Everyone knows Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, but few realize he was a linguistics scholar with a particular interest in Old English, and particularly Beowulf. As noted in Mental Floss, "He was known to begin classes by barging into the lecture hall, sometimes in era-appropriate chain mail armor, and bellowing the opening lines of Beowulf at the top of his lungs." (At one point, he dressed in armor and, wielding a real battle axe, chased an annoying neighbor down the street. He was NOT a stodgy professor.)
Tolkien patterned the humans of Middle Earth, particularly the Riders of Rohan, after the civilization glimpsed in Beowulf. Scholar Michael Kennedy notes a few of the clear linguistic similarities between the two, and the Tolkien Professor discusses Beowulf’s influence frequently in his lectures as well as his books.
Now we can all enjoy Beowulf through Tolkien’s eyes. In May, HarperCollins is releasing Tolkien’s Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. Edited by Christopher Tolkien, this book features Tolkien’s own translation of Beowulf as well as a very generous selection of his lecture notes and personal commentary on this most venerable English poem. Tolkien fanatics will enjoy the insight into how Tolkien fashioned his "English mythology" based on ancient Anglo-Saxon tales; Tolkien readers will love fresh insights into the great man’s intellectual world.
— JW
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