ness talks books

Beowulf and I are at loggerheads.

21413663Beowulf has kicked me to the reading curb. Or rather, Tolkien’s commentary on it has – which is one part fascinating and two parts here-lemme-gouge-my-eyes-out.

Some things are easy to read in the early mornings. Other things aren’t. It’s isn’t that I’m lacking in intelligence [well …] it’s just that some things are not meant for early mornings.

Tea? Yes.

A course in Old English?


And it’s not just the early mornings either; I can read this at any other time of the day and my reactions are still the same.

I feel as though I ought to pretend I’m enjoying it; to write a review with a smug little ‘I understood every jot of Tolkien’s commentary and my doesn’t ‘dugan’ have such a lovely abstract noun.’

However, honesty forces me to admit that no, I’m not enjoying abstract nouns, I’ve no desire to know about abstract nouns and I simply do not care about these abstract nouns.

I’ve felt the urge to throw the book at a wall. I haven’t. You can’t throw books at walls in the car. Or in a coffee shop. ’tis bad form.

Why continue? you ask. Life is short, DNF, swallow your pride, ignore the commentary, and pass on to that other translation of Beowulf.

I can’t. I see glimmers of hope. I want to read Sellic Spell, and when Tolkien starts explaining the cultural context/hidden meanings/subtle jests which the prose conceals, I start getting excited.

I read the tale in a new way. I see new things. A light shines with glorious illumination upon the text. All is fluttering butterflies and slain giants.


… the grammar rolls in, Tolkien goes off on a tangent, and a barrage of ancient words that looks like someone’s slammed their head against a keyboard assults my suffering eyes.

Still, I persevere.

a) because it will give me a better understanding of the tale

b) because Sellic Spell will surely be good


c) I’m avoiding Dickens.

… but at what cost?!

8 thoughts on “Beowulf and I are at loggerheads.”

  1. Haha! I was going to counsel you, Ness, just to give the commentaries a miss and go right on to your next translation. I’d recommend the commentaries mostly just to a) serious Tolkien nerds b) people who have some rudiments of Anglo-Saxon already c) people who have just read four different translations of BEOWULF inside five days and consequently are ready to have Tolkien explain why X or Y passage seems so difficult to render and yields such wildly differing translations… All of which describe me; but I understand that’s a rather specific description. Props to you for persevering! It’s the best commentary I’ve ever read on BEOWULF, to be sure, and answered a LOT of the questions I had after my own BEOWULF marathon.

  2. Oh my word, THIS POST! XD AND THE GIFS. Perfection. I haven’t gotten hold of this one yet, but I imagine I’ll have similar reactions, despite being a ginormous Tolkien fan and all… (THOSE GIFS THOUGH.) Good luck on avoiding Dickens. 😉

  3. Would you believe I actually studied Beowulf during my degree in Old and Middle English Literature more than 30 years ago and I never understood Tolkien’s commentary (Beowulf, the master and the critics?) either. The best article I ever read about Beowulf was by someone called J Leyerle (I think) who wrote an article called Beowulf, The Hero and The King. I have only the haziest recollection of the article but I remember it struck a chord with me at the time. Good luck.
    Stephen Russell

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