Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics PDF – Overview
Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics – It was a lecture given by J. R. R. Tolkien on literary criticism in 1936 on the Old English heroic epic poem Beowulf. It was first published as a paper in the Proceedings of the British Academy, and has since been reprinted in many collections.
Tolkien argues that the original poem has almost been lost under the weight of the scholarship on it; that Beowulf must be seen as a poem, not just as a historical document; and that the quality of its verse and its structure give it a powerful effect. He rebuts suggestions that the poem is an epic or exciting narrative, likening it instead to a strong masonry structure built of blocks that fit together.
Author of Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics points out that the poem’s theme is a serious one, mortality, and that the poem is in two parts: the first on Beowulf as a young man, defeating Grendel and his mother, the second on Beowulf in old age, going to his death fighting the dragon.
Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics
J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay Beowulf The Monsters and the Critics, initially delivered as the Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Lecture at the British Academy in 1936, and first published as a paper in the Proceedings of the British Academy that same year, is regarded as a formative work in modern Beowulf studies.
In it, Tolkien speaks against critics who play down the monsters in the poem, namely Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon, in favour of using Beowulf solely as a source for Anglo-Saxon history. Tolkien argues that rather than being merely extraneous, these elements are key to the narrative and should be the focus of study.
In doing so he drew attention to the previously neglected literary qualities of the poem and argued that it should be studied as a work of art, not just as a historical document. Later critics such as Hugh Magennis, who agree with Tolkien on this point, have cited him to defend their arguments.
Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics – Editions
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1936). “Beowulf The Monsters and the Critics”. Proceedings of the British Academy.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1983). The Monsters and the Critics, and Other Essays. London: George Allen & Unwin.
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1997). The Monsters and the Critics. London: HarperCollins.
- Nicholson, Lewis E., ed. (1963). An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
- Fulk, Robert Dennis, ed. (1991). Interpretations of Beowulf: A Critical Anthology. Indiana University Press.
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