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Tolkien’s Beowulf Translation Coming This Spring

J.R.R. Tolkien fans and fans of Old English literature alike will get a treat this spring: Tolkien’s Beowulf translation will be published in May, according to the Guardian.

Edited by his son, Christopher Tolkien, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary is due out of the 22 May. Included will be Tolkien’s translation of the epic poem, transcripts of Tolkien’s Beowulf-themed lectures from Oxford and a previously unpublished short story called “Sellic Spell,” based an Old Norse saga about Hrothgar’s family.  Be still, my geeky heart!

Tolkien was obviously fascinated by Beowulf.  The Guardian quotes him as calling it

“laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination”, saying that “the whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real”.

Themes and images from Beowulf appear throughout Tolkien’s work. Tolkien scholar John Garth told the Guardian that the story had

“a deep and detailed impact on what Tolkien wrote – from his earliest poem of Middle-earth, written in September 1914, right through The Hobbit with the theft of a cup from a dragon hoard, and The Lord of the Rings with the arrival at the halls of Rohan”.

Of course, when it comes to Beowulf, the real question is: How does Tolkien translate “Hwaet”? The first word in the text, “Hwaet” is an exclamation that has been translated as everything from “Listen!” to “Lo!” to the decidedly un-epic “So.”

There’s also some evidence that “Hwaet” may not have been a stand-alone interjection as it is usually treated, and that instead the famous first sentence should read something like this: “How we have heard of the might of the kings!”

There’s word yet on how Tolkien translated that tricksy opening line, but it will be interesting to see.

An Irish Translation of "The Hobbit"

Irish-speaking Tolkien fans, rejoice! A special edition of The Hobbit is due out this month — translated entirely into Irish!

The Irish version of Tolkien’s classic tale is being published by Evertype Publishers, a small publishing company owned by Michael Everson which specializes in minority language translations, specialty fonts and typesetting. Here are some details of the release, courtesy of The Independent:

  • The book will cost €39.95 for the hardcover edition, which is all that will be available at first. The publisher does plan to release a cheaper paperback version later on.
  • When it’s first released, it will be available only on the publisher’s website, Evertype.com. Eventually, you’ll also be able to order a copy from Amazon.
  • Only 18 copies will be printed initially, with additional copies printed “on demand” as orders are placed.
  • The book is due to be released on the 25th of March.

Translating The Hobbit into Irish proved to be a quest in and of itself. In The Independent, Everson said he argued with the translator, Nicholas Williams, for “for about five years on what to call the elves.”  Another challenge was finding appropriate translations for Tolkien’s lyrical, evocative place names.  According to Everson, here’s what they finally decided on:

“Gleann na Scoilte’ was chosen for Rivendell, ‘An Mhodarchoill’ for Mirkwood and ‘An Dobhar’ for The Water, while Hobbiton will be known as ‘Baile na Hobad’.”

Despite Tolkien’s passion for languages, he didn’t have much l0ve for Irish. In a letter excerpted in the Irish Times, he wrote :

“I go frequently to Ireland (Éire: southern Ireland) being fond of it and of (most of) its people; but the Irish language I find wholly unattractive.”

Hence, one of the only scraps of Irish you’ll find in any of Tolkien’s invented languages is the word “Nazg,” or “ring” in the Black Speech of Mordor, which may be derived from the Irish word “nasc”.  In another letter quoted in the Irish Times, Tolkien denied intentionally including using nasc as the source, but admitted that it had most likely become “lodged in some comer of [his] linguistic memory.”

To whet your appetite, here’s the first paragraph of the Irish translation:

I bpoll sa talamh a bhí cónaí ar hobad. Níor pholl gránna, salach, fliuch é, lán le giotaí de phéisteanna agus le boladh láibe. Níor pholl tirim, lom, gainmheach a bhí ann ach an oiread, gan aon rud ann le n-ithe ná le suí síos air; poll hobaid ab ea é agus is ionann sin agus compord.

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