As soon as I found this hardbound edition in the bookstore, I snapped it up This 350 page book contains J.R.R Tolkien s interpretation of the two ancient epic poems from the Poetic Edda of the Icelandic peoples Tolkien s son, Christopher has compiled and edited his father s work on the Lay of the Volsungs and the Lay of Gudrun This is earthy and spare poetry rich in story and tradition and provides a tangible connection to our ancestors and their mythology than a thousand years ago This is a book to read, re read, and study and, I have to say, it somehow feels canonical, as Beowulf is considered to be Christopher Tolkien s notes and comments on his father s work help place these poems in their proper context Finally, I see that some of the ideas and concepts developed in Tolkien s fiction are the direct result of his life long fascination and study of the Poetic Edda I highly recommend this book it is real a treasure BOOK REVIEWIn Legend poems, Tolkien the storytellerBy Ethan Gilsdorf, Boston Globe Correspondent September 4, 2009J.R.R Tolkien is best known as the author of fantasy tales like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings But some may not know that he was an academic first and writer second The reclusive British scholar, lexicographer, and Oxford don was, in a way, the original geek He specialized in the rather arcane field of philology the history of languages , and pored over Anglo Saxon and Old Norse texts To Tolkien 1892 1973 , Icelandic sagas and 1,000 year old poems like Beowulf were the finest stuff ever written He didn t even read contemporary fiction.Tolkien hung out with other medievalists in Oxford pubs, where they drank ale, smoked pipes, and made up stories by firelight While most authors of the early 20th century were busy smashing Victorian conventions and reassembling the pieces into irony laden modernism, Tolkien was penning stories and poems about domineering dragons and world weary wizards.Since he was inclined to tinker rather than finish many of his projects, reams of uncompleted drafts remain, like treasures to unearth Gradually, his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, has been deciding which are worthy of publication So it comes as no surprise that the son has discovered another of his father s old works.Written in the early 1930s, some years before The Hobbit and Rings, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudr n almost vanished The elder Tolkien lamented in a 1967 letter to W.H Auden that he wanted to lay my hands on it I hope it isn t lost , a thing I did many years ago it appears he never revised the poems since those early days Christopher, now 84, edited the manuscript.The two poems that make up The Legend of Sigurd and Gudr n are Tolkien s version of the Old Norse V lsung and Nibelung legends, an attempt to unify and organize the material dealing with Sigurd, Brynhild, Gunnar, and other characters, using the same source materials that Richard Wagner drew upon for his opera series The Ring Tolkien s task was to fit modern English to the Old Norse meter eight line stanzas, each short line only four to six syllables and containing two to three stresses each The poems were an exercise, he said, in trying to learn the art of writing alliterative poetry He also wanted to capture the essence of Old Norse poetry, with its demonic energy and force, the lines chiseled to seize a situation and strike a blow.The poems do deliver the desired blows In the dense yet spare lines, we are told of Odin, Thor and Loki dark forests and doors to caverns giants and a monstrous wolf Fenrir Abysses yawn brothers murder fathers and men sing of serpents ceaselessly guarding gold and silver greedy hearted Wise words are uttered, like these from Sigurd Stout heart is better than strongest sword And yes, there are dungeons and dragons In short, all the raw materials for 100 epics.In Sigurd and Gudr n, one feels Tolkien warming up his own storytelling muscles and voice, recasting an old song in a new language so he, soon, could take the reins to tell his own original tales And one also senses the sweetness of the son, Christopher, uncovering his father s many small slips of paper and putting them in order, bent on making certain his father s legend grows, too, along with the many tales he told.Ethan Gilsdorf can be reached at ethan ethangilsdorf.com His book Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks An Epic Quest for Reality Among Role Players, Online Gamers, and Other Dwellers of Imaginary Realms has just been released Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company The World First Publication Of A Previously Unknown Work By JRR Tolkien, Which Tells The Epic Story Of The Norse Hero, Sigurd, The Dragon Slayer, The Revenge Of His Wife, Gudrun, And The Fall Of The Nibelungs Many Years Ago, JRR Tolkien Composed His Own Version, Now Published For The First Time, Of The Great Legend Of Northern Antiquity, In Two Closely Related Poems To Which He Gave The Titles The New Lay Of The Volsungs And The New Lay Of Gudrun In The Lay Of The Volsungs Is Told The Ancestry Of The Great Hero Sigurd, The Slayer Of Fafnir Most Celebrated Of Dragons, Whose Treasure He Took For His Own Of His Awakening Of The Valkyrie Brynhild Who Slept Surrounded By A Wall Of Fire, And Of Their Betrothal And Of His Coming To The Court Of The Great Princes Who Were Named The Niflungs Or Nibelungs , With Whom He Entered Into Blood Brotherhood In That Court There Sprang Great Love But Also Great Hate, Brought About By The Power Of The Enchantress, Mother Of The Niflungs, Skilled In The Arts Of Magic, Of Shape Changing And Potions Of Forgetfulness In Scenes Of Dramatic Intensity, Of Confusion Of Identity, Thwarted Passion, Jealousy And Bitter Strife, The Tragedy Of Sigurd And Brynhild, Of Gunnar The Niflung And Gudrun His Sister, Mounts To Its End In The Murder Of Sigurd At The Hands Of His Blood Brothers, The Suicide Of Brynhild, And The Despair Of Gudrun In The Lay Of Gudrun Her Fate After The Death Of Sigurd Is Told, Her Marriage Against Her Will To The Mighty Atli, Ruler Of The Huns The Attila Of History , His Murder Of Her Brothers The Niflung Lords, And Her Hideous Revenge Deriving His Version Primarily From His Close Study Of The Ancient Poetry Of Norway And Iceland Known As The Poetic Edda And Where No Old Poetry Exists, From The Later Prose Work The Volsunga Saga , JRR Tolkien Employed A Verse Form Of Short Stanzas Whose Lines Embody In English The Exacting Alliterative Rhythms And The Concentrated Energy Of The Poems Of The Edda Christopher Tolkien A strong 4 stars.I was on the mission to collect all of Tolkien s works and try to read as many as possible in March It wasn t very successful as March was my busiest month but I managed to finish five books Yay My expectations were very neutral before reading My only experience with epic poetry was Robert Fitzgerald s The Iliad, which I hoped to enjoy but was disappointed with a truckload of names that ran on for several pages But I knew the legend fairly well already so I didn t beat myself up too much for not finishing it.These two epic poems, based on ancient Norse legend, however, were extremely intense and remarkable Tolkien painstakingly captured a saga of heroism, madness, and tragedy in his English translation.His son s notes and commentary attest to how well read his father was and how much of his famous work was driven by ancient myths Astounding effort.The flow of these two epic poems delighted me It was easy to read one line after another and there was a rhythm going that I could only imagine was tricky to maintain for such plot driven poetry Poetry, for some, can be dull and too obscure to enjoy for a light read, but these were excellent It was a fast but well paced story anybody could read Of course, for those who want to compare Tolkien s translation to the work of Snorri Sturluson, the Icelandic poet that wrote the Prose Edda, they could read up on the points on where the sources differ Christopher Tolkien also elaborated on the stanzas, providing an in depth analysis of the epic poems that one could read or even skim and say, Wow Anyway, if you were having doubts on picking this one up, banish them and read it It was much easier to read than I expected and the story was incredible The descriptions of suffering and battle truly artistic This work is an undeniable symbol of Tolkien s creative skill I was skeptical about Beowulf but now I m definitely buying it in the bookstore. One of the best known heroes in Norse mythology, Sigurd is better known as Siegfried from German versions of the legends, and his exploits and interactions from killing a dragon and re forging a mighty sword, say, to his relationships with his wife Gudr n, with warrior princess Brynhild and with a host of other personages characterise him as much as they echo the exploits and interactions of other heroes in other times and cultures Here Tolkien attempts a harmonisation of the various early tales, particularly those in the Poetic Edda, and versifies them in English as The New Lay of the V lsungs in ten parts and The New Lay of Gudr n , using forms and alliteration modelled on those early originals.This posthumous publication ought by rights to appeal to a wide range of readers, from hobbit fanciers to Wagnerites, from poets to psychologists, and from medieval literature specialists to mythologists, but I suspect it will end up satisfying only those whose interests overlap a number of these categories for any single one of those categories of readers it may well end up a disappointment Many fantasy fans may well come with false expectations of Middle Earth action or a tale compatible with the Ring Cycle or they may vainly hope for than just a pastiche of medieval poetry, however erudite, or a deeper psychological study of the motivations of the main characters and knowledgeable scholars may like to be told than they already know from Christopher Tolkien s otherwise praiseworthy notes and editing However, for those like me who just have a fascination with that certain mix of medieval legend, fantasy, character motivation and mythic resonance The Legend of Sigurd and Gudr n, complete with introductions and notes, supplies an extra dimension all that is lacking is a selection of annotated colour plates of the medieval wooden carvings hinted at on the book s cover and inside line illustrations.Anyway, this reviewer enjoyed it, even if he did have to use two bookmarks to go from text to notes and back again However, this method rather defeats Tolkien s intention of letting a good story stand on its own feet, and in all fairness I should have read the poems straight though, aloud for preference, to judge its merits Actually, mostly what it encourages me to do is to go back to the originals or related works such as The Saga of the Volsungs or The Nibelungenlied, albeit in translation Tolkien worked on The Legend in the 20s and 30s before abandoning it for original creations like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings perhaps the majority of readers will principally judge this as preparation for the literary legacy he is best known for.http wp.me s2oNj1 sigurd Pure Tolkien classic Excellent example of Tom Shippey s idea of writing into the gap It is with a feeling of disquiet that I write anything bad about John Ronald Rouel Tolkien After all, in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings he has given me and millions of others reading pleasure to last a lifetime These two alone would be enough to mark him as one of the greats, and when you add in Smith of wootton Major , Farmer Giles of Ham a genuinely funny work , and Leaf by Niggle I can t help putting him in that rare pantheon of the real, true greats.However, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is, one has to say, one of his less approachable works It should not be forgotten that Tolkien was an Oxford don than he was a professional writer, and this translation of a long, turgid Norse saga is a scholarly work, that if it didn t have JRRT s name on the cover would probably only be read by a few intellectuals However, the capitalist society being what it is, it comes as no surprise to me that it s out there on the bookshelves with the best sellers But frankly, anyone who buys this on the strength of his better known works is due for a massive cold draft of disappointment The Norse mythology unlike most other religions such as Christianity, which holds that good will eventually triumph over evil is a dark one, holding that eventually, at a time called Ragnarok, the evil ice giants will defeat the gods and the world will die Their poetry tends to reflect this, and this work is no exception The first poem ends in the death of the main hero and the suicide of the heroine, who is already a spirit, specifically a Valkyrie the metaphysics of this are confusing , while the second poem is a tale of dramatic revenge But to be fair, few readers will get this far I confess, I forced myself to go on reading because it was Tolkien Had it been a translation by John Smith I d have given up than half way through I repeat, as a Tolkien tragic, I hate writing this review But honesty is honesty Given the small amount of creative work Tolkien produced in his lifetime, I can t help feeling that the time he spent on this translation would have been better used on something with general appeal Another of his brilliant short stories, for example, or one of those intriguing essays along the lines of On Fairy Stories or even some about Middle Earth. Reading the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, one starts to get a feel for where Tolkien was coming from when he wrote the Lord of the Rings Told in the style of a very old English epic poem, Tolkien has rewritten the ancient Norse Classics from the Elder Edda into two distinct stories, the Lay of the Volsungs and the Lay of Gudrun.Many of the characters are easily recognizable by those possessing some familiarity with general Norse mythology or anyone why has played Age of Mythology recently Loki, Odin, Brynhild the valkyries and of course the shining hall of Valholl better known as Valhalla Yet while on the surface, both lays the technical term for this style of poem deal with epic battles and tragic, honourable ends to noble heroes, I came away with the distinct impression that it was the women Gudrun and Brynhild especially who really decide the course of fate at least once they are jaded.I was surprised to find the poetic storytelling much readable than I had initially anticipated There is a rhythm and flavour to the prose that carries you along, even when you don t fully understand all the references you still keep reading just to know what happens That is one thing consistent with Lord of the Rings, Tolkien is truly a master story teller, bringing together many different threads of these original classics and weaving them into his own cohesive version.The lays themselves would have been quite confusing without the context of the commentaries, both by Tolkien himself in the form of preserved notes and lectures and by his son Christopher I occasionally found my attention drifting through these notes, which are written in a similar form to the average university text book, but they were ultimately invaluable in understanding the book as a whole.In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by this book and would highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in Tolkien s work, or classical mythology in general It certainly inspired me to give epic poetry a go I found it really hard to get the metre right and find words that actually fit This sort of poetry is a meticulous art form and I admire the skill that has gone into crafting such a masterpiece. When I was seven years old, I went with my mother to her eye appointment While we were waiting for her to be called, she started reading The Fellowship of the Ring to me We got two chapters in before the appointment Afterwards, she couldn t read because of the eye drops, so I got tired of waiting and started to read it myself This explains my absolute love for Tolkien, among other things It also explains my love for Norse mythology at a young age, even though I didn t know the connection at the time.For me, The Lord of the Rings is one of those books that I will always be re reading, maybe not every year, but every year and a half It is in many ways like Star Wars for me Star Wars was the first movie I can ever remember going to a theater to see It was a drive in and I fell asleep during the Three Stooges pre show, and woke up right after they left Tattotine It s strange It s the first movie I remember seeing in a theater, but that wasn t the first time I saw it.There are major differences The World of Middle Earth is far better drafted and real than the world of Star Wars It is hard to imagine Tolkien making a mistake like having Padme die but Leia remembering her real mother, or having such a weakly thought out group as the Jedi Really, why can t they get married when they get married in some of earlier comic books It is impossible to even think that Tolkien would make such a mistake as in Revenge of the Sith where Obi Wan says, Only a Sith believe in absolutes As one critic has correctly pointed out, such a statement not only insults any person who believes in religion, but is also an absolute sentence, so Obi Wan is a Sith as well.No Middle Earth is far, far, far better thought out Everything fits But there is one overwhelming similarity between the two, and that is marketing Look at Star Wars, even during the first, the good, trilogy, you had the toys, you had the comics, you had the cartoons Droids and Ewoks and those god awful Ewok movies, anyone else remember them More recently, there have been episodes 1 3, video games, books, a Cartoon Network series of 2 minute shorts, a cartoon movie as well as a cartoon series based on the movie The drawback to that marketing is that the Clone Wars movie the cartoon has completely destroyed my blind watching of anything Star Wars Honestly what does Skywalker Ranch, Lucas studios or whatever, have against New Orleans transvestites, and why would a Hutt talk like one Thankfully, Christopher Tolkien can t destroy LOTR the same way It s true that Middle Earth has had its down points Does anyone remember the Rankin Bass Return of the King It s true that Christopher Tolkien has published what seems to be every single scrap of paper his father scribbled on, regardless of whether or not it has anything to do with Middle Earth We not only have The Hobbit and LOTR, but the Sil, The History of Middle Earth, Letters from Father Christmas, and Roverrandom among others We even have lost or new tales that aren t really new or lost, for instance, The Children of Hurin, which is far easier to read in its new format It s enough to wonder, if one is feeling mean, if Christopher Tolkien finds something whenever he needs cash This doesn t seem to be the case It does truly seem to be the case that Christopher Tolkien loved his father and his father s work That is enough, unlike the case with Star Wars to keep people like me buying the books, even in hardcover.This work, The Legend of Sigurd Gudrun is not Middle Earth It is part of the inspiration for Middle Earth, or to be exact, a translation retelling of work that helped inspire Middle Earth But it is also a misnamed work A better title would be J R R Tolkien s Translation Re Telling of the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun with notes by Christopher Tolkien, for there seems to be far C Tolkien than J R R Tolkien in this book In part, this is understandable for the book is culled from Lecture notes, scribbled notes, and a hand written translation Sadly, it also highlights the books two major flaws.The first flaw is connected to the translation retelling itself J R R Tolkien s translation retelling is not a smooth retelling it is jumpy in spots It is not so jumpy that it puts off an informed reader And that might be a problem While it is true that some people reading this book c est moi, for instance are than familiar with the Volsung saga, it is equally likely to be true that some people are picking up the book without this familiarity, buying the book because of the Tolkien name If you are one of these people, I would highly recommend that you read a gloss of the saga, be it a short prose version or another lyric translation This will help make some plot points clearer The second problem is the editing or book structure Large parts of the book are Christopher Tolkien s notes This includes discussions of plot differences, translation difference, or what he thinks his father thought about a certain aspect of the saga There are several problems with this The first is that Christopher Tolkien s writing is pedantically dry If you know about the sagas, none of the information related is new, and you lack the pleasure of reading what the J R R Tolkien himself thought Instead, you are told what someone else thinks he might have thought If you are new to the saga, the information might be interesting, if you can stay awake to read it It is really, really dry Additionally, the notes are not footnotes or endnotes, but instead form a selection of the book There is no indication in the actual text of the lay that there is a note about particular word or stanza This is frustrating, or would be if you needed the information It means that someone who is coming to the saga first hand is getting knowledge of the notes late Would ve adding note numbers been that much of a problem Despite these problems, the book is not a waste Well the story can at times be choppy, it also can be powerful Take for instance, In sweet embrace to sleep she went, to grief unending Gudrun wakened It is a powerful in its starkness, and allows the reader to share something that Tolkien himself loved It also is a good retelling of the story It is constructed as a chant so that any reader can imagine a scop in front of fire singing it Such a wonderful image is one that I m happy the book could give me. A story about love, betrayal, death sorrow Written in verse in two parts The Lay Of Sigurd and The Lay Of Gudrun The lays written by J.R.R Tolkien and after each Lay a commentary from his son Christopher Tolkien Written similar to a psychology paper, explaining each stanza and referencing where it came from Tolkien based most of his work off Norse Mythology and he based most of his life s work off of it From this he created Middle Earth I know some people are not a fan of his work as it can be a bit dry and he heavily detailed his work in old English but Lord Of The Rings The Hobbit when compared to Norse Mythology and where it all came from is quite interesting This story itself reminded me of a darker, grim version of Tristan Isolde.
The Hobbit and
- 377 pages
- The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún
- J.R.R. Tolkien
- 07 September 2019 J.R.R. Tolkien