Tolkien started writing Lord of the Rings in 1937. But a year before that he gave a lecture entitled “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics”. Beowulf is, of course, the epic poem recognized as one of the most important in the Western Canon. The author is unknown, but the piece has been translated and critiqued by some of the biggest literary names. Tolkien’s interpretation changed the whole game, though. Critics before him made little of Grendel and the poem’s other monstrous beings, as they offered little from a historical standpoint. But Tolkien argued that the monsters really made Beowulf a poem. Without them, he argued, it was just text.
You’ve been listening to the Eastman-Rochester Symphony Orchestra with Lament for Beowulf, composed by Howard Hanson and released in 1951.