Saturday, February 09, 2008

Tolkien and Beowulf

Well, we're having a discussion of Beowulf on Sunday. Due to a brief mention of Tolkien's interest in this book in a DVD lecture on Beowulf, we have been hunting "high and low" for more references and our search has not been fruitless. Although I have to warn anyone planning on browsing the indexes of Tolkien: Man and Myth, Letters to Tolkien and Tolkien: A Celebration, they are very distracting. With references such as Alice in Wonderland, Chesterton and The Ballad of the White Horse, it is virtually impossible to focus on the topic in hand. Following some of these references I learned that although, when he was younger, Tolkien was a big fan of the Ballad, later on he became critical. I found this bit from a letter to his son Christopher in 1944, quite fascinating:

Priscilla... has been wading through the Ballad of the White Horse for the last many nights; and my efforts to explain the obscurer parts to her convince me that it is not as good as I thought. The ending is absurd. The brilliant smash and glitter of the words and phrases (when they come off, and are not mere loud colors) cannot disguise the fact that G.K.C. knew nothing whatever about the "North", heathen or Christian.

I also learned that drumroll please C.S. Lewis knew much of the Ballad of the White Horse by heart! And that (this I heard in a different place) Tolkien had memorized all of Beowulf in Old English!

And actually, believe it or not, I did follow the Beowulf references as well. On page 89 of Tolkien: A Celebration I found this:

Tolkien's remarks in his classic essay Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics are the best I have seen on the 'Germanic' vision, but he considered Beowulf's author to be a Christian who was looking back at a heathen heroic past, and his theme, 'man at war with the hostile world, and his inevitable overthrow in Time' is one 'no Christian need despise.'

So anyways... just a few interesting tidbits, after the discussion I may very well have more

1 comment:

Hans Lundahl said...

Beowulf, the Monsters and the Critics, was the first book by Tolkien I owned. My Grandpa bought it after Tolkien died, before he did himself, and I left it unread for years. The Swedish translation also included Translating Beowulf and On Welsh and English. I read this in the teens afer reading LotR