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The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún Hardcover – Special Edition, 20 May 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Limited Signed edition edition (20 May 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000731972X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007319725
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,175,520 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.

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Review

“Will appeal strongly to readers already haunted by the deeper, more sombre musics of Middle-earth” The Times

“This is the most unexpected of Tolkien’s many posthumous publications; his son’s ‘Commentary’ is a model of informed accessibility; the poems stand comparison with their Eddic models, and there is little poetry in the world like those” Times Literary Supplement

“The compact verse form is ideally suited to describing impact… elsewhere it achieves a stark beauty” Telegraph

--This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

From the Inside Flap

"Many years ago, J.R.R. 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 Völsungs and The New Lay of Gudrún.

In the Lay of the Völsungs is told the ancestry of the great hero Sigurd, the slayer of Fáfnir 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 Gudrún 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 Gudrún. In the Lay of Gudrún 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 Völsunga Saga), J.R.R. 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 --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Mark Twain on 7 May 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It has to be said that this is one of the most excellent and important of Tolkien's publications. The Verse (or Elder) Edda is, of course, one of the most significant pieces of home-grown Northern literature. The legend of Siegfried (i.e. Sigurd), and that of the Nibelungs have been immortalised in the Nibelungenlied as well as Wagner's operatic cycle of the Ring.

This is exactly the kind of literature which inspired Tolkien to his own mythology. If his own mythology is as sound as brass, this is as brilliant as gold. In his version, Tolkien has captured the incandescent power and energy, and brutality, of Northern verse. Lacking in particles as well as rhyme, the alliteration and rhythm punch out of the pages like the pagan warriors it depicts.

Glimpses of Tolkien's genius appeared in his Sir Orfeo and Gawain and the Green Night; but this is concentrated verse of hoary origin and terrible power. It may be too strong a stuff for many, and certainly this is not for children. This is Tolkien the academic, the philologist, and poetic visionary. These are NOT his own myths and stories (which in fact merely seved as a backdrop for his linguistic adventures, which are indeed derived from sources such as the Edda) - these are, to be pictorial, the loins from which the very civilisation of the North had sprung.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Kevin P. Futers on 15 May 2010
Format: Hardcover
Do read: if you are interested in old Norse and Germanic legends or want to know the roots of Tolkein's own stories.
Don't read: if you cannot get past the Hobbit/Lord of the Rings in Tolkein's writings.

First of all, be aware that this is not in any way a book about Middle Earth except where it helps to illuminate a story there which it has drawn elements from.

The meat of this (i.e. the bits written by JRR rather than Christopher) is of two long poems in English using the fornyrthislag verse form and alliteration rather than rhyme. The first is the Lay of the Volsungs, the second is the Lay of Gudrun.

The verses take some following and it certainly helps to know the underlying story, which is related to the German Nibelunglied and of course Wagner's Ring Cycle. I would recommend reading Rhinegold by Stephan Grundy for telling the whole story following much the same principles that Tolkein follows here, that Norse sources are to be preferred to German ones but that the German traditions are to be respected to illuminate the obscure parts in the Norse, and that the scraps in Old English poetry should also be given due respect.

Christopher Tolkein's editorial is generally helpful here and he adds useful excerpts from his father's lecture notes and other scholarly articles and gives a full background as to why he wrote the two lays. He does venture into the much lampooned business of "this was written hurriedly in pencil and much corrected in biro" but when that is a light touch here and actually makes the scholarly input lighter to read.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By MJ on 9 July 2011
Format: Hardcover
I do not tend to read the newly-edited remains that Christopher Tolkien has put out. I believe in the format of the novel, which compresses events and characters and produces something we call "PLOT", and it doesn't seem that the History of Middle Earth maintains that concept. However, when I saw The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, I was nevertheless curious. My curiosity was rewarded when I discovered that, unlike many of the recent Tolkien publications, this is an original composition based on Viking mythology not Middle Earth.

So, loving both Tolkien and Vikings, I bought it.

First, then, the non-poetic aspects of the book. This book has over 50 pages of introduction; being something of a philologist-in-training, interested in Vikings, and interested in Tolkien, I enjoyed these introductory features. You may not. You may want to get straight into the poetry, and for this I commend you. If you wish to learn a thing or two about the remains of Norse literature, read the introductory lecture notes by Tolkien on the Elder Edda. If not, the most useful introductory notes for you are pp. 40-50 which tell of the origins of the poems you are about to read as well as giving an introduction to the versification.

The other non-poetic aspects are commentary and one appendix. The commentary for the first poem, The New Lay of the Volsungs, is quite extensive. Unless you read it while you read the poem, you won't know what on earth is going on. And it is my opinion that reading the commentary at the same time of the poem would be a difficult, cumbersome endeavour. Since the second poem, The Lay of Gudrun, is much shorter, you can read the commentary following the poem and still know what's going on.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 25 May 2009
Format: Hardcover
When J.R.R. Tolkien wasn't teaching philology at Oxford or penning classic fantasy novels, he did some retellings of old poetry. VERY old poetry.

"The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun" is one such work: a verse working of the Norse legend of the hero Sigurd and his adventures, as well as the two doomed women who loved him. The wording is a bit awkward in places, and a good chunk of the book's content is commentary by his son Christopher Tolkien -- but the deep-rooted mythic story and Tolkien's vivid prose are gorgeous.

After exploring the gods and their glittering Valholl, Tolkien introduces the bitter dwarf Andvari and his magic ring, the greedy dragon Fafnir, and the tragic tale of Sigmund, Sigurd's daddy. Sigurd was tricked into slaying Fafnir for his treacherous foster father, and gained a hoard of cursed gold and a roasted dragon heart. Then he learns of the beautiful Valkyrie Brynhild, who is doomed to "wed the World's chosen" only, and sleeps in a fortress of flames.

Though he wakes Brynhild, Sigurd claims that he isn't going to marry her until he has a kingdom of his own -- and he gets one too. But in the process, he falls in love with the beautiful Gudrun and marries her. When his brother-in-law Gunnar wants the finest woman in the world, Sigurd tricks Brynhild into marrying Gunnar instead. This betrayal -- and a cursed ring given to both Gudrun and Brynhild -- leads to lies, hatred, death, and a devastating tragedy that destroys more than one person's life.

"The Lay of Gudrun" is a sort of sequel to the Sigurd legend: after Sigurd dies, Gudrun goes a little nuts in her woodland house and ends up being wed against her own wishes (courtesy of her witchy mom) to the king of the Huns, Atli.
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