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Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary

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3.84  ·  Rating details ·  7,833 ratings  ·  375 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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Average rating 3.84  · 
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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
...more
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
L
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 alongsid
...more
Nicky
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*
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
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
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
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!
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
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
...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
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
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.
Cáitín
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
...more
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
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
...more
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
...more
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.
Mitchell
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.
Bojana
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!
Bárbara Costa
Well, now I don't know whether I should envy or feel sorry for the people who studied this in depth, but that was way more difficult than I had anticipated.
Unrelated, but the Sellic Spell and poem at the end were neat addictions to the great epic tale.
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
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