Accidental Beowulf

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: J.R.R. Tolkien Translation








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.

Benedict Cumberbatch's bottom

Nothing to do with this whatsoever, and I resent any insinuation to that effect.










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 BEOWULFTolkien.  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.

A zeppelin.

Sure, dude. I’ll just jet on down in my gold-plated zeppelin and pay you in platinum ingots!








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.

Benedict Cumberbatch's bottom

“Beowulf is one of the most important works of Anglo-Saxon literature to the fact that it is the oldest surviving epic poem of Old English and also the earliest vernacular English literature!” -Benedict Cumberbatch, “Frankenstein”


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