Lo! Today is a good day for Tolkien fans. Following up on last spring’s publication of the Fall of Arthur is the publication of Tolkien’s translation and commentary on the great Anglo Saxon poem, Beowulf. HarperCollins has announced that “J.R.R. Tolkien: Beowulf a Translation and Commentary” edited by Christopher Tolkien will be published May 22 of this year.
Christopher Tolkien states, “‘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 lectures given at Oxford in the 1930s; and from these lectures a substantial selection has been made, to form also a commentary on the translation in this book.”
Along with the Beowulf translation and commentary, we will also be getting Tolkien’s own previously unpublished Anglo Saxon/ English folktale inspired story, “Sellic Spell.” Like many of his works, the manuscript of “Sellic Spell” has been kept in Oxford’s Bodleian library, but since its access has been restricted, we are especially lucky to be able to read it come May. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will be the exclusive American publisher. And from their twitter page it seems they are as excited as the fans: “HMH Trade @HMHbooks 5h Big news this AM. We’re ecstatic to be publishing Tolkien’s translation of BEOWULF in the US in May! #TolkiensBeowulf”
Tolkien’s 1936 lecture titled, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” and his essay, “On Translating Beowulf” have both been available since they were published alongside five other of his essays (including his famous “On Fairy Stories”) in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays. Through them we not catch a glimpse of Tolkien’s appreciation for the poem, but the depth of his knowledge:
“The significance of a myth is not easily to be pinned on paper by analytical reasoning. It is at its best when it is presented by a poet who feels rather than makes explicit what his theme portends; who presents it incarnate in the world of history and geography, as our poet has done.”
–From “Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics”
There is no doubt that Tolkien’s understanding, respect, and true love of Beowulf will make his translation of the poem extraordinary.