Sean's Reviews > The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún

The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún by J.R.R. Tolkien
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's review
May 24, 12

really liked it
Read from May 18 to 24, 2012 — I own a copy

Tolkien does a fantastic job synthesizing the Volsung Saga and the fragmentary Eddaic literature of Old Norse into two coherent and satisfying poems: "The New Lay of the Volsungs" and "The New Lay of Gudrun." He deftly preserved the meter/rhythm of Old English/Old Norse verse (and made moderate use of kennings), while still not confusing or combining the emphasis and tone respective to each of those language's distinct poetic traditions. As he says in one of his lectures: "In Old English breadth, fullness, reflection, elegiac effect, were aimed at [thing Beowulf]. Old Norse poetry aims at seizing a situation, striking a blow that will be remembered, illuminating a moment with a flash of lightning--and tends to concision, weighty packing of the language in sense and form..." 'Lighting from a clear sky,' as C.S. Lewis once described Tolkien's own mythologies.

And, of course, fans of Tolkien's Middle Earth mythology will enjoy reading the sagas of Sigurd the Serpent-killer and the woe-wasted Gudrun through Tolkien's eyes because the details he chooses to emphasize in telling their story shed light on the areas in which his own mythmaking was heavily influenced by the Old Norse literature.

Notes and brief commentary by his son, Christopher are helpful, unobtrusive, and laudably respectful of the book as a work of poetry rather than scholarship.

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