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BetterMost, Wyoming & Brokeback Mountain Forum  |  The World Beyond BetterMost  |  The Culture Tent (Moderator: Sheriff Roland)  |  Topic: 80 years after its making: JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit was published on 21 Sep 1937 0 Residents and 1 Guest are viewing this topic. « previous next »
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Author Topic: 80 years after its making: JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit was published on 21 Sep 1937  (Read 3474 times)
Aloysius J. Gleek
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« on: May 19, 2014, 05:00:22 am »

www.nytimes.com/2014/05/19/books/jrr-tolkiens-translation-of-beowulf-is-published.html



Books
Waving His Wand at ‘Beowulf’
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Translation
of ‘Beowulf’ Is Published

By ETHAN GILSDORF
MAY 18, 2014



J. R. R. Tolkien in 1967, six years before his death.


There’s more to J. R. R. Tolkien than wizards and hobbits. The author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” was also an Oxford University professor specializing in languages like Old Norse and Old English.

“Beowulf” was an early love, and a kind of Rosetta Stone to his creative work. His study of the poem, which he called “this greatest of the surviving works of ancient English poetic art,” informed his thinking about myth and language.

But Tolkien was skeptical of converting this Old English poem into modern English. In a 1940 essay, “On Translating Beowulf,” he wrote that turning “Beowulf” into “plain prose” could be an “abuse.”

But he did it anyway. Tolkien completed a prose translation in 1926, while declaring it was “hardly to my liking.” Given his reputation as a perfectionist and his ideas about “Beowulf” and translation, his dissatisfaction is not surprising. Tolkien, then 34, filed his “Beowulf” away, and barely revisited it for the rest of his career.

Now, 88 years after its making, this abandoned translation is being published on Thursday as “Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary.” From its first word — “Lo!” — to the death of the dragon and Beowulf and the lighting of the funeral pyre, described as “a roaring flame ringed with weeping,” Tolkien’s translation of the poem comprises some 90 pages of the book. Selections from his notes about “Beowulf,” and a “Beowulf”-inspired story and poem, take up 320 pages more.

Advance buzz and some grumbling have been building since March, when Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Tolkien’s American publisher, announced that this “Beowulf” was coming. Scholars and fans are eager to get their hands on another “lost” Tolkien relic. But some worry that his version may seem old-fashioned, while others grouse about the ethics of publishing something that Tolkien had not intended to see the light of day, at least in this form. In a statement, Tolkien’s son Christopher, 89, the editor of the translation, said, “He returned to it later to make hasty corrections, but seems never to have considered its publication.” (Neither the press-shy Mr. Tolkien nor the Tolkien estate, which handles Tolkien’s literary property, made themselves available for comment.)

Since Tolkien’s death in 1973, Christopher Tolkien has edited and published many of his father’s unfinished works. Why the long delay for “Beowulf”? Wayne G. Hammond, an author of the “The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide,” said that Christopher Tolkien “naturally concentrated” on first publishing long-promised books, like “The Silmarillion” and that “Tolkien’s own writings, especially his fiction, presumably took priority.”

Not all Tolkien scholars know “Beowulf,” but all “Beowulf” scholars know of Tolkien, whose influential 1936 paper “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics” has been credited with restoring the poem’s value as a work of art. Tolkien was himself a poet and sometimes wrote imitations of the Anglo-Saxon meter in which “Beowulf” was composed.

“The formal rules of Old English poetry are very demanding,” said Daniel Donoghue, a professor of English at Harvard who edited the Norton Critical Edition of Seamus Heaney’s well-regarded “Beowulf: A Verse Translation.” “Tolkien knew this very well. This was part of his suspicion of translations in general.”

For this edition of “Beowulf,” Christopher Tolkien combined and edited three manuscripts of his father’s translation. Selections from Tolkien’s 1930s classroom lectures on “Beowulf” become the poem’s commentary. Notes by Christopher show the discrepancies between the versions. He recalls in the notes that his father sang “The Lay of Beowulf,” the poem included in the new book, to him when he was young.

That “Beowulf” influenced Tolkien is not news. From King Hrothgar’s mead-hall Heorot to a thief who steals a golden cup from a dragon, elements of “Beowulf” are echoed throughout Tolkien’s work. “Knowledge of his interest in and love for ‘Beowulf’ is essential to understanding ‘The Lord of the Rings,’ ” the Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Maryland, wrote in an email. “Battles with monsters (Grendel, the dragon) are the heart of Beowulf, and reoccur in Tolkien’s work.”

John Garth, a British critic and the author of “Tolkien and the Great War,” who has read an advance copy of the Tolkien “Beowulf,” wrote in an email, “There is a great deal in this book to keep us busy.” He called the translation’s tone “distinctively Tolkienian” and its style “consciously archaic.”

But, Ms. Flieger said, whether Tolkien’s rendering will prove a significant work of translation “in the world of ‘Beowulf’ scholarship” remains to be seen.

Rather than considering Tolkien’s interpretation a work of art to take its place aside other respected translations — like the 1966 E. Talbot Donaldson version that was replaced by the Heaney in the “Norton Anthology of English Literature” — many scholars will mine it for Tolkien’s comments on “Beowulf” and glimpses into his decision-making as he waded into gray areas of translation.

For Tolkien fans, the new volume’s biggest reward may be the previously unpublished story, “Sellic Spell.” Written in the early 1940s, Tolkien described it as “an attempt to reconstruct the Anglo-Saxon tale that lies behind the folk-tale element in ‘Beowulf.’ ”

Still, some say that Tolkien would have protested his translation being published at all. “If Tolkien knew that was going to happen, he would have invented the shredder,” said the “Beowulf” authority Kevin Kiernan, an emeritus professor of English at the University of Kentucky. Most scholars of Anglo-Saxon try their hand at “Beowulf” translations to better understand the poem, he said, but that does not mean theirs, or Tolkien’s, deserves a wider audience.

“Publishing the translation is a disservice to him, to his memory and his achievement as an artist,” Mr. Kiernan added.

For others, the objection isn’t that Tolkien’s “Beowulf” is appearing in print, but that it’s not the version they had expected. Tolkien had also taken stabs at writing a faithful version that mimicked Old English prosody — no easy feat, and an undertaking he didn’t finish. Only a couple dozen lines of this alliterative version have been published, and they are reproduced in the introduction to the new book. Mr. Donoghue called Tolkien’s efforts “a kind of tour de force” but said he doubted that “even someone with Tolkien’s imaginative genius could sustain it over 3,000 lines.”

By publishing this “Beowulf,” his heirs and publisher may be seeking to further secure his literary and scholarly reputation. Or they may simply be accommodating what Ms. Flieger referred to as an audience “eager to read” any and all fragments from their beloved author. Or possibly both. As for Tolkien, displeased with his “Beowulf,” he would have surely wanted more time to edit, more time to revise. But he had other things to do.

“It’s like Gandalf says, ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us,’ ” Mr. Kiernan said. “He decided he didn’t want to waste it on a translation. He worked on ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord the Rings’ instead.”









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« Last Edit: September 21, 2017, 11:26:24 am by Aloysius J. Gleek » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2014, 09:31:38 am »

Thank you, but I'd rather not hear about Mr. Tolkien "waving his wand."  Cool
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« Reply #2 on: August 05, 2014, 01:36:20 pm »

I bought a copy of this as a wedding present for a couple of medievalists.
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Aloysius J. Gleek
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« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2017, 12:01:56 pm »


https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/sep/21/the-hobbit-80-lord-of-the-rings-jrr-tolkien



The Hobbit at 80
    much more than a childish prequel to
The Lord of the Rings
It was deemed ‘juvenile trash’ when first published and, yes, the dwarves’ songs do
irritate some – but ideas laid down in JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit  shape fantasy to this day


By David Barnett
@davidmbarnett

Thursday 21 September 2017 06.42 EDT



Happy birthday … Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. Photograph: Warner Bros/AFP/Getty Images




JRR Tolkien, pictured at Oxford University in 1955. Photograph: Haywood Magee/Getty Images




The Hobbit, that retelling by Mr JRR Tolkien of the adventures of Mr Bilbo Baggins of Bag End, is celebrating its 80th birthday, albeit with no party of special magnificence nor, perhaps, much talk and excitement in Hobbiton or beyond.

But while the the book is not as venerable as its hero – Bilbo died aged 131, we are told in Lord of the Rings; hobbits live, on average, to the age of 96.8 years according to the wonderful number-crunching site lotrproject.com – it is still an anniversary worth noting.

These days, The Hobbit is considered nothing more than a childish taster or over-long prologue to Tolkien’s more revered Lord of the Rings trilogy: a sanitised scene-setter filled with folk songs and poems that came before the grownup book that explored war, death and the corruption of men. But while The Hobbit was undeniably written as a children’s book, it is far more than a mere prequel and its significance in modern literature, and fantasy in particular, cannot be overstated.

But perhaps there is a more satisfying anniversary to be celebrated here, as 2017 marks 100 years since Tolkien, effectively invalided out of the army after coming down with trench fever fighting in the Somme, began writing his first story, The Fall of Gondolin. Eventually published in The Book of Lost Tales, a decade after Tolkien’s death in 1973, this story laid out a rich and detailed history of his Middle-earth. Twenty years after first putting pen to paper – that paper apparently being sheets of military marching music Tolkien found in his barracks – The Hobbit was published on 21 September 1937.

While we can point to other authors who played a part in creating the genre of heroic fantasy – from the epics such as Homer’s Odyssey and the Scandinavian myths, through to Lewis Carroll and Lord Dunsany, to Conan creator Robert E Howard and Fritz Leiber, whose fantasy duo Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser debuted in 1939, two years after The Hobbit – the themes and tropes laid down by Tolkien continue to shape fantasy to this day. A quest. An artefact of power. An unlikely or unwilling hero. Fantastical races of elves and dwarves, orcs and goblins. Dragons. Monstrous spiders. The shadow of profound evil falling across a pastoral, peaceful, medieval world. Fantasy may have evolved a lot since Tolkien’s day, but these building blocks can still be seen in most contemporary novels in the genre.

Like all good myths and legends, The Hobbit began in the oral tradition, as a story that Tolkien imparted to his sons John, Michael and Christopher. The genesis of the story was the opening line, idly scrawled by Tolkien on a piece of paper: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” It went no further, until he breathed life into Bilbo Baggins, Gandalf, Thorin and his band of dwarves, and wretched Gollum through stories told, as Christopher remembers, “with his back to the fire in his small study of the house in north Oxford”.

Christopher recalls these storytelling sessions happening around 1929. Eight years later George Allen & Unwin printed the first 1,500 copies of The Hobbit. By the end of December it had sold out, in no small part due to Christopher Tolkien writing to Father Christmas “to give The Hobbit a vigorous puff … and proposing it to him as an idea for Christmas presents”.

I think I was 10 or 11 when I first read The Hobbit, and swiftly moved on to The Lord of the Rings. It was quite a jump, akin to the chasm between studying physics at O-level and A-level. As with physics, the first I found relatively straightforward, the second challenging. Unlike physics, which I quickly dumped, The Hobbit threw open the literary Doors of Durin to a whole universe of fantasy writing. I imagine this was a common trajectory for many.

When it first came out, one reviewer called The Hobbit “juvenile trash” that suffered “impotence of imagination”. By the 1970s, no fantasy novel was worth the name lacked a blurb along the lines of: “Comparable to Tolkien at his best!” These days, to call a modern fantasy novel Tolkienesque feels a little like faint praise. Over the last eight decades, we’ve been there, done that and bought the Mithril T-shirt. And Tolkien’s writing does have its problems: his books, even The Hobbit, are too long and wordy, and there are racist overtones, with the good guys generally being white European in appearance, while the nasty orcs are dark-skinned and the gold-hungry dwarves uncomfortably reminiscent of toxic Jewish stereotypes. Epic fantasy, though by definition steeped in the past (albeit one that never was), has moved on, to become more diverse, more inclusive, more questioning – precisely as it should be.

But The Hobbit endures and it remains a remarkable book that continues to capture imaginations. So let’s raise a glass of ale to The Hobbit, 80 years young. And while we’re at it, according to the books 22 September is Bilbo and his nephew Frodo’s birthday. Any excuse for a party. Who knows, there might be fireworks.





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« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2017, 12:44:36 pm »

Oh I love this little  book! Read it many times when I was a teenager.
But I kind of hate the movie. It's too  much. Just one great battlefield.
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« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2017, 02:42:58 pm »

I read LOR first in my teens and must have read it a dozen times since.  I saw each movie 3 times on the big screen and have the DVDs. I think I have only read the Hobbit twice and while I saw each movie, I did not like them. Agree just one big battlefield and if the epic LOR needed 3 films why did they stretch the much smaller book into 3, pure commercialism.  Of course I live in the country where the films were made although I have never actually set out to visit the many sites which draw tourists.
However LOR set me on a life of reading Fantasy novels, especially the Shannara series by Terry Brooks.  I am just reading the first of his latest series "The Fall of Shannara" which will apparently be his last, he writes 1 per year and a series is usually 3 so he must plan to retire at 75 as he is the same age as me.  Grin
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« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2017, 03:15:58 pm »

I read LOR first in my teens and must have read it a dozen times since.  I saw each movie 3 times on the big screen and have the DVDs.
Me too. LOR is a great book. And also the movies are a masterpiece. I really enjoyed watching them on the big screen. Unfortunately there are very few theaters that show films in OV in Germany. So I bought the DVDs when they were available as UK import.

Quote
why did they stretch the much smaller book into 3, pure commercialism
I didn't get that,  either. It was all for making money.
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« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2017, 03:51:14 pm »

I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy once, over the break between the fall and spring semesters in college. I tore through those books, but, in retrospect, reading them seemed like a chore, but reading them also seemed like a point of honor, as in those days even college boys were big into that sort of thing (Dungeons & Dragons, etc.). I remember thinking that the whole series seemed pretty dark, though that tone did seem appropriate to the stories. And Tolkien lost me at the talking trees; I found that a bit much. I suppose the memory of the reading being a chore is why I've never had the slightest interest in seeing the films. When you come right down to it, I'm just not into the fantasy genre. I dismissed Game of Thrones out of hand when I heard there were dragons. I'd rather read history or a good murder mystery.

Nevertheless, The Hobbit has always been a joy to me. I've read it a number of times. Critics may have dismissed it as childish trash, but what do critics know?  Grin The pictures that form in my head as I read The Hobbit are like Disney animation at its classical best. And in my opinion anybody who is tired of classic Disney is tired of living (apologies, Dr. Johnson).

(I recognize that the Jackson films are masterpieces of film-making; I just have no interest in seeing them. And I was offended by the idea of making three movies out of The Hobbit.)
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