September 29, 2014

Ancient Legends

It is neat how influence and inspiration work, and how an interest in one thing can lead to an interest in another. 

As I said many times before (and will do so here again, although very briefly) I have Peter Jackson to thank for discovering, reading, and appreciate Tolkien and his works. 

However, in doing so, I have to appreciate something else because of Tolkien: poems. 

I have always had an interest in some of the great epic poems of old, such as The Iliad and The Odyssey (although I have not tackled nor read any poems yet sadly. My interest is still there.) it is because of Tolkien of his love for language and poems and the old epic stories that got me into them as well. 

The Children of Hurin could very well be the last 'new' book about Middle-earth and Tolkien's realm ever to be released. I dearly hope it is not, but I must accept that it could be. After that book was published, Christopher Tolkien and Harper Collins went on to publish a few of Tolkien's poems / translations of them. 

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun was the first to follow after Children of Hurin, making it those two books among the first 'new' Tolkien books in quite a few years. Following that title, came The Fall of Arthur. I am not sure what it is based on (poem wise, I mean. Is it a Tolkien original?) and the idea of 'Arthur' and 'Tolkien' together appealed to me. 

Most recently, Tolkien's Beowulf is out (or coming out, depending on which language or edition you seek). So with the most recent Tolkien books being poems, I became interested and checked to see what else the Professor has done, or titles which are similar to those he did, or would interest him. 

So I have compiled a list of poems which interest me, some of which are translated by Tolkien, and some which are not. Some of these are part of Legends of the Ancient North by Penguin. 


Edition: Canterbusry Classics leatherbound. 

Without a doubt, one of the oldest and most well-known poem(s) around. The subject of the story greatly interests me, and I know the story of both more or less but have yet to read them in whole but I look forward to doing so. 

translations: Michael Alexander, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Tolkien 

How I missed this one during my schooling years, I have no idea. My high school opted to go for Shakespeare (shudder) instead, it seems. Oh well. Anyway, I may be wrong (as I am a newcomer to poems, etc.) but I do believe that Beowulf is the oldest poem, or story, in English. It is in Anglo Saxon Old English but there you have it. This poem is essential due to its age and timeless elements. There have been many translations over the decades (centuries more like) but I would like to call attention to the Michael Alexander one, as well as Tolkien's in this post. Tolkien's translation is in prose. 

THE ELDER EDDA (Poetic Edda)
translation: Andy Orchard, Carolyne Larrington 

This a collection of old Norse / Viking myths and legends, and would definitely be of interest to any who wish to further read and delve into Norse or Icelandic tales of old. This is a great starting place for Old Norse / Icelandic fans of poetry, or for some reason, if it was missed. If I were  a professor or teacher doing a course on poems or old ancient legends and myths, I would start with either Beowulf or this one right at the beginning of the course. 

translation: Jesse L. Byock

This one is well worth checking out if you like Old Norse, and tragedies. If you enjoyed Beowulf, give this one a shot too. Also, this poem was 'adapted' (not 'translated' by Tolkien, as seen below. 

by J.R.R. Tolkien 

Inspired by both Elder Edda (Poetic Edda) as well as The Saga of the Volsungs, Tolkien told his own variation of the tale. In this, we get The New Lay of the Volsungs and The New Lay of Gudrun. This book is told in alliterative verse. As well as The Children of Hurin, this is to be the finest posthumous Tolkien release. It is quite possible, that if Tolkien did not write The Hobbit, this would have been published instead.   

translation: Bernard O'Donoghue, Keith Harrison, Tolkien

 A classic tale of chivalry, romance, and betrayl one of the best known stories of the Arthurian lore. 

And speaking of Arthurian lore....

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Near as I can tell, this poem by Tolkien is not based nor translated from any other poem that already exists (IE, Beowulf). This is told in alliterative verse, after the Old English style and told in the manner of the original Beowulf. It is my belief that if Tolkien did not write The Lord of the Rings, he would have finished and published this poem in its place. 

translation: E.R Eddison, Bernard Scudder

E.R. Eddison's version has been pretty much hard to come by since the 1930's, and has recently been republished by Harper Collins in paperback. However, that edition may be difficult to find even now. This is a classic Icelandic / Norse story that belongs in the company of Beowulf, The Saga of the Volsungs and Elder Edda (Poetic Edda). Tolkien himself loved this tale.  

Reading some of these, you can see where Tolkien got his inspiration and some of his ideas from. In fact, I am quite sure he himself would approve of all the titles on this list. It is interesting to think that if he did not write The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, that he would be renown for The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, his version of Beowulf (if he desired to publish it), completed The Fall of Arthur, as well as potentially The Lay of the Children of Hurin. [Tolkien's epic long poem in alliterative verse.]

My knowledge of these, nor any other poems is not that great. I wanted to point out some that I myself am interested in, as well suggest those to others. the translators i mention are among the most acclaimed and popular ones. Should you decide to pick any of these up, I hope you enjoy. 

 My final parting thought, and recommendation is slightly off topic, but I should mention it anyway. If all you have read by Tolkien is The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and you enjoyed both, I recommend The Children of Hurin and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun to you. 

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