Tolkien's Anglo-Saxon Sense and Sensibility: 
The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son

"There is not intended to be what we should call a difference of social standing between the two speakers. One requires a younger lighter voice, and the other an older and deeper. The difference between them is rather one of temper, and matter, than 'class'.
--Letter to BBC in preparation for broadcast of The Homecoming on 3 December 1954.

"Coming home dead without a head (as Beorhtnoth did) is not very delightful. But this is spoof."
--Letter to Allen & Unwin, 23 Feburary 1961, complaining of Åke Ohlmark's introduction to the Swedish version of the Lord of Rings  in which he writes that Tolkien "also treats another famous homecoming."

Tolkien's drawing-room play, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, is an alliterative work that functions as an extended commentary on Beorhtnoth's fatal decision in the Battle of Maldon to let his enemies cross the causeway, and on the heroic worldview that lays behind it. It also serves as similar complex thinking about Beowulf and the writer who would enter that world. 

I've nicknamed the positions of 

 

Torhthelm ("Bright Helmet")

Believes the battlefield contains ghosts, omens, and barrow-wights

Makes the deaths of the fallen heroic and worthy of song

Sings of the glory of the fallen and the barrows to be built

Slays a corpse stripper

The honor of Beorhtnoth

Heroic and pagan and fey

Tídwald ("Wielder of Time")

Insists that its only the darkness

Insists he doesn't understand the pain and horror of real battle; the world always weeps

Rather have peace in Christian days with the monks mourning over the dead

Points out such live wretched, poor lives

The hubris of Beorhtnoth

Plain and Christian and practical


Discussion Questions
  • Is it possible to see the three sections of the work--the historical background "Beorhtnoth's Death," the verse drama, and "Ofermod"--as a holistic work, or do they rather function as two or three interrelated, but otherwise too stylistically different sections to form a whole?
  • Is it possible to read Tolkien's own experience in WWI into The Homecoming?
  • Is Tolkien more inclined to one position? Why? or why not?
  • How does Tolkien include gallows humor in the drama?
  • Does Tolkien stake too much on lines 89-90, as opposed to lines 312-313?
  • How does Tolkien's reading of ofermod shape his reading of Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?
  • What might it mean to read Torhthelm as the eventual author of the fragment we know as The Battle of Maldon?
  • How might Tolkien's multi-sided view of heroism and chivalry in this work reveal aspects of his other fiction?
  • Is it significant that Tolkien's ends the verse-drama with the words of the Dirge, the Matins prayer service for the dead (taken from Psalm 5), as well as the prayer the Gloria Patri? (see below)
Dīrige, Domine, in conspectū tuō viam meam.

Intrōībō in domum tuam: adōrābō ad templum sanctum tuum in timōre tuō.

Domine, dēdūc mē in jūstitiā tuā : propter inimīcōs meōs dīrige in conspectū tuō viam meam.

Glōria Patrī et Fīliō et Spīrituī Sanctō: sīcut erat in prīncipiō et nunc et semper et in saecula saeculōrum.

Dīrige, Domine, in conspectū tuō viam meam.
Direct, O Lord, my way in your sight.

I will enter your house: I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.

Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness: because of my enemies; direct my way before you..

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Direct, O Lord, my way in your sight.
 

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding