On New Tolkien

In May, HarperCollins is bringing out a new book by J.R.R. Tolkien. However, it’s not another Middle-Earth book, as there’s probably nothing else on the subject to publish.

Instead, it’s something rather different. And for me, rather interesting.

In the 1920’s, Professor Tolkien worked on a version of the Volsung Saga, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún.

The previously unpublished work was written while Tolkien was professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University during the 1920s and ’30s, before he wrote The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The publication will make available for the first time Tolkien’s extensive retelling in English narrative verse of the epic Norse tales of Sigurd the Völsung and the Fall of the Niflungs.

The Volsung Saga tells the story of Sigurd, the Viking, who slays the dragon, Fafnir, and gains the Ring of the Nibelungen. Wagner adapted the story for his magisterial operatic Ring Cycle. Tolkien himself drew upon it for the names of the Dwarves in The Hobbit, and he drew upon other Norse and Germanic myths in creating Middle-Earth. (And the Volsung Sagas contributed to the origins of Ash Wednesday, interestingly enough, as many Christian practices have pagan origins.)

Tolkien, of course, had an interest in the literature of the Norse and the English from the time of Beowulf to about the twelfth century. He translated Beowulf and Sir Gawain, he wrote the famous essay, “The Monster and his Critics,” that defended Beowulf, and the creation of Middle-Earth owed a great deal to a thought experiment — what sorts of legends might England have birthed, in the time before the country was overrun by the Angles and Saxons and Danes and Norse and Normans. Tolkien was creating a mythology, and by looking at others mythologies, he could better understand his own.

An adaptation of the Volsung Saga would be the sort of thing he would do. And it’s something I would be very interested in.

May. Tolkien. The Volsungs.

I’m there. :)

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