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Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary review JRR Tolkien's long-lost translation

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Tolkien's version of the Old English epic, along with selections from his Oxford lectures and invented texts showcase a rare mix of linguistic scholarship and literary imagination

"FRODO LIVES!" I read these words in 1966, written high up on the wall in the New York subway. JRR Tolkien had become a cult figure for the counter-culture, long before Hollywood adaptations turned his lively tales into heaps of golden treasure, but it wasn't until much later that it became clear to me that Frodo was a relative of Bilbo Baggins, hero of The Hobbit, a children's book published in 1937, and that in the mid-1950s Frodo's adventures had been published, in three volumes, as The Lord of the Rings.

However, while I didn't know Frodo in 1966, I did know the name of JRR Tolkien. He had been Oxford's professor of Anglo-Saxon since 1926, and then Merton professor of English, retiring in 1959, just before I arrived. In three years in Oxford, I never heard of him as the creator of Bilbo and Frodo, only as the interpreter of, and authority on, the great Old English epic poem Beowulf. His British Academy lecture of 1936, "Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics", was the first to treat the poem as a poem, not as an ancient monument of interest to antiquarians. We students also read his preface to Clark Hall's literal prose crib of Beowulf.

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