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Sellic Spell

From Tolkien Gateway
Revision as of 09:13, 19 April 2023 by (talk) (This entry was clearly written before Sellic Spell was published, I think by someone who had not had the chance to read it? I've added some basic details about the story and its connection with the Beowulf-poem - Victoria Clare)
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Art inspired by the Saga of Hrólfr Kraki

Sellic Spell (meaning "wondrous/strange tale" in Old English[1]) is a short story by J.R.R. Tolkien. It is in the form of a folk-tale in modern English that takes inspiration from both Beowulf (poem) and the Norse Hrólfs saga kraka, and follows the plot of Beowulf up to the slaying of Grendel's mother. The manuscript is held by the Bodleian Library.[2]

Sellic Spell was edited by Christopher Tolkien and published in 2014 as part of Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell.


Tolkien chose to translate names taken from Beowulf into modern English names such as Grinder, for the Grendel character, Breaker, Ashwood. Unferth from the Beowulf poem is named Unfriend (or Unpeace).

The main character in Sellic Spell is named Beewolf, a name chosen to connect the character of the hero Beowulf with the concept of a child found alone in a bear-cave, who grows up to be a great warrior, from Hrólfs saga kraka.

Story and Characters

Beewolf is remarkable in that he does not use a sword or axe, preferring to wrestle with his foes, until after his victory over Grinder and his mother when he finally accepts the gift of a sword made by Unfriend from the king.

In Sellic Spell, Beewolf arrives to fight Grinder along with two other warriors: Handshoe and Ashwood, and each in turn takes their place sleeping in the hall. Handshoe and Ashwood are each slain, but Beewolf, the last of the three to attempt the feat, wrestles Grinder and breaks off his arm.

Sellic Spell also departs from the Beowulf version of the story in that in the final revision of Tolkien's tale, Grinder's mother does not come to the hall to avenge her son: instead, Beewolf follows Grinder to his lair and finds her there. She is described as a hag that fights with spells.

See also