In the 1930s, Tolkien began work on an epic alliterative poem about King Arthur’s downfall. It was never finished, but Christopher Tolkien provides notes and explanations about the lines that we do have.
The actual poem only takes up about 45 pages in this book. It is beautiful and haunting and wild. The patterns in the alliteration are woven together in this tapestry of words that powerfully tell the story of Arthur and his knights, of Mordred and Lancelot and Guinevere, and the last days of the Round Table. I read most of it out loud to myself, because the words drip like honey, rich and resonant. It is meant to be read out loud!
Kullervo’s uncle murders his father, and Kullervo vows to find revenge. He grows up wayward and wild and without compassion for anyone except his twin sister. With the help of the magical hound, Musti, Kullervo escapes the murderous machinations of his evil uncle. Kullervo has set his hand against the whole world, and he ruins crops, creates a wasteland in the forest, commits mass murder, and generally reeks destruction wherever he goes. His story is tragic for everyone involved.
This short story, one of Tolkien’s very early attempts at rewriting myths, includes a great deal of poetry, a tragic plot, and the delicious rich language that characterizes all of Tolkien’s works. Most of the book is commentary, essays, and notes about the story, its Finnish roots, and its influence on Tolkien’s later writing. Continue reading →
This is an epic poem in four Cantos about a young man, disillusioned with life, who goes on a tour of Europe, reflecting on wars fought in various countries and their histories, and ultimately deciding that life sucks, and there is no love or peace to be found anywhere. (Yay. So it’s a happy poem.) There are many references to a hidden emotional pain of Harold’s that forced him to leave England and haunts him wherever he goes, marring his enjoyment of life. What that painful secret is, we never find out.
The poetry itself is beautiful, of course, but I was hoping for more of a plot instead of all these ramblings and reflections on history and society. The entire poem is rabbit trails with no real resolution! There’s little to no structure in the story. Continue reading →