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Old English
Old English is the name given to the vernacular language of England from the settlement of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes until the 12the century, when it transitioned into the next linguistic stage, Middle English. It is a Western Germanic language, with Old Frisian and Old Saxon as nearest relatives. It had four great dialects: Northumbrian (North), Mercian (Midlands), Kentish (Kent) and West Saxon (South and South-West). The latter is the best attested, for it was the dialect of the kings of Wessex, that progressively gained political leadership and eventually established the kingdom of England. Modern English however is not its direct descendent: it rather derives from the speech of London, which is dialectally mixed but mainly based upon Mercian.

Old English was Tolkien’s speciality; in this language he transposed – in fiction – the speech of the Rohirrim in the literary device of pseudo-translation set up in
The Lord of the Rings. Many Old English fragments can be found here and there in his literary work. Because Old English was so central to Tolkien, we included numerous examples and put apart mediæval texts from modern compositions.

Fæder úre Pater noster, a Late West-Saxon version (end of the 10th century).
Hál wes þú Maria – Initial antiphon of the Ave Maria, reconstructed after the Wessex Gospels.
Crist of Cynewulf (Lines 104 to 108) – These lines inspired Frodo’s Quenya invocation to Eärendil at Cirith Ungol, which can also be found on this website.
Riddle n° 85 from the Exeter Book – A thought for Sméagol...
Béowulf – Prologue – Lines 1 to 52.
Béowulf – Crossing the sea – Lines 210 to 228.
The Wanderer – An important elegy preserved in the Exeter Book.
The Seafarer – Another moral elegy from the Exeter Book.
The Whale – A poem from the Old English Physiologus, which inspired J. R. R. Tolkien’s Fastitocalon.

The works of John Ronald Reuel and Christopher Tolkien are under the copyright of their authors and/or rights holders, including their publishers and the Tolkien Estate.
Quotations from other authors, editors and translators mentioned in the bibliography are under the copyright of their publishers, except for those whose copyright term has ended.
Last update of the site: September 22nd 2019. Contact us: