J.R.R. Tolkien is, of course, best known for writing a series of books about furry midgets and their taste in jewelry. But he was also a professor of literature, and in fact that was pretty much his day job even when his books began selling. Finally, one of his more important academic works, his translation of Beowulf, is about to hit the stands.
If you’re a classics nerd, like yours truly, you know that Tolkien is actually better known for his Beowulf studies among academics than he is for his fantasy novels. There’s a reason: Tolkien passionately argued that Beowulf was a poem worth reading on its own merits, not just as a sort of linguistic exercise. Until his lecture on the poem, critics had downplayed the fantasy aspects of Beowulf, which considering the whole thing is a poem about Vikings fighting monsters is pretty stupid. but academics are nothing if not intellectually hidebound.
Needless to say, Tokien’s opinions on fantasy and its literary value had something of an influence on his writing career. But despite having translated the poem himself in 1926, it never saw print, especially odd because it’s not like his estate has been shy about publishing pretty much anything they could find. But it’s finally on the way, and it’ll include some Middle Earth to help sell it to the people interested in his other career, according to the Guardian:
Although the author completed his own translation in 1926, he “seems never to have considered its publication”, said Christopher Tolkien today, announcing the Tolkien estate’s new deal with HarperCollins to publish Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary on 22 May. The book, edited by Christopher Tolkien, will also include the series of lectures Tolkien gave at Oxford about the poem in the 1930s, as well as the author’s “marvellous tale”, Sellic Spell.
We’ll be able to enjoy it in May. Hopefully, the Tolkien estate sits on the film rights, though; one bad Beowulf movie is enough.