Beowulf Through Tolkien

January 12, 2015
12 Weeks
LITD 5304


Dr. Tom Shippey
Prof. Sørina Higgins
Chair of the Department of Language & Literature

How did Tolkien view Beowulf? How did Beowulf influence Tolkien?

Tolkien’s involvement with Beowulf was lifelong. His 1936 lecture to the British Academy on “the Monsters and the Critics” has been said to be the most-cited academic paper of all time, in the humanities. But he also lectured to undergraduates until he retired in 1957 – and then Oxford asked him back for a repeat course in 1963. Some of his views appeared posthumously in 1982 (Finn and Hengest), and more came out with his translation and partial commentary in 2014. They cast much unexpected light on the poem, but at the same time the poem, as read by Tolkien, casts unexpected light on his own fiction. We know literally nothing about the author of Beowulf, and what we can safely infer is not much. But to Tolkien, he was a kindred spirit. Reading Tolkien and Beowulf  together, and reading each through the other, is an illuminating experience. This is the first course ever to try to do so, and it will be taught by a professor equally prominent as a Tolkienian and a Beowulfian

Course Schedule

Week 1 – Lines 1 to 200

Tolkien 1-156, pp. 13-18

Week 2 – On To Line 500

Tolkien 157-405, pp. 18-27

Week 3 – Forward To Line 700

Tolkien 406-573, pp. 27-33

Week 4 – On To Line 1000

Tolkien 574-807, pp. 33-41

Week 5 – (The Problematic) Lines 1000-1400

Tolkien 808-951, pp. 41-46

Week 6 – (The Problematic) Lines 1000-1400 continue

Tolkien 952-1165, pp. 46-53

Week 7 – The Next 300 Lines

Tolkien 1166-1415, pp. 53-62

Week 8 – To Line 1900 (Possibly the Most Philosophical Lines)

Tolkien 1416-1583, pp. 62-68

Week 9 – Up to Line 2200 (The Poem’s Warm Center) & Through 2400

  • Tolkien 1584-1851, pp. 68-77
  • Tolkien 1852-2019, pp. 77-83

Week 10 – (Disentangling) Line 2400 to The End

Tolkien 2020-2669, pp. 83-105

Week 11 – (Disentangling) Line 2400 to The End

Tolkien 2020-2669, pp. 83-105

Week 12 – (Disentangling) Line 2400 to The End

Tolkien 2020-2669, pp. 83-105

Required Texts

Additional titles will be made available online.

Course History

This course has been offered in the following semesters.

Beowulf Through Tolkien Offerings
Semester Preceptor(s)
Spring 2015 Sørina Higgins, Nelson Goering