We may know him best for giving us the world of Middle-earth, but J.R.R. Tolkien was a man of many talents. As an esteemed scholastic linguist, he gave an influential lecture at Oxford about the 11th-century poem Beowulf and even translated the epic story from its Old English origin into modern verse. Until now, this translation hasn't been available to his many devoted fans, but as Tolkien's son Christopher announced this week, HarperCollins will release Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary on May 22, including transcripts from the Oxford lecture series!
Completed by the writer in 1926, the translation, his son told The Guardian, is as if you were "standing beside Beowulf and his men shaking out their mail-shirts as they beached their ship on the coast of Denmark," preparing to battle Grendel and the dragon. Tolkien believed Beowulf was addressing human destiny in general and that the monsters, not just the tribal politics, were essential to the poem.
With Tolkien back in the news today, we're toasting one of the most gifted, geekiest authors in history, so catch up below with more facts about the man, the myth, and the legend behind Middle-earth.
- Mysterious initials — Between Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, there are plenty of initials circulating geekdom. Tolkien's stand for John Ronald Reuel, though he was known to his family as Ronald. John came from his grandfather and great-grandfather, and Reuel was his father's middle name.
- Lord of linguistics — As a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Pembroke College in Oxford, Tolkien was proficient in over a dozen languages. Linguistics played a large role in his literature. He created 11 different tongues for his works, including Elvish, Khuzdul of the Dwarves, and Sauron's Black Speech.
- Romantic — Tolkien courted Edith Mary Bratt, three years his senior, at the age of 16. It was a forbidden love, as he was a Catholic and she a Protestant. Tolkien's father forbid the relationship, but the younger Tolkien held steadfast and five years later declared his love to Edith, who left the man to whom she was engaged to marry Tolkien.
- Anti-industrialization — In the Lord of the Rings behind-the-scenes featurette, it was revealed that Tolkien, who was born in South Africa, preferred bicycles over cars and hated the industrialization of Europe. It seems that the idyllic Shire is modeled after his simple life of the English countryside.
- Man of many artistic talents — A new book titled The Art of the Hobbit reveals that Tolkien was also a gifted illustrator. The first edition of The Hobbit featured a painting by Tolkien on its cover, but he was a talented pen and ink artist as well. The drawing of The Lonely Mountain below shows off Tolkien's style, which favored dense blacks and intricate lines, similar to traditional Japanese woodblock prints.