Sunday, August 16, 2009

Book Review: Tolkien's The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun

I was wondering a few things as I sat watching the 18 or so hours of The Ring Cycle recently. I was wondering what the source material was for these stories of heroes, dragons, fallen goddess brides, and betrayals, what Wagner had changed from it, and what someone else with a different worldview would make of that. Especially someone with a passion for Norse legends and a knack for storytelling, say, J.R.R. Tolkien. I'd love to have some of Tolkien's lectures on these stories. Maybe even a translation where he puts everything together.

As I was wondering that, this book was sitting on my shelf. I knew it was some of these things, but in actuality it was all of them.

It was also very dense reading. You have to see it to believe it. Most lines on the page only have four words, and so each page is a column of text with white space on either side. Don't be fooled: every word counts, more so than anything I have ever read. This writing is the neutron star of density. Tolkien follows the Old Norse poetic style of matching up the beginnings of words rather than their ending and is very good at following it.

I liked Seamus Heaney's Beowulf. But I think I actually like these poems more. Tolkien describes the source poetry as "flashes of lightning" and I think he captures lightning in a bottle here.

Just like the Ring Cycle, it's not easy going, but it's very rich and rewarding.

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