A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell
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. From his creative attention to detail in these lectures there arises 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 Grendels terrible hand set under the roof of Heorot. But the commentary in this book includes also much from those lectures in which, while always anchored in the text, he expressed his wider perceptions. He looks closely at the dragon that would slay Beowulf snuffling in baffled rage and injured greed when he discovers the theft of the cup; but he rebuts the notion that this is a mere treasure story, just another dragon tale. He turns to the lines that tell of the burying of the golden things long ago, and observes that it is the feeling for the treasure itself, this sad history that raises it to another level. The whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real. The treasure is not just some lucky wealth that will enable the finder to have a good time, or marry the princess. It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination. Sellic Spell, a marvellous tale, is a story written by Tolkien suggesting what might have been the form and style of an Old English folk-tale of Beowulf, in which there was no association with the historical legends of the Northern kingdoms.
About this Author
J.R.R. Tolkien is best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, selling 150 million copies in more than 60 languages worldwide. He died in 1973 at the age of 81. Christopher Tolkien, born on 21 November 1924, was the third son of J.R.R. Tolkien. During the Second World War he served in the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm as a pilot. At the end of the war he returned to Oxford University and became a Fellow and Tutor in English of New College in 1964, lecturing in the University on early English and northern literature. Appointed by J.R.R. Tolkien to be his literary executor, he devoted himself after his father's death in 1973 to the editing and publication of unpublished writings, notably The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, the twelve volumes collectively known as The History of Middle-earth, and The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin. In 1975 he moved with his wife Baillie to live in France. He died in 2020 at the age of 95.
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