Many fans know that J.R.R. Tolkien created the fantasy languages in The Lord of the Rings, but fewer know that he was a linguist first, and an author second. Now, the New York Times reports that one of his earliest scholarly works, a translation of Beowulf, is being published for the first time.
Beowulf is a 3,000-line story told in verse, written some time around the turn of the first millennium, and is one of the oldest written examples of Old English. The story chronicles the quests of its titular hero as he battles monsters and rescues kingdoms in Scandinavia. Tolkien finished his translation of the epic poem in 1926, when he was just 34. He was reportedly dissatisfied with the work, and set it aside, though he returned to the piece to make edits throughout his life. Tolkien's own fantasy stories were undoubtedly influenced by Beowulf's tales of dark monsters living in mountains and gold-hoarding dragons. The new translation will be accompanied by his notes on the piece, along with a previously unpublished short story and a song he wrote that were inspired by the epic.
The full account also details the controversy around publishing work after an author’s death, and Tolkien’s feelings about how translating the epic from verse into plain prose could be considered "an abuse." Read it here.