88 Years Later, JRR Tolkien's 'Beowulf' Is To Hit Bookshelves

JRR Tolkien's translation of the epic Beowulf is to be published for the first time almost 90 years after its completion. Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary will be published in May, giving Tolkien fans an extraordinary insight into the book that helped inspire The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

The Hobbit There and Back AgainMartin Freeman in The Hobbit: There and Back Again

The book, to be published in the UK by HarperCollins, has been edited by Tolkien's son Christopher Tolkien, who said the attention to detail 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."

Written in the 11th century, Beowulf is the longest epic poem in Old English with only one surviving manuscript held in the British Library. 

Stuart Lee, a member of the English faculty at the University of Oxford, told the Independent: "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."

He continued: "Tolkien's unpublished material is of such a high quality that it deserves publishing. He was a fantastic scholar."

Martin Freeman The Hobbit

Scholars have known of the translation existance for many years, though many were taken by surprise that the announcement was so close to the 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."

Tolkien worked as a professor of Ango-Saxon at Pembroke College, Oxford. He wrote The Hobbit shortly after he completed the Beowulf translation and his tale of Bilbo Baggins' journey is heavily influenced by the poem.

"He gets the dragons in The Hobbit straight from the dragons in the final section of Beowulf," said Professor Edward James, emeritus professor of medieval history at Anglia Ruskin University.

Peter Jackson's second Hobbit movie The Desolation of Smaug, starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, hit theaters in December 2013. The third and final movie, There and Back Again, is set for release in December 2015.

Watch The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug trailer:


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