The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth
The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son is a poem written by J.R.R. Tolkien, originally published in 1953, in volume 6 of the scholarly journal Essays and Studies by Members of the English Association. It is now most available in the most recent edition of Tree and Leaf.
It is a work of historical fiction, inspired by the Old English poem The Battle of Maldon. It is written in the form of an alliterative poem, but is also a play, being mainly a dialogue between two characters in the aftermath of the Battle of Maldon. The work was accompanied by two essays, also by Tolkien, one before and one after the main work. The work, as published, was thus presented as:
- "The Death of Beorhtnoth" — an introductory essay concerning the battle and the Old English fragment that inspired Tolkien.
- "The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son" — the actual work itself.
- "Ofermod" — an essay following on from the main work, discussing the meaning of the Old English word ofermod.
The poem is a notable yet obscure work of Tolkien's, demonstrating his ability to recreate the alliterative beauty of Old English, yet at the same time deviating from the style in decidedly modern ways.
Extracts from unpublished drafts of The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth were published in Tolkien Studies, Volume 4.
The play itself is the story of two characters, Tidwald (Tida) and Torhthelm (Totta), retrieving the body of Beorhtnoth, Ealdorman of Essex, from the battlefield at Maldon. After a brief search they eventually find their lord's battle-mangled body and his golden sword. In the middle of the action, Totta slays an English battlefield-looter, for which Tída chastises him.
The murder provides an opportunity for the characters to discuss the ethics of Beorhtnoth's actions. Totta is a romantic who thinks Beorhtnoth's actions were tragically noble, while Tída is the battle-experienced farmer who takes the realist position, pointing out the folly of Beorhtnoth's decision to let the Vikings cross the causeway. Eventually the two characters load the lord's body onto a cart, and the drama closes with them leaving the battlefield for a nearby abbey in Ely.
- 1953: Essays and Studies 1953
- 1966: The Tolkien Reader
- 1975: Tree and Leaf; Smith of Wootton Major; The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth
- 1980: Poems and Stories
- 1991: The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth (booklet)
- 2001: Tree and Leaf
- 2023: The Battle of Maldon: together with The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth
According to Åke Bertenstam, Tolkien also "...made a recording of the poem, which has never been commercially released, but copies of it on cassette tapes were given by the Tolkien Estate to the participants of the J.R.R. Tolkien Centenary Conference, held in Oxford in August 1992".
Relation to the legendarium
The inclusion of the academic essays and the poem in The Tolkien Reader was questioned by Rayner Unwin, who thought it would not fit a "popular anthology". However, Tolkien was of the opinion that these texts were "very germane to the general division of sympathy exhibited in The Lord of the Rings".
- Åke Bertenstam, "A Chronological Bibliography of the Writings of J.R.R. Tolkien (11th edition)" dated 25 December 2015, Forodrim.org (accessed 15 December 2016)
- Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond (2006), The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: II. Reader's Guide, p. 1024, cite from Letter to Rayner Unwin (25 April 1966)