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Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode [Hardcover]

J. R. R. Tolkien , Alan Joseph Bliss
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 1983
Tolkien's famous translations and lectures on the story of two fifth-century heroes in northern Europe
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (T) (May 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395331935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395331934
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 15.2 x 22.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,158,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

J.R.R. Tolkien was born on 3rd January 1892. After serving in the First World War, he became best known for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, selling 150 million copies in more than 40 languages worldwide. Awarded the CBE and an honorary Doctorate of Letters from Oxford University, he died in 1973 at the age of 81.

Product Description

About the Author

J.R.R.Tolkien (1892-1973) is best known as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It was Professor Tolkien’s own wish that the preparation for publication of this work should be undertaken by Alan Bliss, who studied under him from 1946-48. Alan Bliss has himself died since Finn and Hengest’s hardback publication in 1982.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One for the experts 8 Sep 2004
By Rearda
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a scholarly work for serious students of ancient language, not a 'curl up on the sofa with an apple' book. That said, it does contain translations alongside the two original short texts that the book is based around, and anyone with a love of language will find this book fascinating.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for Tolkien enthusiasts 30 Jan 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
At first sight this seems like a daunting read, but it really is essential for anyone who is serious about understanding Tolkien's engagement with Anglo-Saxon literature and history.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fin Hengeste / elne unflitme aththum benemde 9 July 2005
By L. E. Cantrell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
For all of you Middle Earth fans, the appendices in "The Lord of the Rings" were just games. This is the real thing.

Tolkien was a heavyweight scholar before he published a word of fiction. In his admittedly narrow academic circle, he was a famous man before ever there was a Hobbit. This book is based on lectures delivered by Tolkien over a period of years. Tolkien being Tolkien, he never got around to publishing them and he never stayed his hand from making changes. They have been deciphered, collated and edited into coherent form by a younger man, Alan Bliss, no mean feat of scholarship in itself.

The Dark Age was not entirely dark, nor were the Germanic barbarians wholly devoid of culture. Beyond a shadow of doubt, they possessed full-scale epics and many shorter heroic songs and lays. Many were gathered together by Alcuin, the great Anglo-Saxon scholar imported into the court of Charlemagne. When the mighty emperor died, he was succeeded by his son, then known as Louis the Debonaire, but more accurately called Louis the Pious by later generations. When Louis came in, out went his father's mistresses and his secular books. "What has Ingeld [an epic hero mentioned in Beowulf] to do with Christ?" asked Alcuin, now an enthusiastic book burner.

In our time, just one full-scale Germanic epic survives, Beowulf--and that clung to life in only a single copy. A pitifully few fragments of another large-scale poem, Waldhere, the epic of Walter of Aquitaine's conflict with his best friend and direst enemy, Hagen the Niblung, were found in the binding of an old book. Tolkien's book deals with a third epic story, the tale of Hengest, a hero who is caught in a particularly nasty moral dilemma. He had not only survived the death in battle of Hnaef, his prince, a dicey enough thing by the standards of his heroic age, but he had reached a truce with the foreign king who had killed Hnaef. The epic question was "What does a noble warrior do next?" The question was so interesting to the warrior society of Germanic barbarism, that two versions of the tale survive. One is a longish poem-within-a-poem quoted in Beowulf and the other is a tiny fragment of the whole epic, the episode that leads up to death of Prince Hnaef.

The tale was obviously so well known that neither the Beowulf poet nor the unknown skald of the Fragment felt it necessary to explain anything. Tolkien's literary goal was to extract as much sense out of his intractable materials as he could and to attempt reconstruction of the original story.

In addition to that, there is a historic question. Heroic epics are not necessarily tall tales of pure fiction. Hygelac, Beowulf's king, is a quite historical character. A contemporary monkish chronicler in Latin fully agrees with the Anglo-Saxon epic poet that Hygelac died in a disastrous raid on the Frisian Islands fairly close to 520 A.D. Beowulf, Hygelac's henchman and successor, heard of Hengest's dilemma as an old story, something from at least two or three generation earlier. Now, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us that one Hengest, who led the wave of Anglo-Saxon invaders and died as King of Kent, landed on British soil in 449 A.D. Were the two Hengests the same man? The times seem to coincide, and there is no other Hengest on surviving record. Could a warrior named Hengest, likely an Angle, so thoroughly have blotted his copybook by outliving his prince that there was no place left for him in German lands? Was he forced to carve out his own new kingdom in Britain?

Read this book and then return to Middle Earth. Compare Tolkien's warrior princes with the originals on whom they were based. Revisit those appendices to "The Lord of the Rings" and compare the caricature of scholarship with the real thing.

For those who can brave the trip, five stars.
21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Middle-earth in the Second Age 28 Mar 2002
By Kent Wittrup - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Alan Bliss's Introduction to Old English Metre first appeared in justified 12-pitch Courier back in '76 and remains the standard study on the subject. In Finn and Hengest, Bliss is somewhat more than an editor and Tolkien somewhat less than an author. According to Bliss's preface, his having given a paper on the implications of historical comparison between Beowulf and the Finnsburg fragment, he was advised that Tolkien had anticipated his conclusions decades before, and he then proceeded to get permission to edit Tolkien's lecture notes on the topic, which were in various states of development.
What results, though bound to be tough sledding for all but the very most scholarly of readers, is a window on a past that is far more remote from our contemporary situation than imperial Rome or 5th-century Athens, even though less distant in time: namely, the period immediately preceding the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain. This was a time of blood feuds between pagan proto-Viking tribes in the wake of the Roman's empire's all-but-forgotten withdrawal from northern Europe, a time when noble ideals could result in bestial atrocities, from which in turn could result tragedies that Aeschylus might have telescoped for the dramatic stage.
Which is not to say that what emerges from a close reading is presented in this way. These are classroom lecture notes, which assume a working knowledge of Old English and a general knowledge of its surviving written records, literary and prosaic (not that this is a hard-and-fast distinction in the surviving Old English documents from our present-day perspective). Nevertheless, what emerges is none the less affecting for the lack of melodramatic treatment, which would only distort and misrepresent the actual lives that were lived and remembered more than a millennium and a half ago, in the northwest corner of the European mainland which now comprises Denmark, Holland, Belgium and parts of Germany and France; nor do the scholarly technicalities detract from realization of the fragility of our links with people whose struggle for gentility in the midst of savagery differed from our own not in kind but only as a matter of degree.
And yet, if we can find our way to a sense of familial kinship with these stiff-necked, fur-clad barbarians, how should we despair of understanding each other?
21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars NOT a Novel! 23 Nov 2003
By A. B. Whiting - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is NOT an adventure story, like "Lord of the Rings" or "the Hobbit"; nor even a compendium of stories and myths, like "the Silmarillion." It is from Tolkien's main work of linguistic study in the Dark Ages, gleaning a bit of insight from a few scraps of language and a lot of guesswork. It is really only for those working in Old English, or the Anglo-Saxon culture, or closely related fields. It is probably very good in that context; I haven't the background to say; but it is nothing like Tolkien's popular works, and anyone looking for something of that sort should seek elsewhere.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like Middle-earth in the Second Age 28 Mar 2002
By Kent Wittrup - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Alan Bliss's Introduction to Old English Metre first appeared in justified 12-pitch Courier back in '76 and remains the standard study on the subject. In Finn and Hengest, Bliss is somewhat more than an editor and Tolkien somewhat less than an author. According to Bliss's preface, his having given a paper on the implications of historical comparison between Beowulf and the Finnsburg fragment, he was advised that Tolkien had anticipated his conclusions decades before, and he then proceeded to get permission to edit Tolkien's lecture notes on the topic, which were in various states of development.
What results, though bound to be tough sledding for all but the very most scholarly of readers, is a window on a past that is far more remote from our contemporary situation than imperial Rome or 5th-century Athens, even though less distant in time: namely, the period immediately preceding the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain. This was a time of blood feuds between pagan proto-Viking tribes in the wake of the Roman's empire's all-but-forgotten withdrawal from northern Europe, a time when noble ideals could result in bestial atrocities, from which in turn could result tragedies that Aeschylus might have telescoped for the dramatic stage.
Which is not to say that what emerges from a close reading is presented in this way. These are classroom lecture notes, which assume a working knowledge of Old English and a general knowledge of its surviving written records, literary and prosaic (not that this is a hard-and-fast distinction in the surviving Old English documents from our present-day perspective). Nevertheless, what emerges is none the less affecting for the lack of melodramatic treatment, which would only distort and misrepresent the actual lives that were lived and remembered more than a millennium and a half ago, in the northwest corner of the European mainland which now comprises Denmark, Holland, Belgium and parts of Germany and France; nor do the scholarly technicalities detract from realization of the fragility of our links with people whose struggle for gentility in the midst of savagery differed from our own not in kind but only as a matter of degree.
And yet, if we can find our way to a sense of familial kinship with these stiff-necked, fur-clad barbarians, how should we despair of understanding each other?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tolkien as Scholar 27 Sep 2011
By E. A. Kinzel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have made it clear that this book is not some kind of prequel to the The Hobbit or something, so I won't dwell on that.

This book deals with two related episodes in Old English poetry having to do with Finn Folcwalding, King of the Frisians, and Hengest, founder of some Anglo-Saxon ruling houses. The two sources for the story are an episode related in Beowulf, and a fragment describing the incident.

This was evidently a topic of great interest to Tolkien, one on which he pondered many years. Alan Bliss has collected Tolkien's notes, articles, and lectures on the topic, edited them, and unified them in the present work.

I found the Glossary of names most interesting; no dry catalogue of names, this portion summarizes all of the conjectures, bits of lore, and related accounts dealing with a particular name from the episode. A single entry can run for several pages.

The Textual Commentary was a bit out of my depth; I am no Anglo-Saxon scholar, so some of the finer points explaining why a particular word was chosen over another in the translation, or justifications for emendations in the text, were lost on me. I did read this part, though, and found an occasional pearl which was edifying.

Tolkien's scholary style is easy and convivial; there is no reason why an amateur with an interest in the Migration Age or the early Germanics in general would not enjoy and treasure this work.
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