exciting tale, and an important piece of literature.

No whit do I account myself in my warlike stature a man more despicable in deeds of battle than Grendel doth himself. Therefore I will not with sword give him the sleep of death, although I well could. Nought doth he k
...more
Robert
Tolkien made this translation of the most famous extant Anglo Saxon poem early in his career. It's prose which disappointed me when I found out - after purchase! - it is very rhythmical, but I don't suppose it approximates the experience of reading the original very well. Still, I've always liked the story. Flagon thinks the Dragon is hard done by and that everybody (including the Dragon) should have calmed down and discussed the situation properly - that's what he'd have done! Then Beowulf coul ...more
Keith Davis
There is a famous quote about poetry translations that says if a translation is faithful then it is not beautiful and if it is beautiful then it is not faithful. Tolkien's translation of Beowulf is extremely faithful.

Tolkien was a scholar of Old English and wrote a paper titled "Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics" which is considered one of the most significant works in Beowulf scholarship. He was of course also the grandfather of all modern Fantasy fiction. These two factors taken together m
...more
Althea Ann
Aug 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's strange that Tolkien is credited with kickstarting modern scholarship on 'Beowulf,' yet, until now, his translation was unpublished.
I've read other translations before, but I don't recall which ones specifically. I followed this reading up directly with the Heaney translation, which is apparently the standard in today's college classes. (It wasn't yet published either, last time I read 'Beowulf.') The Tolkien direct translation is more 'difficult,' but both (I cannot verify, but I got the
...more
Suzannah
Oct 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, poetry
Tolkien's translation is amazing.

I've yet to read the commentaries.
Stephanie
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Translation: 3/5 stars - prose, a little archaic, good translation of the gist of the text but loses a lot of the imagery and poetry

Commentary: 5/5 stars - I learned a lot and it is frightening how much Tolkien knows about this subject

Sellic Spell: 4/5 stars - cool retelling, bro

Lay of Beowulf: 3/5 stars - kinda random, leaves a lot out, but a very nice little poem
Rossdavidh
Mar 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: green
I read "Beowulf" as a child, or perhaps in my early teens, when I found it while staying at my grandparents' house during the summer. I retained some dim memories of the story, mixed up a bit with parts of "Grendel" by John Gardner which I read in high school, but not enough for me to really compare Tolkien's translation to the Burton Raffell version I read, uh, gosh, 35-40 years ago. I can say, however, that reading Tolkien's translation (with notes) is a lot like taking a course in a topic you ...more
Othy
An amazing addition to Beowulf scholarship. In his commentary on the poem, Tolkien demonstrates the argument of his seminal Beowulf essay: that the poem is best read as a poem, not either as a purely historic document (as it was in his day) nor as a New-historical document (as it too often is in our day). Tolkien's readings keep the poem from fragmenting into a mass of confusion but instead shows it as a work of a variety of interconnected parts: it pulls from historical knowledge and fable/tale ...more
Lisa
May 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-favourites
I always find it interesting to read Tolkien's ventures outside of Middle Earth but really, reading his most recently released works such as The Fall of Arthur and this, his own translation of the original old english epic, Beowulf, it doesn't feel a world apart from the world Hobbits inhabit. The reason for this is that Tolkien, once a professor of Ango-saxon at Oxford University, was obviously influenced by the literary works he delivered lectures on.
His interest in old languages lead him to
...more
Terence
Mar 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Go here to see my review of this version.
Cáitín  Ní Loingeacháin
This is the second translation I have read on Beowulf and must say I found that it was easier to follow then the first. I enjoy the break down and the reasons given for the word choices and also what the authors thought about ideas that have been spoken on
Ron
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beowulf is a unique work in the history of English literature. By chance—or providence—this single Old English tale survives, giving moderns a window into a world, and a language, very different from our own. And yet a culture and language which was our direct antecedent. More than you want to know about this epic poem can be found on Wikipedia.

J. R. R. Tolkien undertook this prose translation early (1920s) in his tenure as a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford. The accompanying
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Jeremy
I read Sellic Spell: The Final Text (pp. 360–86)—Tolkien's "attempt to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon tale that lies behind the folk-tale element in Beowulf" (p. 355; cf. p. xiii: "an imagined story of Beowulf in an early form")—on July 6, 2016. Surprisingly humorous. Sellic Spell means "wondrous tale" or "strange tale" (p. 358) or "marvellous tale" (p. 348) and is used in Beowulf: "some wondrous tale rehearsed in order due" (p. 74, emphasis added; see p. 349: "It was not just a wild invention, but ...more
Viktoria
Mar 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Красиво.
Marko Vasić
I do love Tolkien's lectures and notes enclosed to translations, but his translations (both Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight) I find somehow "dry", scholarly accurate and highbrow, hence I endure much to keep attention on lines. The only reason that I gave 5 stars is that after Tolkien's translations, any other translation is mere easy to comprehend and enjoy in. Thus I consider professor's notes and commentary as legit didactic tool 🙂. On the other hand - Christopher Tolkien is sheer ...more
Lino's Version
Beowulf
A translation and commentary
Together with Sellic Spell
J.R.R. Tolkien
Edited by Christopher Tolkien
2014

It is well laid out, but too scholarly for a light read. Not really in the mood to study. Quick read…but did not get into it.
Tom
May 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have sometimes heard people remark on the sense of loss that is so prominent in Tolkien's fiction, and wonder where it comes from. It is convenient and probably not incorrect to point to his experiences in World War One and the deaths of all but one of his closest friends by 1918. John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War is a worthwhile read on this score, as is Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory (though he never mentions Tolkien). But if you're familiar with The Lord of the Rings, y ...more
Jennifer
I am the perfect target-audience for this book: I studied Old English in college, I teach Beowulf to high school students, and I have loved everything Tolkien-related since I was a kid. I didn't just read and re-read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings growing up; when I got to college I studied OE, Icelandic sagas, German medieval literature, and Nordic mythology because I wanted to read and study the same stuff Tolkien spent his professional teaching life reading and studying. So this new tra ...more
David Mosley
Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Christopher Tolkien must see the end of his career (and life) in the not too distant future. The rapidity with which previously unpublished works of his father have been coming out in the last 3 decades is staggering when all is considered. That said, I love Christopher Tolkien for it and the Tolkien Estate and the fans of Tolkien (not simply the fans of any one of his works) will be the lesser for it.

What Christopher Tolkien has provided us with in this volume is threefold. The first is Tolkien
...more
Joshua Nuckols
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I especially liked Tolkien's poem: The Lay of Beowulf. I want to sing it as a ballad.
Steve Cran
Aug 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Beowulf

Most known for Hobbit and mysterious rings, author JRR Tolkien gives over a translation of an ancient Norse tale while his son Christopher gives some rather informative and interesting tidbits of information. Along with the usual translation and background information JRR gives over his own rendering of the tale.

As the story goes a monster named Grendel is  terrorizing King Wrothgars famous hall Heorot. THe Ogre devours people whole. Hearing of  this from the land of the Geats is Beowulf
...more
Alex Telander
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In addition to creating the first fantasy epic, inventing a complete and insanely, thoroughly detailed world, and even making up its own language and alphabet, as well as teaching for decades, the great J. R. R. Tolkien also wrote a translation to the famous epic Old English poem “Beowulf.” Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary edited by his son, Christopher Tolkien, reveals this translation in its entirety for the first time, and so much more.

Tolkien completed his first translation of “Beowulf”
...more
Steve Goble
I had been waiting for someone to publish this for a long time.

The translation itself is wonderful, a prose rendering that yet retains some of the poetry and alliteration of Anglo-Saxon verse. The rhythm and drive particularly pick up in the latter third when the dragon enters the tale. I think Seamus Heaney's telling is more to my liking, but this is close on its heels.

This book contains some bonuses. "Sellic Spell" is a folk tale rendering of the Grendel and his dam segment of the poem, in str
...more
Will Fleming
May 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
Plenty to enjoy here for both Tolkien fans & Beowulf fans. The commentary is long, complicated, and very, very in-depth: it's a nice insight into Tolkien-as-professor, instead of the Tolkien-as-writer I think most of us are more familiar with. The "alternative" takes on the story at the end are a nice bonus, as well: "Sellic Spell" is Beowulf retold more like a fairy tale, and two versions of the "The Lay of Beowulf" indicate how Tolkien might have approached a verse translation of the story ...more
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