The Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger (Goodreads Review)

The Story of KullervoThe Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am thrilled to have J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Story of Kullervo in print, which includes Tolkien’s own reworking of a Kalevala tale, a couple of lectures on the Kalevala, and Verlyn Flieger’s critical introduction and a critical essay about the material. Strong editorial work on great Tolkienalia.

I would like to see in the future of publishing more dynamic posthumous publications of “papers” including more folio editions, dynamic footnoting, resource linking, etc. Because that’s not available–and because I like the beautifully designed book–I got the paper edition.

I am struck by how the bits of the Kalevala I’ve encountered—what Tolkien calls “a luxuriant animism” (119) have certain kinds of parallels with North American aboriginal folklore I have encountered. Though the myths and folktales closer to home are more logical and didactic (as they are told now), there is not just shared animism and totemic symbolism, but humour, adventure, and a peculiar, evocative sense of space. In the near-century since Tolkien’s lectures, has there been a lot of work done mapping out the religious beliefs embedded in the Kalevala with other sources or a comparative view? Or is there work on the colonial effect on the folklore of this people–one of the last pagan peoples of Europe? I don’t know and think there could be space for a book of scholarly essays with a section on Tolkien.

The Story of Kullervo was a delight to read and set off a hundred questions for me.

View all my reviews

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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22 Responses to The Story of Kullervo by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Verlyn Flieger (Goodreads Review)

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Wow, the great-looking and -sounding Tolkien editions I have to catch up with!

    I wonder if Tolkien ever managed to make the acquaintance of Sibelius’s Kullervo, Op. 7 – having heard, for example, some of Coleridge Taylor’s Hiawatha as an undergraduate – its English Wikipedia article does not make it seem likely – but maybe this book already has the answer!


  2. Yewtree says:

    Sadly, comparative mythology seems to have fallen out of favour, but I’m not hugely surprised by the parallels that you mention. I can see related motifs in most Earth-based religions / traditions.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It isn’t an area I have any expertise in. I will probably be a student of mythology–an eager one–for a decade more before I start seeing the constellations in the scattered stars of story.

      Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Dale Nelson put me onto a fascinating article in part about Tolkien’s use of comparative mythology and lore in his lecturing (in the 1950s), by B.S. Benedikz – “Some Family Connections with J.R.R. Tolkien”, in Amon Hen (Issue No. 209, January 2008), including, “he reminded us that in order to understand an English masterpiece of the Middle Ages we must realise that its basic theme would, as likely s not, have travelled all round Europe in quite a variety of guises. It may even have travelled further, for it was from him than most of us heard the name Mahabharata in connection with The Pardoner’s Tale!”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yewtree says:

        I’ve studied a lot of mythology but my mind is boggled by the idea of a link between the Mahabharata and the Pardoner’s Tale (studied the latter for O level, and never liked it). Watched the TV series of the Mahabharata in the late 1980s. It must have been late night on BBC2 or Channel 4 (those are two of the British TV channels, for anyone else reading this).


        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          I thought it was a typo when I saw a television listing saying (I think it was) ’93 episodes’! – I enjoyed the ones I saw… (I’m not sure how many), and later got a copy of the CD with theme music which (for whatever reason) the St. John’s Wood public library took out of their collection and sold off cheaply – how I love some of that score!

          Liked by 2 people

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