A dragon is no idle fancy


Tolkien was a noted scholar and linguist before he was a published novelist, laboring on the Oxford English Dictionary and then embarking upon a long career at Oxford University, where he was professor of Anglo Saxon studies and later Merton Professor of English, a chair he held until his death. His iconoclastic 1936 lecture, “Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics,” challenged assumptions that the eighth century text should be treated purely as a historical document and not a work of art. It’s now regarded as a watershed moment in Beowulf studies. In the essay, Tolkien didn’t mince words in his disdain of fellow academics: “For it is of their nature that the jabberwocks of historical and antiquarian research burble in the tulgy wood of conjecture, flitting from one tum-tum tree to another.” He was particularly dismissive of those who ignored the importance of the poem’s monsters — Grendel, Grendel’s mother and especially the dragon that Beowulf kills, but not before he himself is mortally wounded.

more from Elizabeth Hand at the LA Times here.