Beowulf, Harry Potter, and Fran Tarkenton

VikingsI have mentioned before that when I was studying English literature in college, J. R. R. Tolkien was alive and still publishing. Oh, everyone now knows about The Lord of the Rings but unless you were on the academic side of literature, you might not know that Tolkien was an excellent source for early English literature: we used his translations and scholarly analysis of several of the works attributed to The Pearl Poet, including Sir Gawain and, of course, The Pearl.

Now Tolkien’s son Christopher is about to publish his father’s study titled, Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary.

Beowulf is written in Old English. I often felt that German was more understandable than Old English. Although we had to show some ability to read Old English, luckily we studied the epic in a translation. Recent translations, including Seamus Heaney’s excellent version, tend to provide the original OE text opposite the new translation. I wonder if the Tolkien edition will also do this. No matter what, as an old Medievalist, this book belongs on my bookshelf … and possibly yours too.

I loved studying Medieval literature. I concentrate on English literature but there was lots of really good stuff from most of the other countries of Europe. If you ever do go back and read these works from hundreds of years ago, one thing you might realize is just how derivative J. K. Rowling is. Besides, remember what Harold Bloom said in The Wall Street Journal:

[Rowling’s] prose style, heavy on cliche, makes no demands upon her readers….How to read Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone? Why, very quickly, to begin with, perhaps also to make an end. Why read it? Presumably, if you cannot be persuaded to read anything better, Rowling will have to do. Is there any redeeming education use to Rowling?

….Can more than 35 million book buyers, and their offspring, be wrong? Yes, they have been, and will continue to be for as long as they persevere with Potter.

Here’s a good question: is there any redeeming education use to The Lord of the Rings?

In a related bit of news, I see where current historians are recommending that we forget everything we were taught about the Vikings: it’s all wrong! They were really no worse than other people around the same time, were demonstrably no more efficient at mayhem than those they attacked, set up rather sophisticated trading arrangements, and even founded what became the permanent settlements known as Russian and Ukraine.

Not to mention a football franchise in Minnesota.

Who knew?

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