JRR Tolkien fans are rejoicing this month in eager anticipation of The Lord of the Rings author’s translation of the renowned Old English poem, Beowulf – eighty-eight years after he wrote it.

Published by Harper Collins and due for release on May 22nd, 2014, Tolkien’s translation will include a commentary on the 11th century poem as well as his previously unreleased tale, The Sellic Spell.

According to the Guardian, Tolkien described the Old English poem as ”laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination”, saying that “the whole thing is sombre, tragic, sinister, curiously real”. However, the story of how the translation came to be, and why it is only being published now in 2014, is almost as bewitching as the tale of Beowulf itself.

The story behind Tolkien’s Beowulf translation

For years, Tolkien’s translation was shrouded in a cloud of mystery. Tolkien first translated Beowulf in 1926, frequently refining it in the succeeding years.

Publishing the translation, however, appears not to have been something he had ever considered. A bizarre decision, given he gave a series of lectures on the poem as a professor at Oxford University.

Rumours of its imminent release date back as far as 2003, when newspapers reported that it had been accidentally unearthed in an Oxford University Library. The man said to have discovered it – Michael Drout, an English professor at Wheaton College, Massachusetts – has explicitly denied the claim that he “discovered” it on his blog in March this year. More.

See: Today Translations

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