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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More Midgard than Middle Earth!, 15 May 2010
This review is from: The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (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. I enjoyed reading the Appendices immensely - indeed I read them before I launched into the lays and they were of great help. I enjoyed Tolkein's composition in Old English of a poem about the Burgundians and Attila which is also covered in the Lay of Gudrun.

My main criticism is that a work of this nature lacks an index which would make it a more useful scholarly work.
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