Archive for the ‘Christopher Tolkien’ Category
As you know, in May this year J R R Tolkien’s translation of the epic Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf was finally published. This beautiful volume, edited by Christopher Tolkien, also includes commentary on the poem and the task of translating it (taken from the Professor’s own lectures); J R R Tolkien’s own Old English poem, ‘Sellic Spell’ (in both the Anglo Saxon and modern English); and a poem ‘The Lay of Beowulf’, again written by the Professor.
As someone who studied Old English and Middle English at University, and having read both Beowulf and Tolkien’s translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, I had long been curious about the Professor’s Beowulf translation. It’s been a long wait for this text to be published – and it doesn’t disappoint!
The first thing one notices about the book is what a lovely edition it is. A black hardback with gold lettering on the spine, the book has a paper jacket, which features three of Tolkien’s own illustrations – including on the front a beautiful green dragon, curled like knotwork and delicately coloured. This image and the lettering on the front and spine, in white and gold, are raised – a nice touch which adds to the luxurious feel of this book. (If you want to go REALLY luxurious, Harper Collins, Tolkien’s publishers in Europe, have a special slipcase edition. As I think this is a text to which I will want to refer again and again, I may start saving my pennies for that edition…)
As ever, Christopher Tolkien’s Preface and Notes are helpful and insightful. In the Preface, he addresses the issues of translation: how does one choose the right word to capture all the nuance and implication of a word in another language? There are always multiple options; which one gives the best ‘feel’ of the original? Judging from J R R Tolkien’s lectures, this was something he pondered – and changed his mind about! – over the years, and as such he came back to and edited his translation. Christopher has done his best to put together the ‘final’ version, but as he writes, the text is ‘in one sense complete, but at the same time evidently ‘unfinished”. The interesting notes provided illuminate any question marks over word choices.
Christopher also points out another of the inherent difficulties in preparing such a volume for publication. In the Preface, he quotes from one of his father’s letters to Rayner Unwin, with regard to the publication of the translation of Sir Gawain:
- ‘I am finding the selection of notes, and compressing them, and the introduction, difficult. Too much to say, and not sure of my target. The main target is, of course, the general reader of literary bent but with no knowledge of Middle English; but it cannot be doubted that the book will be ready by students, and by academic folk…’
This difficulty of target audience, however, turns out not to be an issue for the volume Christopher Tolkien has put together here; it is neatly arranged so as to be easy for the reader to take from it what he or she wishes. If you are only interested in reading Beowulf in modern English, so be it; if you are curious about Tolkien’s notes, they are there for you; if you want to see how J R R Tolkien crafted a poem in Anglo-Saxon, you can read his ‘Sellic Spell’ in Old English – but it’s there in modern English, too. Thus this volume can appeal to academics and ‘lay’ readers alike. (My only slight disappointment is that it does not include the AS Beowulf side by side with Tolkien’s translation; but that extra content would perhaps be superfluous, and certainly it would make the volume rather more weighty!)
The translation itself is in prose – but with an extraordinary sense of the rhythm and shape of the Anglo-Saxon verse. As Christopher writes (in the Introduction), ‘…my father, as it seems to me, determined to make a translation as close as he could to the exact meaning in detail of the Old English poem, far closer than could ever be attained by translation into ‘alliterative verse’, but nonetheless with some suggestion of the rhythm of the original.’ To my ear, Tolkien’s version has a strong feeling of the verse shapes; the two phrase pattern of Old English poetry seems very much to inform the structure of his sentences, and there is a beautiful musicality to the shape of the language. This occasionally means that the syntax is a little complicated, and one needs to read the line aloud to work out the exact meaning – but this is no bad thing. Beowulf is a poem which is meant to be spoken aloud – and I think this translation would be wonderful as a bedtime story!
(Tolkien’s detailed, prose translation is a great companion to Seamus Heaney’s verse translation; the two translations together shed much light on the scope, the energy and the feel of the original Anglo-Saxon poem.)
I haven’t yet read all of the other content of this publication. I’m excited to discover ‘Sellic Spell’: it is referred to on the book’s fly leaf as ‘a story written by Tolkien suggesting what might have been the form and style of an Old English folktale of Beowulf, in which there was no association with the “historical legends” of the northern kingdoms.’ This makes me wonder if it ties in to Tolkien’s desire to create a English mythology; perhaps this is his version of a specifically English (rather than Danish or Norse) telling of the tale of Grendel and his vanquisher.
‘The Lay of Beowulf’ consists of two poems in ballad form, telling the same stories of the monster and the hero. Tolkien himself had noted, of these texts, ‘Intended to be sung’ – and charmingly, Christopher writes that he remembers ‘his singing this ballad to me when I was seven or eight years old.’ What a delight – again, these poems would make excellent bedtime reading!
I have yet to discover fully all the joys of this publication, but so far it is proving to be a magical and enthralling read. You don’t have to be an Anglo-Saxon scholar to enjoy this book (though you won’t be disappointed by it if you are!): if you’re a fan of Tolkien; if you are fascinated by Old English; if you just enjoy a good tale of monsters and battles – you should get your hands on a copy.
[J R R Tolkien Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary is published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and in Europe by Harper Collins. You can order it from Amazon – click here.]
Posted in Books, Books Publications, Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien, Merchandise, Other Tolkien books, Shop, Tolkien
Tolkien scholar John Garth reviews Tolkien’s long-awaited translation of Beowulf (together with the short story Sellic Spell) in The New Statesman.
J R R Tolkien’s Beowulf: one man’s passion for the threshold between myth and reality
by John Garth
In his story “Leaf by Niggle”, J R R Tolkien imagines an artist painting a picture he can neither complete nor abandon. “It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots.” In the end the picture is never put on show. (more…)
Posted in Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien, Other Tolkien books, Tolkien
The long-awaited Tolkien translation of Beowulf is out now. So, if you haven’t pre-ordered, you should be able to wander into your favourite bookstore and grab yourself a copy (or just head to Amazon.
Edited by Christopher Tolkien, Beowulf includes the translation in prose plus an illuminating commentary, based on a series of lectures given by J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford in the 1930s. (more…)
Posted in Books, Books Publications, Christopher Tolkien, Headlines, Hobbit Book, J.R.R. Tolkien, Richard Armitage, The Hobbit, Tolkien
A couple of weeks ago we revealed LOTRProject’s new interactive map of Middle-earth — complete with key dates, events and character movements for events of the Second Age and Third Age.
Now Emil Johannson has reached back into the events of the Elder Days of Middle-earth’s history, creating a similar interactive map that depicts the key events of the elves’ war against Morgoth on a map of Beleriand. (more…)
Posted in Christopher Tolkien, Creations, Fans, Green Books, J.R.R. Tolkien, Other Tolkien books, Silmarillion, Tolkien
As soon as you open your copy of The Silmarillion, you are faced with what is perhaps the most difficult chapter in all of the book.
Have you ever tried to image how the scene of the Music of the Ainur and the vision of the world, would unfold?
How is Tolkien’s highly-complex imagination perceived by you?
The following post presents a three-minute video with one fan’s outlook towards the Ainulindalë.
– Comprehending and Conceptualizing the Ainulindalë in the real world
Ever read Dante Alighieri’s La Vita Nuova?
That passion. That love. All the emotions in just a few cleverly-constructed sentences.
Transform that text into music and you get Patrick Cassidy’s Vide Cor Meum; and you might just start to comprehend what the Music of the Ainur may have sounded like.
No discords of Melkor. At first.
Just all the Ainur signing in unison before the seat of Ilúvatar – the glory, the majesty, love and subtleties of nostalgia.
Posted in Christopher Tolkien, Creations, Fans, J.R.R. Tolkien, Other Tolkien books, Silmarillion, Tolkien
There’s a lot of excitement floating round academic communities for J.R.R. Tolkien’s forthcoming Beowulf translation (which you can pre-order here) where the prevailing buzz seems to be “best thing since slices bread”. Here, writer Mabel Slattery outlines why.
EDIT: There is an error of fact within the article. Michael Drout did not actually re-discover Tolkien’s Beowulf translation.
I did not “discover” the Beowulf translation, not even in the sense that I found it in the Bodleian Library. This claim is a conflation of a story about one manuscript with information about a totally different text.
The real story is not quite as exciting.
You can read Drout’s explanation in full here.
Don’t forget to click the link to read the full article. (more…)
Posted in Christopher Tolkien, Green Books, J.R.R. Tolkien, Languages, Other Tolkien books, Tolkien
Apparently there is some confusion floating around about Michael Drout’s involvement in the forthcoming publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Beowulf translation by Chris Tolkien.
(Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary will be published on May 22. You can pre-order your hardcover copy now from Amazon by going here.) (more…)
Posted in Christopher Tolkien, Green Books, J.R.R. Tolkien, Other Tolkien books, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, Tolkien, Tolkien Estate
Tolkien scholar John Garth previews the forthcoming publication of J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf and outlines why the Professor’s expertise with the Anglo-Saxon epic means this new book is to be highly anticipated. Click through the read more link at the bottom to access the complete essay.
Posted in Christopher Tolkien, Green Books, Headlines, J.R.R. Tolkien, Languages, Other Tolkien books, Tolkien, Tolkien Estate
Following on from staffer Kili’s post, here’s the official word from UK publisher Harper Collins on the upcoming release of Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf. The Harper Collins article contains comment from Tolkien’s son, Christopher, on how he has gathered, along side his father’s translation of the Old English poem, text from lectures given at Oxford by J R R Tolkien. These show his fascination for Beowulf, Grendel and, in particular, the lure and power of treasure – which of course we see reflected in The Hobbit, in Thorin’s struggles against, as Richard Armitage has called it, ‘gold lust’.
This new publication will also contain Sellic Spell, ‘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.’ This further insight into Tolkien’s desire to create English native myth, unadulterated by Norse or Germanic legends, is an exciting prospect. Fans of Tolkien, of Anglo-Saxon, and of legendary battles, will be able to get their hands on this edition of Beowulf from 22nd May.
Read the full article from Harper Collins here, and the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (US Publisher) version here.
Posted in Books, Books Publications, Christopher Tolkien, Headlines, Hobbit Book, J.R.R. Tolkien, Richard Armitage, The Hobbit, Tolkien
“Ac se wonna hrefin | But the black raven
fus ofer fægum | eager over the doomed
fela reordian, | speaking many things
earne secgan | telling the eagle
hu him æt æte speow, | how he is succeeding in eating,
þenden he wið wulf | when he with the wolf
wæl reafode.” | despoiled the slain.
Thus reads a section of the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf, or at least, thus reads my translation of the section from my university studies. The epic is written in Old English, or Anglo-Saxon, the language of the invaders of Britain. Modern English (and German) is a direct descendant of this language because a people speak the language of their conquerors.
Posted in Christopher Tolkien, J.R.R. Tolkien, Languages, The Hobbit, Tolkien, Uncategorized
In my wanderings around the internet, I recently stumbled across this great little interview with Simon Tolkien on the Mythopoeic Society website.
Simon is, of course, the son of Christopher Tolkien and the grandson of J.R.R. Tolkien, and a published author in his own right. He has written four novels. The most recent, Orders from Berlin was published in November 2012.
In the interview, which originally appeared in the Society’s journal Mythprint in June 2010, Simon speaks of his memories of his grandparents, his own writing process and his father’s work compiling The Silmarillion. Enjoy!
Posted in Christopher Tolkien, Green Books, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, Silmarillion, Tolkien, Tolkien Family
Raynor Memorial Library at Marquette University. Credit: Marquette University. Creative Commons.
The Raynor Memorial Library at Marquette University in Milwaukee is home to original manuscripts and working drafts for three of the J.R.R. Tolkien’s most celebrated works: The Hobbit, Farmer Giles of Ham, and The Lord of the Rings. It also holds the original copy of the children’s book Mr. Bliss and has, over the years, grown to become one of the largest repositories of secondary works on Tolkien and his writing.
If you’ve never visited the Tolkien Collection or are unaware of the contents of the archive, this two-part report from Tolkienist and Norse mythologist Dr Karl Seigfried documents just some of the literary treasures it holds. (more…)
Posted in Christopher Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring, Green Books, Hobbit Book, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the Rings, LotR Books, Other Tolkien books, Return of the King, The Hobbit, The Two Towers, Tolkien, Tolkien Estate