I have here, in my hot little hands, quite a lovely tome. It is the newly released version of Beowulf as translated by J.R.R. Tolkien, and I’m not actually supposed to have it.
Beowulf (not to be confused with the much-lauded Wishbone adaptation, Be-a-Wolf) is a tenth century Anglo-Saxon poem about a Danish hero who kills three monsters: Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and a dragon. It’s got so many of the elements of a modern adventure story–blood, guts, mothers–that you forget to be annoyed by how many extraneous H’s there are in people’s names, or how the demonym “Geats” sounds like a combination of “goats” and “yeast.” It’s just that exciting!
As to how I accidentally obtained it…
Several months ago, I traveled to the University of Notre Dame to watch a National Theatre broadcast of Danny Boyle’s “Frankenstein.” This had everything to do with my love of Mary Shelley’s original, and nothing whatsoever to do with a certain B. Cumberbatch running around rather less than clothed.
While in South Bend, my friends and I visited a Barnes & Noble. In a forgotten back corner of said Barnes & Noble was a clear plastic box labelled BEOWULF – Tolkien. What about Beowulf and Tolkien? Well, there was some fine print there, but my ADD-addled brain wouldn’t allow me to read it. Thinking I was entering a raffle, I immediately wrote out two slips (one in my name and one in my husband’s–he loved me for that) and stuffed them in the box.
Three months later, a man named Austin called me from South Bend and asked me to come pick up my book. It transpired that I hadn’t entered a raffle at all–I had pre-ordered a forty-dollar book. Two of them, actually, thanks to my doubling up on slips. On top of that, I would need to drive to South Bend in get them.
I live in Detroit. South Bend is three hours away. When I explained this to Austin, he kindly offered to hold the book for a week to give me time to drive down. Austin was a sweet guy, but he clearly underestimated the realities of the starving writer lifestyle.
Finally, I wound up paying an extra $3.50 to have one of the books shipped to Michigan, and here it now sits, safe in my lap. And it is a beauty. Its dimensions are pleasing, its weight is handsome, and the paper-grain on the jacket is a sensual experience the like of which has not been seen since the closing of the last Roman bath houses. I love it no less for being a completely accidental acquisition.
So: books and butts! Overall, a very productive trip to South Bend.