Sunday, January 21, 2024

Fairy-tale Versions of Beowulf

In Tolkien On Fairy-Stories (2008), Verlyn Flieger and I noted that in Tolkien's research notes for his famous lecture/essay, Tolkien queried himself twice about whether on not Andrew Lang had included a retold Beowulf in any of his Fairy Books--the first time briefly, but in the second instance with a bit of commentary: 

A Fairy Story. But when retold (seldom) it is not retold as such. For what the poet did to it was for his own purposes--rel[ated] to the substance but not the manner of the story. It should be retold as a fairy-story. [Tolkien On Fairy-stories, p. 100]
Verlyn and I suggested that this note (probably dating from 1943) might have been the germ for Tolkien's fairy story version "Sellic Spell" (in existence by the summer of 1945), which was unpublished at the time our book came out. "Sellic Spell" has since been published in Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell (2014), edited by Christopher Tolkien. It appears there in final form (occupying 26 pages by itself), with additional material including an introduction and commentary on the drafts by Christopher, and a version by Tolkien in Old English. 

I checked the twelve Andrew Lang colored fairy books when researching Tolkien On Fairy-stories, but found no fairy tale version of Beowulf. Since then I have worked with others of Lang's various anthologies for children and, oddly (considering its title), in Lang's The Red Book of Animal Stories (1899), I found two chapters covering the Beowulf story. As usual, Lang was the compiler of stories written by other people, and the Beowulf sections, and other stories about "unscientific animals" (to use Lang's phrase) were told by Mr. H.S.C. Everard, or Harry Stirling Crawfurd Everard (1848-1909), who was best known as a writer of columns on golf, for newspapers, magazines, and specialist journals. 

Everard's "The Story of Beowulf, Grendel, and Grendel's Mother" and "The Story of Beowulf and the Fire Drake" were illustrated with plates by H.J. Ford--two for the first story, one for the second. (I  copy all three along with this posting.) Both stories are short, and you can read the first here, and the second here. Both of the Everard versions have some interesting Tolkienian aspects, in details that do not come from the original. Enjoy.