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The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays

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3.93  ·  Rating details ·  3,915 ratings  ·  110 reviews
The seven essays by J.R.R. Tolkien assembled in this new paperback edition were with one exception delivered as general lectures on particular occasions; and while they mostly arose out of Tolkiens work in medieval literature, they are accessible to all. Two of them are concerned with Beowulf, including the well-known lecture whose title is taken for this book, and one ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published May 2nd 2006 by HarperCollins (first published 1983)
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Nikki
Oct 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
Tolkien was a pretty devastatingly smart guy, who didn't only create a world and languages of his own, but was a serious and intelligent scholar who knew many languages, modern and archaic, and had a wide interest in different literatures and mythologies. This volume contains seven of his academic essays: for a modern academic, the volume of his work -- however influential and inspiring -- would be insufficient, with the pressure to publish all the time. Good thing he isn't a contemporary ...more
Dana
Jul 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I wish had Professor Tolkien around to pick his brain, but this book is an adequate substitute, and, I think, indispensable for anyone who teaches Beowulf. Tolkien's titular essay is largely responsible for changing the attitude toward Beowulf in literary circles. The epic was considered important for what it could teach us of the Anglo-Saxons, but it was Tolkien who convinced the literati that it had literary merit, too. Highly recommended to fans of Beowulf.
Neil
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Prior to the delivery and publication of these lectures in 1936 the poem of Beowulf was mined by scholars looking to find information on Germanic antiquities, some for nationalistic reasons and others out of a genuine interest in the past, but few explored the poem for its own literary merits.

Major publications on the poem included works by Axel Olrik and R.W. Chambers, while both books made vast explorations into the origin of the legends and comparisons between Scandinavian material, neither
...more
Bryn Hammond
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: epic-and-romance
The title essay (still going for best title of a critical essay) together with 'On Translating Beowulf' capture that poem, at least if you are a romantic like me. Gloriously written and elegiac in mood, these may rob your heart, and perhaps you can cheat, read them instead of Beowulf and yet understand.
Molly
Apr 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
5 Stars because I'm biased on anything Tolkien. :) I skipped the Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight essays because I haven't read the stories yet and I want to read them before I read Tolkien analyze them.
On Fairy Stories is an excellent essay that I enjoyed thoroughly.
The Valedictory Address was a bit tricky to follow but maybe when I read more about what Tolkien did when he was working at University it will make more sense.

5 Stars because it's Tolkien and he writes very well.
Ron
Aug 27, 2013 rated it really liked it
An extraordinary collection of Tolkien essays from the 1930s to 1950s. Make no mistake, these addresses were serious presentations to serious, and qualified audiences; which the casual reader is not.

His essays on Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight changed my perception of those works. His essay on translating Beowulf adds to my appreciation of the challenges of both translators and readers of translated texts. His On Fairy tales I have lauded elsewhere, was it appears also in The
...more
Erin
Feb 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Defenders of Myth
Recommended to Erin by: Same professor in Anglo-Saxon class where I read Liuzza's Beowul
The first time I read it, I swooned. Then I revisited it in grad school, and I swooned again. There is only one author I've ever read who would not only understand but also think to write the following:

"And in the poem I think we may observe not confusion, a half-hearted or a muddled business, but a fusion that has occurred at a given point of contact between old and new, a product of thought and deep emotion.
"One of the most potent elements in that fusion is the Northern courage: the theory of
...more
Snowfalcon
Mar 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The title essay is approaching 90 years old and remains both readable and important.

In a few pages Tolkien elucidates a few principles which are still incompletely grasped.

First, that the art and acts of our ancestors were not crude, quaint and haphazard.

Second, that a thing -- be it poetry or a tree -- should be taken for what it is, and respected by exploring what it is without preconceptions. Let a thing stand on it's own a bit before rushing to prop it up.

Third, upon those themes he guides
...more
ika
May 06, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is the best insight into Tolkiens professorial capacity. Not only was he a great author, but also a very influential scholar. His most famous essay, The Monsters and the Critics changed completely the way of approaching Beowulf as a work of art, and not only an archeological finding that may shed some light on the historical mysteries.
All in all, it was a great read. I recommend it to anyone who is at least a tiny bit interested in early-medieval literature or fantasy.
...more
Tommy Grooms
Apr 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays by J.R.R. Tolkien is an incredible collection of essays/lectures, including his most seminal and famous. Worth the price of admission alone is Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, in which Tolkien defends Beowulf as literature rather than a mere historical curiosity; and On Fairy Stories, where Tolkien lays out his theories on the fantasy genre. This collection is an absolute staple to appreciating the creator of Middle-earth. ...more
Haplila
Jul 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I already loved LOTR, and this book made me love that series even more. My favorite essay out of the collection was "On Fairy Stories." Whether you're a writer or a reader, it's definitely worth investing some time into. You'll walk away from it with a new appreciation for the significance of stories in our lives.
Phillip
Jan 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Tolkien's "The Monsters and the Critics" was a speech he gave when he received one of his academic chairs. The speech single highhandedly revived the discipline of Anglo Saxon studies from a dying thing to something we are still studying.
This speech presents one of the few times the author used allegory.
Brandon
5 stars but only for people interested in either Beowulf, Tolkien, or Bilbo (if you read it in his voice, this essay is quite endearing).
Lucinda
May 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
*review to be posted*
Eustacia Tan
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
It's a good thing that this is a book of essays because it's easy to read about one a day (although it's not a light read). The Monsters and the Critics is a collection of essay/lectures given by J. R. R. Tolkien. The essays are:

Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics: I realised how rusty the 'literature' part of my brain was because this was difficult for me and it's not aimed at a scholarly audience!

On Translating Beowulf: see comments above

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: this was interesting
...more
Michael Arnold
Jan 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is an excellent collection of essays, with some really great pieces I will be reading again. I really do love Tolkien's non-Middle Earth stuff, it's a shame it doesn't get more attention, because it absolutely deserves it.

Through Tolkien's mastery of ancient languages, and poetry of the medieval age like Beowulf (which gets two essays here dedicated to it) and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Tolkien offers insights that few others can in such an engaging way. But it's his love of
...more
Thordur
I read this in Icelandic. Tolkien wrote an essay in the 1930s about Bjólfskviða which belongs to the Nordic literature. Tolkien actually never came to Iceland but despite that he did have the ability to read Icelandic fluently. From this source Bjólfskviða he was most likely having inspiration to write the Lord of the Rings. Still Bjólfskviða is written as poetry about a viking time bravery and fights with dragons.

Ég las þetta lærdómsrit á einu kvöldi eða svo. Bókin er 104 bls hvað varðar
...more
Nicholas Whyte
Jun 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
http://nwhyte.livejournal.com/2154968.html

This is a collection of seven lectures by Tolkien, of which I think I had previously read only "On Fairy Stories" and "A Secret Vice". As always, they are an interesting insight into how his mind worked, or at least how he wanted us to think it worked. The more academic pieces (in particular the second, "On Translating Beowulf") are somewhat moored in academic controversies of their time, which may or may not have subsided by now and which in any case I
...more
Jenny
Jan 06, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the last three essays in this book much more than the first few. Tolkien's analyses and arguments for his value of Beowulf and Sir Gawain came off to me pedantic and overly intellectual. His passion was clear, but I didn't find the narrow topics interesting enough for a general readership. These essays would make sense as reading assignments in an English graduate-level course, but I couldn't get into them just for fun. The last few essays were much more interesting to me. I enjoyed ...more
Melora
Jun 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
I picked this for the title essay, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics," and also the one on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Those did Not disappoint, and "On Fairy-Stories" was also very good (I'd read it before, but it had been a while!). With the other essays in this collection, there was always Some interesting stuff, but also a fair lot that was either beyond my understanding (especially the case with "On Translating Beowulf," although, having just read Tolkien's newly released Beowulf, ...more
Gretchen
Jun 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historical
Tolkien is brilliantly insightful on a level that few achieve. His knowledge of language and literature shines in these essays. The five star rating is for a literary scholar. For a fan only of Tolkien's fiction, this may or may not be interesting. But for anyone interested in Anglo Saxon or medieval lit, or in linguistic distinctions, this book is a treasure.

Essays include an analysis of Beowulf as a poem, Gawain, the process of creating languages, and drawing distinctions within the
...more
Daniel
Apr 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Quite possibly the best literary essay ever published. Here, the author of the Lord of the Rings takes aim at scholars who would dismiss the literary merit of the greatest poem published between the fall of Rome and the Thirteenth Century because (dear me!) there are monsters in it. It is a wonderful (if at times dense) reflection on the importance of such supernatural elements in heroic tales.

Could be read in tandem with Matt Kaplan's most excellent Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite -- on the
...more
Snufkin
Apr 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As of yesterday I am a proud owner of this boxed set! Thank you local charity shop.
It is a wonderful collection of his shorter, lighter tales. Whilst still having lots of depth. Tree and leaf is particularly wonderful.
Eadweard
Fantastic essays, Tolkien's love for languages and myths permeates through all of them. I specially liked "Welsh and English".
Cyr
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
This inclusion of "On Fairy-Stories" alone makes this collection worth having. That essay, with its unfortunate and uninspiring title, changed my life. I had always felt vaguely guilty that I was so drawn to fantasy literature, feeling almost that I was "cheating on reality", that I should be more in love with the real world than any fictional one. "On Fairy-Stories" helped cure me of that guilt, and see that the best myths can reveal the truth about the nature of the universe we live in better ...more
Lynne
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This review only covers the 1936 edition, which contained only this one lecture. It was given by an academic, to academics - have your facing-page translation of the poem handy, unless you already read Old English; also have your Latin dictionary and classical mythology references standing by.

This is the original lecture that Tolkien gave to the British Academy about the effect of Beowulf on English literature through history, but especially in the 19th Century. His main focus is on how the
...more
Logan
Nov 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: on-writing
The title essay, I would say is one of the most useful essays I've ever read in thinking about writing and/or literary criticism. Many people reference the Secret Vice essay which is later in the book, but I think this first one does a fantastic job of highlighting how quickly literary criticism can become garbage (not Tolkien's words) when the folks doing the critique are too far removed or ignorant to the full scope of the language and the literary history (not just wars, dates and figures ...more
Justin Wiggins
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This essay compilation, edited by Tolkien's son Christopher Tolkien, was challenging, inspiring, and profoundly moving. I still remember the night I purchased my copy of this from Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford, England. My favorite essay (they are all good in their own right) is Tolkien's essay on fairy stories he gave as a lecture at St. Andrew' in Scotland in 1939. It is a powerful philosophical work that explores the phenomenon of human consciousness, myth, storytelling, and religion. ...more
Vee
Jan 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
I did not read every essay but as a fan of Tolkien, his creative process, and the fascinating world of languages modern and ancient, I very much enjoyed those I did read. I skipped Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Im not well versed in Beowulf so I got little from the titular essay but was deeply interested in On Translating Beowulf, through which I learned a great deal about Old English. A Secret Vice and On Fairy Stories are probably the most accessible to Middle-earth fans. With the exception ...more
Kim
Jul 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
A fascinating, if dense and academic look at several topics related to the relationship between language and literature. Of particular interest to me was 'On Fairy Stories', which is a passionate defense of fantasy and fairy stories. There are so many 'serious literary writers' who are dismissive of genre fiction, as though literary fiction has a corner on describing the human condition. As an Oxford don, Tolkien was uniquely situated to defend fairy stories clearly and with examples of fairy ...more
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Studi Tolkieniani: Il medioevo e il fantastico 10 27 Dec 27, 2012 06:43AM  

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55,948 followers
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE was an English writer, poet, WWI veteran (a First Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers, British Army), philologist, and university professor, best known as the author of the high fantasy classic works The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings .

Tolkien was Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford from 1925 to 1945, and Merton Professor of English
...more

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