Tolkien's 'New' Labor of Love: Beowulf

'Lost' Beowulf translation published almost 90 years later
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted May 19, 2014 12:18 PM CDT
Tolkein's 'New' Labor of Love: Beowulf
This 1967 photo shows JRR Tolkien. author of "The Lord of the Rings" and an Oxford University Professor.   (AP Photo)

In 1926, an Oxford University professor named JRR Tolkien finished a translation of Beowulf—in his words, the "greatest of the surviving works of ancient English poetic art." Tolkien called the 11th-century work "sombre, tragic, sinister," and "curiously real," the Guardian notes. Elements of its story—battling monsters, stealing treasure—should be familiar to Lord of the Rings fans, a scholar tells the New York Times. But the translation itself was never published. Tolkien didn't love it and kept it to himself, even as his academic work helped the poem win new scholarly respect.

With its publication Thursday, fans of Tolkien and Beowulf will soon have their hands on Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. The book includes the 90-page translation from Old English and 320 pages of notes, stories, and other Tolkien work inspired by the poem. Not all are excited about the translation's release, however, given that the author didn't want it published. "If Tolkien knew that was going to happen, he would have invented the shredder," a Beowulf scholar tells the Times. (More JRR Tolkien stories.)

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