On the heels of The Fall of Númenor: and Other Tales from the Second Age of Middle-earth, here is another great piece of Tolkien publication news!
Anna Smol and the gang at the “Tolkien and Alliterative Verse” blog tipped me off to a new book from HarperCollins in 2023: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Battle of Maldon, together with The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth. The new volume will be edited by Peter Grybauskas, who has contributed to Tolkien essays in a couple of recent well-edited collections: Baptism of Fire: The Birth of the Modern British Fantastic in World War I (2015) and A Wilderness of Dragons: Essays in Honor of Verlyn Flieger (2018).
This new volume is a real treat for those of us who have loved the poetic and literary critical Tolkien collections that are not always the most popular because they are not primarily Middle-earth materials–books like Kullervo, The Lay of Aotrou and Itroun, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, The Fall of Arthur, the Tree & Leaf and Tolkien Reader collections, the materials in studies like A Secret Vice and On Fairy-Stories, and all the Beowulf materials.
The “Tolkien Collector’s Guide” website includes this description of the forthcoming volume:
First ever standalone edition of one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s most important poetic dramas, that explores timely themes such as the nature of heroism and chivalry during war, and which features unpublished and never-before-seen texts and drafts.
In 991 AD, vikings attacked an Anglo-Saxon defence-force led by their duke, Beorhtnoth, resulting in brutal fighting along the banks of the river Blackwater, near Maldon in Essex. The attack is widely considered one of the defining conflicts of tenth-century England, due to it being immortalised in the poem, The Battle of Maldon.
Written shortly after the battle, the poem now survives only as a 325-line fragment, but its value to today is incalculable, not just as an heroic tale but in vividly expressing the lost language of our ancestors and celebrating ideals of loyalty and friendship.
J.R.R. Tolkien considered The Battle of Maldon ‘the last surviving fragment of ancient English heroic minstrelsy’. It would inspire him to compose, during the 1930s, his own dramatic verse-dialogue, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son, which imagines the aftermath of the great battle when two of Beorhtnoth’s retainers come to retrieve their duke’s body.
Leading Tolkien scholar, Peter Grybauskas, presents for the very first time J.R.R. Tolkien’s own prose translation of The Battle of Maldon together with the definitive treatment of The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth and its accompanying essays; also included and never before published is Tolkien’s bravura lecture, ‘The Tradition of Versification in Old English’, a wide-ranging essay on the nature of poetic tradition. Illuminated with insightful notes and commentary, he has produced a definitive critical edition of these works, and argues compellingly that, Beowulf excepted, The Battle of Maldon may well have been ‘the Old English poem that most influenced Tolkien’s fiction’, most dramatically within the pages of The Lord of the Rings.
Thanks to the Tolkien Guide, we have an announcement of a forthcoming book that will be important for the study of Tolkien’s alliterative verse: The Battle of Maldon together with The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, edited by Peter Grybauskas and to be published by HarperCollins in March 2023.
According to the pre-publication information, the book will include Tolkien’s lecture on “The Tradition of Versification in Old English,” a valuable resource for those who can’t go to Oxford to read Tolkien’s papers (and let’s face it — that’s most of us!)
Tolkien’s translation of “The Battle of Maldon” was done in prose, most likely as notes for his lectures on the poem. What it says — or doesn’t say — about his interpretation of the word “ofermod,” which is central to his short essay accompanying “The Homecoming,” should be of interest to Tolkien scholars.
As I’ve argued elsewhere, I think…
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