JRR Tolkien's translation of Beowulf to be published after 88 years

Epic poem believed to have inspired Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit

Arts Correspondent

JRR Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf, the epic that helped inspire The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, is to be published for the first time almost 90 years after completion.

Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary will be published in May with the “distinctive” 1926 translation alongside a commentary taken from his lecture notes made throughout the 1930s.

The new book, to be published in the UK by HarperCollins, has been edited by the author’s son Christopher Tolkien, who said the attention to detail in the lectures gives rise to “a sense of immediacy and clarity of his vision”.

“It’s 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 cost of Denmark.”

Beowulf, written in the 11th century, is the longest epic poem in Old English, with the one surviving manuscript held in the British Library. It has inspired countless translations, including a notable take in 1999 by Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

This marks the first new work by JRR Tolkien published since The Fall of Arthur, an unfinished poem about the legend of King Arthur, published last year.

Stuart Lee, a member of the English faculty at the University of Oxford, said: “Beowulf was a text that thrilled Tolkien throughout his lifetime. He taught it and studied it and, along with many medieval texts he worked on, they found their way into his fiction.”

An artist's depiction of Beowulf (Alamy) An artist's depiction of Beowulf (Alamy) He continued: “Tolkien’s unpublished material is of such a high quality that it deserves publishing. He was a fantastic scholar.”

Scholars had known about the text and there had been rumours that a Tolkien translation of Beowulf could be published; but many were taken by surprise and delighted it was so close to release.

“Any translation and commentary by JRR Tolkien will be worth looking at, and any work by his son Christopher is always of high quality. It’s very exciting this is coming out,” Dr Lee said.

“It should be interesting to fans of his fiction, because Beowulf was probably the medieval text that influenced him the most,” Dr Lee said, who described the commentary and lectures as “nuggets of gold”.

The translation was completed quite early in the writer’s career.

“He was lecturing for more than 30 more years,” Dr Lee said, “working with Beowulf and engaging with it.”

Tolkien was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford. Of his 1936 lecture at the British Academy, which scholars described as “absolutely seminal”, Mark Atherton, also of the university’s English faculty, said: “If he had never written Lord of the Rings, he would have been famous in academic circles for writing one published lecture called 'The Monsters and the Critics'. It turned things upside down.”

Tolkien wrote The Hobbit shortly after he completed the translation and his tale of Bilbo Baggins’ journey is heavily influenced by Beowulf, according to Edward James, emeritus professor of medieval history at Anglia Ruskin University.

He said: “He gets the dragons in The Hobbit straight from the dragons in the final section of Beowulf.” The riders of Rohan in The Lord of the Rings are also believed to be based on the epic poem.

Professor James: “Heaney’s translation helped sell an enormous amount of copies to people who wouldn’t otherwise have read it. This should sell to a different community who won’t perhaps have heard of Heaney but will read anything Professor Tolkien has written.”

Arts and Entertainment

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life

Music

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

    It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
    Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

    Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

    The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
    Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

    Sarkozy returns

    The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
    Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

    Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

    Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
    Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

    Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

    Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
    There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

    In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

    The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

    UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

    It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

    It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
    The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

    Staying connected: The King's School

    The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
    Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

    Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

    Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches