Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun

I recently read the new book The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by his son Christopher. Two words: BEAUTIFUL, BRILLIANT. Essentially, Tolkien has taken the stories of Sigurd and Gudrun from such sources as the Elder Edda, the Saga of the Volsungs, and the Nibelungenlied, as well as a smattering of other things, and woven them together into a seamless whole. He has smoothed over the inconsistencies in the legends and recast the entire story, get this, in the style and meter of Old Norse Poetry. The result is stunning, but may not be for everyone. If you were to go to this book expecting Lord of the Rings, you would be disappointed. This book is not less than Lord of the Rings, but it is different, with an entirely different aim and purpose. Lord of the Rings was an attempt to tell an original story. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is a recasting of an ancient story, attempting to resurrect the Old Norse style in modern English. The poem aims for short, stark emotional moments, evoking the essence of a single event. For those who don't already know the story of Sigurd and Gudrun, the poem may be confusing, as it is not a strict narrative retelling. While there are copious notes from Christopher Tolkien explaining the story to the uninitiated, flipping back and forth between poem and notes would, in my opinion, ruin the flow and power of the poem.

My recommendation is: by all means, read this poem. It is just another example of the intelligence and aesthetic mastery that Tolkien possessed. However, you ought to read The Saga of the Volsungs first to get the entire story in a narrative form before venturing into this particular book.


Erica said…
I kept seeing this in Borders and at the library, but wasn't entirely sure whether to get it or not (of course, we also haven't changed our address so the library refuses to let me check out books for now).

I will have to get this now :)