|Contrary to expectation The Legend of Sigurd &
Gudrun is not another chapter in the unending saga that is J.R.R. Tolkiens
magnum opus The Lord of The Rings. No, this new book is a scholarly
rendition in English, using a traditional Viking poetry style, of the two inter-related
Eddaic poems The Lay of Sigurd and The Lay of Gudrun (with
apologies to scholars for the vernacular names).
At over fifteen hundred years the poems
have a history that is older than most Scandinavian and, because of the poems historical
roots, German cities. Mr Tolkien has done an excellent job with his rendition making the
new Anglicised versions an easy, pleasant read.
But there is more to this book than the poems. As the renditions were intended as a
scholarly exercise J.R.R.s son Christopher, as compiler of the book, has included as
much historical and scholastic material as he deemed sensible to put the renditions into
perspective. Not only is this material fascinating, it is neither too much nor too little.
The source material for Sigurd & Gudrun was the German epic poem Das
Nibelungenlied, however, I was unaware till this book that Wagner based his opera
series (or cycle as he pompously called it) of the same name on the Icelandic version (and
one of the two sources for Tolkiens work) of that poem. This small fact explained
the hitherto unexplained presence of Norse gods in the German opera. Sigurd & Gudrun
also acted as a base, via Fafnir and his hoard, for the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit
and elsewhere as the fore-story to The Lord of The Rings.
J.R.R. Tolkien was a brilliant linguist, but this book proves that his creative spark
as an author was burning brightly well before his two most popular books were ever started
as bedtime stories.