After a 90-Year Wait, J.R.R. Tolkien's Translation of 'Beowulf' Will be Published by HarperCollins

By Louise Burton on Mar 22, 2014 06:47 PM EDT

Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien's writing know that very few works of high fantasy can compare to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and his other writings about Middle Earth. So the news that, at long last, Tolkien's translation of Beowulf will be published in May should be a cause for rejoicing.

Tolkien completed his translation 88 years ago, in 1926, but apparently never considered publishing it. His son Christopher edited the translation for publication. The HarperCollins edition will also include "Sellic Spell," a story based on Beowulf that Tolkien wrote in the style of an Old English folktale.

Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English. It is the story of the Geatish prince Beowulf and how he comes to the aid of Danish king Hrothgar by slaying the monster Grendel. The poem also details how Beowulf himself is mortally wounded by a dragon years later.

As a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, Tolkien would have had a deep knowledge of this epic poem. It proved to be a fount of inspiration to which he returned again and again throughout his writing career.

From his first poem about Middle-Earth in 1914, to the theft of a cup from a dragon's lair in The Hobbit, and onward to the horse-lords of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings, the influence of Beowulf shines through in Tolkien's writing.

Tolkien also gave a series of illuminating lectures on Beowulf at Oxford in the 1930s, the text of which will be included with this translation.

Tolkien's son said that these lectures reveal "a sense of the immediacy and clarity of his vision."

"It is as if he entered into the imagined past: standing beside Beowulf and his men shaking out their mail-shirts as they beached their ship on the coast of Denmark, listening to the rising anger of Beowulf at the taunting of Unferth, or looking up in amazement at Grendel's terrible hand set under the roof of Heorot," he said.

Tolkien's translation will join a number of other translations of Beowulf that exist, including poet Seamus Heaney's 2001 translation, considered by many to be the definitive contemporary version of the epic.

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TagsJ.R.R. Tolkien, Beowulf, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, Oxford, Seamus Heaney, Christopher Tolkien, HarperCollins

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