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

Beowulf
starstarstarstar

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.

To purchase a copy of Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

You might also like . . .

Beowulf

“The Complete Short Stories of Mark Twain” by Mark Twain (Everyman’s Library, 2012)

Mark Twain
starstarstarstar

For anyone who’s grown up in the United States, you’ve more than likely been exposed to Mark Twain in one form or another, whether it’s having read one or more of his books in high school, seeing a biographical story about him on TV, or hearing one of the many hundreds of references about him; to many his is the quintessential “Great American Author.”  And just a little over a century after his passing, Everyman’s Library has released a beautiful hardcover edition collecting all of his short stories.  What makes these different stories compared to his novels?  Twain is freer and seems to have more fun with his short stories, being more uproarious, satirical and rollicking in the short prose than with the long.  This is the Twain that many may not be as familiar with, but it is well worth the read.

There is the strange tale of “The Facts in the Great Beef Contract” about a debt owed to a family by the US government for beef, and how as each family member passes without the payment being fulfilled, the next member ventures forth to try and get back what was owed.  There is the famous “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” set in the familiar Northern Californian “Angel’s Camp.”  “Journalism in Tennessee” is about a journalist taking on the agriculture section of a local newspaper, even though he knows nothing about farming, and proceeds to spew complete lies and fiction, incurring the ire of the local farmers.

Collectingall of Mark Twain’s sixty short stories, this collection shows the great author’s full breath from writing entertaining fiction, to travel pieces, to contemplative nonfiction; the only problem is that at times the line between fiction and reality becomes somewhat blurred.  But with Twain’s conversational and comforting voice, readers will be welcomed and taken on a truly great adventure.

Originally written on September 13, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Complete Stories of Mark Twain from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.