Monday, August 1, 2016

J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Story of Kullervo”

Before J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there were The Silmarillion and a host of stories drawn from Norse mythologies. One of the earliest, if not the earliest, in the Tolkien pantheon was The Story of Kullervo, likely written shortly before World War I but never previously published.

Now it is.

But it’s not only the story itself.

Included in the book are the story (about 40 pages long), a list of names, plot synopses with notes and commentary, two essays by Tolkien, and an essay on Tolkien and The Story of Kullervo by Verlyn FLiger, professor emerita in the Department of English ar the University of Maryland and the editor for this work.

And the result is  fascinating account of the story that includes all the background you might want on it, along with insights into Tolkien and how he created the mythical world that became one of the best-loved stories of the 20th century.

Tolkien about 1914
Kullervo is an orphan, brought up by the bad magician who killed his father, kidnapped his mother, and tried to kill Kullervo himself on three occasions. After being sold into slavery, he swears revenge, but many years pass before he can exact justice. And he falls in love with a beautiful young woman he meets in the woods – who happens to be his twin sister.

The Story of Kullervo is a dark tale of tragic fates, and it formed part of the imaginative story that eventually became Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin. It is both a precursor and a building stone for Tolkien’s mythical world. It’s a good story on its own, and the supplemental material and essays are especially helpful to place it with its Tolkien context.


Top illustration: The Land of Pohja, painting by J.R.R. Tolkien (1914) and part of the cover illustration for The Story of Kullervo.

No comments: