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Black Lamb

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Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.

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Archive for November, 2014

November 2014 in Black Lamb

Volume 12, Number 11 — November 2014

November 1st, 2014

In November’s issue, Terry Ross tells the truth about the town he inhabits in Not exactly Portlandia. In Putting the fun in funerals, Elizabeth Fournier describes some trends in the death industry. Toby Tompkins reviews J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf in Epic treatment. In Love’s not easy, John M. Daniel warns of some pitfalls to avoid in writing about relationships. Dan Peterson gives us another chapter in his multi-section portrait with State of Italy, part 3. And Alex Houston, M.A. Orthofer, and Brad Bigelow contribute expert reviews of four books.

We wecome operetta king William Gilbert and American writer James Agee into our gallery of Honorary Black Lambs. Bridge columnist Trixie Barkis challenges us with more puzzles in declarer play. Our monthly lamb recipe is for James Beard’s classic Mushroom-stuffed Lamb Chops. Advice columnist Millicent Marshall answers more readers’ questions. And Professor Avram Kahn presents another challenging Black Lamb Word Puzzle.

Posted by: The Editors
Category: Month summaries | Link to this Entry

Epic treatment

November 1st, 2014

BY TOBY TOMPKINS

Beowulf, A Translation and Commentary
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Lo! The glory of the kings of the people of the Spear-Danes in days of old we have heard told, how those princes did deeds of valor.
— first line of J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf

The beloved author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was by profession a professor of Old and Middle English at Oxford University. In the 1920s, while a young don, he rendered Beowulf, orginally written in England during the eighth century in a Northumbrian variant of Anglo-Saxon, into modern English. But he never tried to publish it, feeling that it didn’t meet his exacting standards. In addition, he was preoccupied with his studies and scholarly publications, and later, with the lectures he delivered to his doctoral candidates on the poem and other surviving texts of Old English literature, lectures which presupposed his students’ working knowledge of Anglo-Saxon.

But he continued to tinker with the translation off and on throughout his life, seeking a version which best approximated the compressed force of the epic poem. Beowulf was written in unrhymed, strongly-stressed alliterative verse whose lines were divided into two sections of dactylic trimeter, like all Anglo-Saxon poems, but Tolkien decided from the first not to replicate that poetic form exactly in his modern version, feeling that in contemporary English it ran the risk of sounding monotonous. Instead, he wrote his translation in prose, but kept the interior stresses. The result, when read aloud — and of course Beowulf was orginally declaimed from memory at the feast-table of a king, by a bard, or scop — preserves the power of the original while impelling the reader to keep up with its swiftness and fluidity. Things happen fast in the tale, and as the commentary included in the current translation suggests, the scop probably recited all of it in the course of a single long, bibulous evening in his monarch’s mead hall.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Books and Authors, Tompkins | Link to this Entry

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