Why Tolkien’s Beowulf is an ‘amazing book but a terrible translation’

tolkien beowulf middle earth

In the spring of 2014 a translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien was published. Last week, Andy Orchard, one of the leading scholars of Old English, offered his thoughts about the book and revealed that he will be writing his own translation of the famous medieval poem.

Scribal Practice in the Beowulf Manuscript


There was a time, not too long ago, when we thought we knew a great deal more about Beowulf than we do now.

Senses of the Past: The Old English Vocabulary of History

Page from Beowulf, now at the British Library

How did the Anglo-Saxons think about history?

Beowulf and the Comic Book: Contemporary Readings

Beowulf dragon slayer

This paper explores the appropriation of the Old English poem by modern popular culture in such a distinctive 20th-century art-form as the comic book, which proves that a heroic, legendary story already old for the Anglo-Saxons —it was set in geardagum, ‘the ancient days’— still elicits the interest of the audience in the modern world.

Gareth Hinds’ Beowulf

beowulf hinds

Dark and visceral, the graphic novel version of Beowulf created by Gareth Hinds is considered to be one of the most successful adaptations of the Old English tale.

Reinventing the Hero: Gardner’s Grendel and the Shifting Face of Beowulf in Popular Culture

John Gardner Grendel

In twentieth- and twenty-first century Anglophone culture, the impact of Beowulfiana — what we call that amorphous mass of materials that have accumulated around the poem — has been widespread yet subtle.

Grendel and Cain’s Descendants


Grendel and Cain’s Descendants By Thalia Phillies Feldman Literary Onomastics Studies, Vol.8 (1981) Introduction: The epic of Beowulf has long been subjected to severe Christological scrutiny with scholars tending either to strong commitment to it as Christian allegory, or to equally strong opposition, regarding it instead as thoroughly pagan though lightly touched by the Old […]

Roses are Red, Violets are Beowulf

Beowulf poetry

Let’s take five minutes to look at medieval alliterative poetry, using some of the most famous poems of the period.

The Anglo-Saxon War-Culture and The Lord of the Rings: Legacy and Reappraisal

The Lord of the Rings - Aragorn

The literature of war in English claims its origin from the Homeric epics, and the medieval accounts of chivalry and the crusades.

J.R.R. Tolkien and the morality of monstrosity

tolkien beowulf middle earth

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth is Beowulf for the twentieth century.

Beowulf mini-series being created for television

tale of beowulf - photo by KotomiCreations / Flickr

A thirteen episode mini-series of Beowulf is being created by the the British broadcaster ITV.

Faith in a Heap of Broken Images: The Christian Beowulf


My paper will seek to demonstrate how the poet’s mode of interpretation informs his moral perspective, which is compatible with the unmentioned (though implied) doctrine of Christianity and diametrically opposed to the older Anglo-Saxon religious customs the poet refers to as ‘heathen.’

The Hero’s Journey: Beowulf, Film, and Masculinity

Beowulf (film)

Beowulf is one of many examples of a story that employs the rhetoric of the hero. The plight of the main character Beowulf is the focus of the tale, and the tasks that he must overcome throughout the course of the poem provide insight into the development of the character of the hero.

The Horror of Saints, Slashers, and Virgins

psycho scene

In our modern world, the repression of sexuality is still prevalent, although it is better masked than it was in the Middle Ages, and we still use the image of women and virginity to terrorize or save.

The Anglo-Saxon War-Culture and The Lord of the Rings: Legacy and Reappraisal

The saints and missionaries of the Anglo-Saxon era (1897)

Considering the scarcity of the Anglo-Saxon influence in modern war-literature in general, one may wonder and stop by a work like The Lord of the Rings or Silmarillion, which few would be willing to categorise as serious war-literature.

Seamus Heaney and Beowulf


Anglo-Saxonists everywhere should celebrate, perhaps annually in a brief offering of gifts at a local temple, the remarkable fact that Seamus Heaney completed his commissioned translation of Beowulf and published it in 1999, creating the first breaking wave of what was already a gradual tidal swell of interest in the text.

Making Sacrifices: Beowulf and Film

The Thirteenth Warrior

This essay reviews opening scenes in some recent film Beowulfs, which, although they have nothing at all to say about Scyld Scefing, suggest a sacrificial reading of the prologue and perhaps even the whole poem.

Grendel: Boundaries of Flesh and Law


In Beowulf, Grendel presents itself as a figure of inescapable ambiguity and as an embodiment of paradox that causes consternation in the human community.

Eight Videos about Beowulf


A selection of some of the most interesting videos on the web that talk about the Old English poem Beowulf:

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Beowulf published today

tolkien beowulf

Nearly 90 years after he first made the translation, J.R.R. Tolkien’s version of Beowulf arrives at bookstores around the world today.

Staging Medievalisms: Touching the Middle Ages through Contemporary Performance


Examining the Middle Ages through modern eyes: movies, TV, stage, tourism and books. How do we perform the Middle Ages?

Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf coming out this spring

tolkien beowulf

In 1926, J.R.R. Tolkien, who would later go on to write The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, completed his own translation of the Old English poem Beowulf. Eighty-eight years later that work is going to be published for the first time

Burning Idols, Burning Bridges: Bede, Conversion and Beowulf

Athelstan, c.895-939. Illuminated manuscript from Bede's Life of St Cuthbert,

This article will re-examine some of the information in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, completed in AD 731, on the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity in the late sixth and seventh centuries.

Valentine’s Day Medieval Love: Books for that special someone


Love is in the air! Here are a few medieval books on the topic of love for your Valentine.

The Three Tellings of Beowulf’s Fight with Grendel’s Mother

An illustration of Grendel's mother by J.R. Skelton from Stories of Beowulf (1908) described as a "water witch" trying to stab Beowulf.

Beowulf offers three descriptions of Beowulf’s fight with Grendel’s mother. The first is by the narrator (ll. 1492-1590), the second is by Beowulf to Hrothgar (ll. 1652-76), the third is by Beowulf to Hygelac (included in ll. 2131-51, within the longer speech from l. 2047).

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