Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary” as Want to Read:
Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  8,567 ratings  ·  432 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Beowulf, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Beowulf

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  8,567 ratings  ·  432 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary
Sean Barrs
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
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
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
Jun 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: j-r-r-tolkien

For the strong have the right to rule

For with no honour one may as well be dead

For without one’s clan one has no purpose

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 alongsid
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
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
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
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
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
Nonethousand Oberrhein
To boldly go where monsters are fought
A multi-layered edition that offers different ways to be enjoyed. Be it with the Old English poem competent translation, or with the erudite commentaries to the translation, or with both authorial re-interpretations (in prose or in poem) of the fight with Grendel, the reader will find much to love about this book, about legends, and about the ancient civilisations the legends are made of. To be read with heart, head and guts… thanks professor Tolkien!
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.
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
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
Aug 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition


*frolics through a meadow of tiny pine trees and dragon scales*

Merged review:

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
Jeannette Nikolova
Also available on the WondrousBooks blog.

To begin, when I got this book, I kind of did not see the part after the colon, so I thought this was going to be a Beowulf retelling by Tolkien. In fact, this book is his translation of the Old English text from his early career as a translator, together with the lectures he taught in Oxford on the topic and edited by his son Christopher Tolkien.

When I was reading the book, I felt more drawn to its scholarly merit - the choice of words, the explanati
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
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
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
Maggi LeDuc
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned-books
This book was far harder to get through than I thought it'd be, but far worth the effort. I learned so many interesting new facts as well as got a lot out of the story itself. ...more
Mar 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorite-books, poems
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
Ness Kingsley
Listen, never have I wished to defenestrate a book as much as I did this one. It. Killed. Oh - the translation itself? Yeah. That was fine. I'm looking forward to reading a different translation, to have a different take on the same tale. Sellic Spell? Yes! Loved it. It was epic. There is a reason I've given it three stars.

The rest, you say. THE REST?!!! I was in no scholarly frame of mind. I picked up this book because I thought: hmm, Beowulf - that sounds like a real cool story. Do you think i
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
Kyriakos Sorokkou

 Δείτε την ελληνική κριτική στις βιβλιοαλχημείες.

«This review is dedicated to Ian Holm also known as Bilbo Baggins, who left for Valinor this Friday.»

I read a translation of this poem from an Oxford World's Classics edition late in 2014 Beowulf.
It was the year that Tolkien's translation of Beowulf was also published.
Tolkien is my favourite author so it was mandatory to buy his translation too.
I was waiting for the right moment (paperback) and when it was time I bought it.

What is The Iliad for An
Jon Beadle
Mar 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
How can a person read Tolkien and not be utterly delighted? In this volume you have a prose version of the original story, translated by Tolkien himself - the man responsible for single handedly resurrecting Beowulf studies in the west, much to the displeasure of high school students everywhere.

But the best parts are the moments when Tolkien uses the story to illustrate the fact that the author of Beowulf was most likely a Christian. This is significant, as Tolkien notes, because it reveals an
Peyton Carter
A couple years ago, I read a translation of Beowulf I found online. It was nearly impenetrable, but I think I preferred it to Tolkien’s translation simply because the poetic form carried me. Tolkien’s prose is, well, prosaic.

Tolkien’s poetry, however, and his re-write of Beowulf, Sellic Spell, did make this edition worth checking out.

On YouTube, you can find fan-made recordings of Tolkien’s poetry sung to the scores he wrote.

When it comes to Sellic Spell, it is interesting to see the way Tolk
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
May 21, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: gen-myth
Heaney's translation is my favourite (which is hardly an unpopular opinion to hold), so I remember being surprised that Tolkien's version was prose instead of poetry. The fact that Tolkien for all intents and purposes did not plan on its publication explains a lot about this loose translation and associated commentary - it was more of a diverting exercise instead of a scholarly endeavour. That said, I definitely enjoyed reading it! I would recommend this book to scholars or fans of Tolkien rathe ...more
Lino  Matteo
A translation and commentary
Together with Sellic Spell
J.R.R. Tolkien
Edited by Christopher Tolkien

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.
Jul 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Definitely not for everyone, but as a Tolkien dilettante, I was delighted to read both his translation and his insights on Beowulf. However, don't miss the "Sellic Spell," Tolkien's attempt to reconstruct the original Beowulf fairy story. It's a wonderful tale told by, in my opinion, the English language's premier storyteller. ...more
Dec 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

This was really hard read at the beginning, but after all it was a glorious journey! I even learned some Old English words: brúc ealles wel!
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Haney Hayes Promo...: Any YouTuber? 1 7 Jun 23, 2020 11:26PM  
Want to Explore t...: Beowulf 1 2 Jun 23, 2020 11:22PM  
LoTR precursor 2 37 Feb 25, 2015 07:04AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun
  • The Art of The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo
  • The Hobbit, or There and Back Again
  • Beowulf: A New Translation
  • The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays
  • The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún
  • The Fall of Arthur
  • Tolkien: Maker of Middle-earth
  • The Fellowship of the Ring (The Lord of the Rings, #1)
  • Tree and Leaf: Includes Mythopoeia and The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth
  • A Secret Vice
  • The History of the Hobbit, Part One: Mr. Baggins
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Art of the Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Atlas of Middle-Earth
  • The Story of Kullervo
  • A Tolkien Bestiary
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Books can be attributed to "Unknown" when the author or editor (as applicable) is not known and cannot be discovered. If at all possible, list at least one actual author or editor for a book instead of using "Unknown".

Books whose authorship is purposefully withheld should be attributed instead to Anonymous.

Related Articles

Danielle Evans was just 26 when she released her short story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self in 2010, a multi-award-winning...
17 likes · 1 comments
“Fate oft saveth a man not doomed to die, when his valour fails not.” 0 likes
More quotes…