The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun [J.R.R. Tolkien]

Laughing said Vingi:
‘my lord shall I tell
that in courts of Gjuki
no kings are left?
There rules a queen,
a rune-conner;
his weighty words
a woman judgeth?

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is J.R.R. Tolkiens version of the great legend of northern antiquity.  Telling the saga of Odin’s chosen one, Sigurd, the slayer of the dragon Fafnir, whose hoard he takes as his own.  He awakens the valkyrie Brynhild and after their betrothal Sigurd becomes blood brothers of the great Niflung princes Gunnar and Hogni.

However oaths are broken and Sigurd betrayed and slain.  The brothers, after marrying their sister Gudrun to the mighty Attila the Hun, have to face up to the mighty chief as he casts his eye past their sister and onto their gold.

There is of course a lot more involved, magic swords, mischievious gods and great horses, which are all explained in the lengthly introduction, commentary and appendices.

The background of the original sagas is explained by Christopher Tolkien, along with his fathers notes and thoughts, including drafts of the poems plus lecture notes he delivered.  It is interesting for glimpses into Tolkiens own mythology (in case you ever wandered the origin of the word Ents or Wargs).
The names in the hobbit were drawn from Norse legend, rather than his own mythology.  The tale of Sigurd is far removed from Middle Earth, although they both contain a Mirkwood, and a gold hoarding dragon is slain, but it is possible to see connections and possible inspirations for Tolkiens own epic sagas.

The translation and version, in two separate poems, are masterful.  He deviates from the original narrative several times, sometimes to create a more homegenous whole, other times because of the state of the original sagas and what is known about them.  The commentary following each poem details these annd attempts to explain why.

Probably more suited to absolute Tolkien fans, or those interested in Scandanavian mythology, the Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is an epic tale in it’s own right, and also interesting for the insights it offers into Tolkiens own mythology.


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