“Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary” by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)


In addition to creating the first fantasy epic, inventing a complete and insanely, thoroughly detailed world, and even making up its own language and alphabet, as well as teaching for decades, the great J. R. R. Tolkien also wrote a translation to the famous epic Old English poem “Beowulf.” Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary edited by his son, Christopher Tolkien, reveals this translation in its entirety for the first time, and so much more.

Tolkien completed his first translation of “Beowulf” in 1926, but he was by no means done with the poem. Over the ensuing years and decades he continued to make changes and updates and lectured greatly on the epic alliterative poem. Christopher Tolkien presents this ideal translation from Tolkien, and then includes his father’s vast commentary painstakingly collected and organized. The book features notes on how Tolkien translated specific words and stanzas with plenty of additional notes. Included are also lectures and lecture notes Tolkien gave on the epic poem. Finally, the great author even penned his own poem (in both modern and Old English) that acts as a precursor to “Beowulf” as a sort of fairytale written in the same style, but not within the history.

Compared to Seamus Heaney’s very well known and popular translation of the same poem, Tolkien goes for a much more literal adaptation, where some of the moving alliteration is perhaps lost, but the true sense of the poem and the meaning the author or authors were intending is possibly better comprehended. With the description and vocabulary, Tolkien does a great job of making the reader feel as if they are there at Heorot with Beowulf and Hrothgar and the comitatus. He uses an older language of “doths” and “thines” because of the time he is writing in, but also to give a sense of age to the poem, which can be a helping or a hindrance for the reader. Nevertheless, Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf is a very welcome one that will be enjoyed by many and likely taught and studied in future medieval and Old English classes to come.

Originally written on November 18, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

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“Wizard’s First Rule” by Terry Goodkind (Tor, 1994)

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While Goodkind’s first book in his now complete 11-book Sword of Truth series begins with an eerie thorn bush that sends its thorns burrowing beneath your skin as if they were alive,  immediately grabbing the reader’s attention and interest, Wizard’s First Rule is a classic first epic fantasy novel that sets the stage for a good series.

Richard Cypher is your classic, innocent, ordinary  guy who has grown up in a simple family with a relatively simple life.  His mother died when he was younger, but his father has supported him and his brother since then.  Early on, the reader learns that his father died mysteriously, to the point where he may have been murdered.  Then he meets a woman, Kahlan, fleeing for her life from  four men who he helps her to kill.  The woman is very beautiful and Richard is immediately smitten with her.  When Kahlan meets Richard’s good old friend, Zedd, there is a strange connection between them, as if they know who and what each of them are.

It is then that the story begins to unfold.  Zedd is a powerful wizard who has been in hiding for some time.  Kahlan is what is known as a Confessor, a woman with the ability to “touch” someone and make them become obsessed with the Confessor and will do whatever they are told.  And then the decision is made by Zedd that Richard Cypher is to be the Seeker and bearer of the mighty Sword of Truth.  There is an evil man in the far east, Darken Rahl, who is taking over, killing many, and looking to control all the known world.  It is up to Richard, with the help of Kahlan and Zedd, too stop him.

From this description, Wizard’s First Rule seems like any ordinary fantasy series, where Richard is a Frodo-type or a Rand-type from Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series.  And yet there is a startling harshness to this series, it is a gruesome world, there is sex and lust, unlike that of Jordan’s or Tolkien’s worlds.  It shocks the reader, but keeps them reading, wanting to know what will happen next.

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Originally written on December 12th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.