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EN2319 / EN3003 Tolkien's Roots: Old English Poetry and Modern Medievalism

Summer Reading List


Course Tutor: Dr Jennifer Neville

The following is the course textbook, the only book that you have to buy. You may already own it:

Marsden, Richard, ed., The Cambridge Old English Reader (Cambridge: Cambridge Unversity Press, 2004).

I suggest that you should also own the key works by Tolkien listed below, but, at the very least, please be sure to read (or re-read, in some cases!) the following over the summer:

  • Tolkien, The Hobbit
  • Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
  • Tolkien, ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’

This last item is a widely anthologised essay. You can find it, for example, in:

  • Proceedings of the British Academy, 22 (1936), 245-95
  • An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism (Notre Dame and London: University of Notre Dame Press, 1963), pp. 51-103
  • Modern Critical Interpretations: Beowulf, ed. by Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1987), pp. 24-5
  • Michael D. C. Drout, ed., Beowulf and the Critics by J. R. R. Tolkien, Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 248 (Tempe, AZ, 2002)
  • and many other places

We will also be reading another of Tolkien’s essays (which includes a screenplay). This will be provided on a handout, but if you want to track it down in advance, here is the reference:

Tolkien, J. R. R., ‘The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son’, Essays and Studies, n.s. 6 (1953), 1-18

Please read the following Old English texts in translation over the summer:  

  • Beowulf
  • The Wanderer
  • The Battle of Maldon
  • The Exeter Book Riddles
  • The Fight at Finnsburg (also known as The Battle of Finnsburh or The Finnsburh Fragment, spelled with either a ‘g’ or an ‘h’, not to be confused with the ‘Finnsburh Episode’, which is contained in Beowulf.  But if you do get confused, it wouldn’t hurt you to look at that, too!)

With the exception of the last, these are widely available in Old English anthologies, such as:

  • Kevin Crossley-Holland, trans., The Anglo-Saxon World (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Boydell, 1982)
  • S. A. J. Bradley, trans., Anglo-Saxon Poetry (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1982)
  • Hamer, Richard, ed. and trans., A Choice of Anglo-Saxon Verse (London: Faber, 1970)
  • Gordon, R. K., trans., Anglo-Saxon Poetry, rev. edn. (London: Dent, 1954)
  • and others

You may wish to buy one of these anthologies, as it can be very useful to read other Old English texts to give you more context for your interpretations.  Finnburh is often included with translations of Beowulf, but if you have trouble finding it, it is included in Lee & Solopova (see below), and Tolkien also published a translation (J. R. R. Tolkien, Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode, ed. by Alan Bliss (London: HarperCollins, 1998)).  You can also, of course, find many translations online.  Please check that what you are reading are not student translations, however: you want to rely on people who know more than you do!


The following two books are highly recommended.  If you have any money and time to spare, please buy them and read them:

Shippey, T. A., The Road to Middle Earth, rev.and expanded edn. (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2003).

Lee, Stuart D. and Elizabeth Solopova, The Keys of Middle-earth: Discovering Medieval Literature through the Fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005).

If you are very keen and want to start translating your Old English texts in advance, here are the line numbers for our set texts.  They are all contained in Marsden, with the exception of the Beowulf passages, which will be provided on handouts.

·         The Battle of Maldon 84-197

·         The Fight at Finnsburh

·         The Wanderer 58-115

·         Exeter Book Riddles 5, 26, and 47

·         Beowulf 333-89a, 611-65a, and 2270b-2323

    Wes þu hal!






    flet  AragornWedding




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