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Lewis on Beowulf

Comprising most of Lewis' writings.

Lewis on Beowulf

Postby ladysherlockian » 01 Jan 2010, 16:38

I was listening to the recording of a lecture my friend did for me when I was sick, and I heard something new about CS Lewis and his scholarly work. The lecturer mentioned an essay by CS Lewis about Beowulf, in which Lewis considers the epic a thoroughly Christian work, telling a story of pride and its punishment. Unfortunately, the lecturer did not give the title of the essay and I was not there to ask him. What is the title of this essay and in which book by CS Lewis can I find it?

Please forgive my mistakes, English is not my native language.
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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby Adam Linton » 01 Jan 2010, 19:09

Lewis was not known as a Beowulf specialist, and I can't recall an essay of his for which it is the main topic.

J. R. R. Tolkien, however, was one of the premier Beowulf scholars of the last one hundred years. His essay, "The Monsters and the Critics" changed the course of Beowulf studies. It's included in the Tolkien essay collection of the same name [try Amazon UK]. It's also one of the essays in the Norton Critical Editions of Beowulf.
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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby ladysherlockian » 01 Jan 2010, 21:09

Tolkien and his works are my main interest, and I learned about CS Lewis thanks to Tolkien, he was mentioned as his friend so I got interested in Lewis too. I am not very knowledgeable about Lewis, but what the lecturer said surprised me, as I've read that Tolkien wrote about Beowulf, I've heard about the essay you have mentioned, but I've never heard anything about Beowulf and Lewis. Before I asked this question, I did an Internet search on the topic, but with no conclusive results. This have interested me deeply, is it possible that the lecturer made some mistake? This seems very unlikely, as it was a lecture on English and American novel.
Last edited by ladysherlockian on 31 Jan 2010, 15:27, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby Sven » 01 Jan 2010, 21:13

There's rather a lot about Beowulf in A Preface to Paradise Lost, but I don't recall anything along the specific lines you mention.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby Larry W. » 02 Jan 2010, 12:31

Would Lewis have approved of modern prose translations of poems such as Donaldson's Beowulf? That was the one I read in college many years ago, though it still would be considered modern today if one considers the age of the poem itself and its many translations. There was the advantage of not having to cram lines into verse from new English into old Anglo-Saxon. Most people today aren't scholars of Old English (especially young college/university students), and they certainly benefit by having a clear modern translation (such as Donaldson's) in their own language.

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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby ladysherlockian » 19 Jan 2010, 14:47

I have listened to the recording once again, more carefully than before, but the lecturer indeed did not give the name of the essay on Beowulf. What he did say was that this essay was the most important and well-known scholarly work of Lewis, and he described how in Lewis's time it was believed that the Christian elements and allusions in Beowulf were just later additions by monks who wanted to make it more Christian, and these were not originally in the poem. Other scholars wanted to get rid of the Christian elements and return to what they believed was the original, pagan spirit of the poem. According to the lecturer, Lewis protested against these opinions, claiming that Beowulf was essentially and inherently Christian and these Christian elements were there at the beginning, pointing to the Christian moral of punished pride. Lewis was also of the opinion that Beowulf was a much later thing, written when England was already Christian - at least, according to the lecture. I don't know what to think of it. Would it be possible to post here some excerpts from Lewis's work that may be relevant to this issue - I mean the things about Beowulf in the Preface to Paradise Lost? Lewis's works are quite hard to get here in Poland, especially the scholarly ones. Thank you in advance for your helpful comments.
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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby archenland_knight » 19 Jan 2010, 14:52

Ladysherlockian wrote:What he did say was that this essay was the most important and well-known scholarly work of Lewis,


I think "A Preface to Paradise Lost", which Sven mentioned, is often considered to be Lewis' "most important and well-known scholarly work". Since it does have quite a bit of reference to Beowulf, perhaps that is in fact the essay of which the lecturer spoke. A fairly well-stocked library at a major university ought to have a copy of it.
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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby ladysherlockian » 31 Jan 2010, 19:35

I borrowed the book, so my university library must have been
archenland_knight wrote: A fairly well-stocked library
I'm so glad I got hold of the book. What surprised me at the beginning was the fact that it was a separate book, before I imagined it as a sort of Introduction printed in one volume with Milton's poem. But in fact it is a small book... Nevermind, now I'm reading this book and I've read seven chapters so far. Beowulf was mentioned, but as an example of what Lewis called Primary Epic, and as can be inferred from the book's index there will be no further mention of Beowulf in the later part of the book. So it seems I won't find anything more about Beowulf apart from what I've already read. Anyway, it is called A Preface to Paradise Lost, so Beowulf is obviously not the main subject. Of course, I will continue reading the book, but as regards the search for the Lewis's Beowulf essay it is perhaps not what the lecturer meant.
I found two fragments which point to Lewis's belief that Beowulf was a thoroughly Christian poem, as the lecturer had said.
CS Lewis in A Preface to Paradise Lost, page 25 wrote:There is certainly not more suffering behind Beowulf than there is behind the Illiad; but there is a consciousness of good and evil which Homer lacks.

and
CS Lewis in A Preface to Paradise Lost, page 28 wrote:No doubt it is possible to suppose an earlier version in which the Trojans were hated - just as it is possible to suppose an earlier Beowulf free from all the Christian passages, or a 'historical' Jesus totally different from the figure in the Synoptic tradition. But that, I confess, is a mode of 'research' I heartily distrust.

The first quote may be suggesting that Lewis considered Beowulf maybe better in respect to the ethical, moral world-view presented than Homer's works, perhaps the words
CS Lewis in A Preface to Paradise Lost, page 25 wrote:a consciousness of good and evil which Homer lacks.

suggest Christian perspective in Beowulf?
And in the second quotation Lewis clearly expresses his dislike of research aiming to get rid of Christian elements in Beowulf. But still, these two are only small elements of the book, and not the most important ones;) and Beowulf is not the main topic either. From what the lecturer said it seemed that he meant an essay devoted to Beowulf criticism..I will continue the search and write here about my new findings, if there are any;) Thank you for all your advice:)
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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby Larry W. » 01 Feb 2010, 02:48

I bought (or more accurately, received it free with two other books bought at Barnes & Noble) a nice hardcover verse translation of Beowulf Friedrich Klaeber the other day. Has anyone here read that translation?

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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby matdonna » 02 Feb 2010, 04:12

Translation? I have Klaeber's edition of the OE text. From university days.
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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby Larry W. » 02 Feb 2010, 12:24

The edition I have is a modern English translation. The translator was John McNamara, not Friedrich Klaeber, the person that I had mistakenly listed in my last message. (whose text the translation is based on). Your Beowulf in the original Old English is probably a much rarer and more valuable book for collectors. I haven't read mine yet, but I think it is good for general readers and students who don't know any Anglo Saxon. The translator seems to have been a good OE scholar. Anyway, this was quite a good deal for a bargain book. :smile: I wondered if colleges and universities actually offer courses in Anglo Saxon so that students can read Beowulf in the original. They don't in my country (at least they didn't when I was in college many years ago), but perhaps they do in England where the poem is studied in more depth in its original language. Most colleges and universities here in the U. S. don't require students to read The Illiad and The Odyssey in original Greek, either. I guess we received our classics second hand, which may not be as good, but at least we read them. :smile:

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Re: Lewis on Beowulf

Postby JDMalament » 20 May 2010, 23:57

I remember reading somewhere about Lewis originally having difficulty teaching Beowulf because of the poor instruction that he, himself, received. This led to his sucessful "Beer and Beowulf" evenings, which I believe, also involved J.R.R. Tolkien. Apparently, the mixture of undergraduates, alcohol, and epic poetry is a good mix.

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