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Tolkien’s BEOWULF Translation to be Published After 90 Years

Author J.R.R. Tolkien wasn’t just a creator of fantastical realms and long-lost languages, he was also a great scholar of literature and mythology from all the way back in what we now refer to as “The Day.” Now, it seems, nearly 90 years after the Lord of the Rings creator translated the Old English epic poem Beowulf, his work will finally be published for all to see. This is according to a Guardian article in which Tolkien’s son and current editor Christopher says, though J.R.R. put in all the work to translating it, he “seems never to have considered its publication.” That’s J.R.R. Tolkien for you, folks; He translated one of the densest works of literature for FUN.

The 11th Century epic poem tells the story of the titular prince who becomes a hero by slaying the monster Grendel and his mother, then gets killed by a dragon many years later. One of the oldest pieces of English myth, Beowulf has been adapted for the screen dozens of times, perhaps most famously in Robert Zemeckis’s ode to the Uncanny Valley in 2007. For any of you who were assigned to read it in school, the title of the longest epic poem in all of Old English is probably a word of dread. However, Tolkien’s version might just be the one we can connect to.

Tolkien said the tome was “laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination”, saying that “the whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real.” Considering Tolkien wrote his Middle-Earth volumes as a reaction to the ending of England’s personal mythology owing to the Norman Invasion of 1066, he likely saw the anonymously-written poem as one of the last great pieces of true English myth.

Art by NDHill (

Art by NDHill (

His translation of Beowulf will see publication on the 22nd of May this year in a volume called Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. This will include both his 1927 translation of the 3182 line poem, transcriptions of lectures he gave at the University of Oxford in the 1930s, and his own short story, Sellic Spell.

Christopher Tolkien said of his father’s lectures: “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.”

We’re looking forward to one of the greatest proponents of modern myth tackling a behemoth of epic poetry before he’d written a single Hobbit. What do you think? Are you ready for New-Old Tolkien?

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  1. Bohemond says:

    Shar, that’s an astonishingly ill-informed comment. If Christopher Tolkien had wanted to “cash in”, as you put it, all he ghad to do was sign a few licensing agreements and rake in the cash from merchandising tat without lifting a finger, like Saul Zaentz.

    Instead, he is still working in his 90th year, very hard work as anyone knows who has worked with Tolkien’s often illegible manuscripts, and made available a trove of literary material unmatched for that of any 20th century author, a hoard which will occupy Tolkien scholars for generations.

  2. Ross says:

    Finally. After reading his poem/dialogue on the Battle of Maldon, I instantly wished we’d had access to his translation of Beowulf. Can’t wait.

  3. Ken B says:

    Two things inspired me to be an English teacher: 1. Tolkien and 2. Beowulf……this is a dream come true!

  4. Amy says:

    I think the translation would be a delight to read especially if you read the poem at any point in your life. It would be like revisiting an old friend whom you not seen in a long while, one who has aged but still is familiar. Comfort on a whole new level.

  5. Shar says:

    Definitely exciting, and definitely want this, but I’m almost reluctant to keep giving money to a man, who unlike his incredible and talented father who wrote purely for the joy of writing, seems only in it for whatever money he can make from it. I think I’ll hold a decision on purchasing till I see what he intends charging us.

  6. I am soooooo excited about this publication – I’ve been waiting so many years for this and boom! Out of the blue you get this piece of news!

    Made my day!

  7. Kristen W says:

    Translation of an Epic, and transcripts of teachings from a master? Yes please!

  8. Josh Zeller says:

    that’s really cool, like going back to the source material for all fantasy with the man who is essentially the genre’s creator.

  9. Joel Becker says:

    Yes, yes I am.