Daniel C. Remein
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Dons and dragons
Beowulf and ‘popular reading’
in Bestsellers and masterpieces
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Although it only survives in one half-burned copy, Beowulf is today both the star poem that begins countless British literature surveys and one of the few medieval texts with sufficient name recognition to receive a major movie adaptation under the same title as its scholarly edition. Yet the traditional account of the poem’s – relatively recent – rise to prominence hinges on a single essay. For a long time, Beowulf’s success has been attributed to J. R. R. Tolkien’s 1936 Israel Gollancz Memorial British Academy lecture, subsequently published as ‘Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics’, which is conventionally understood to have authorised the poem for literary study insofar as it frames Beowulf as worthy of aesthetic appreciation and analysis. Was Tolkien – together with the British Academy – really singularly responsible for delivering Beowulf to the literature classroom, the publishing industry and Hollywood? In this chapter, we ask what other stories we can tell about the poem, both in terms of its enduring appeal as a poem and its course through different institutional spaces and historical moments.

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Bestsellers and masterpieces

The changing medieval canon

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