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  • Writer's pictureAn Oxford Historian

Tolkien's Story of Kullervo

Updated: Apr 26, 2021

The Story of Kullervo is a book of amazing scale and myth, and well worth a read to any fantasy fan. #ComissionsEarned. This post includes Amazon Affiliate links- as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

In honour of Professor Tolkien's birthday today I thought I'd talk very briefly about one of Tolkien's lesser-known works - 'The Story of Kullervo'. It's a wonderful book that's sadly rarely read among Tolkien or history fans - I've included an amazon link to the right if you want to pick up your own copy.

A prose reinterpretation of a Finnish epic poem (ie. not set in Middle Earth), this book nicely bridges the gap between Tolkien the popular author and Tolkien the scholar. What is remarkable is its early date - Tolkien appears to have originally produced this work while still an undergraduate. As a brief exploration of the possible inspirations behind Middle Earth, then, the book is invaluable.

Those interested in epic poetry and saga, or the broader mythology/ fantasy genre, will see much familiar in the scale of the story that unfolds. It is, apart from anything else, an extremely enjoyable read. Tolkien is, however, at great pains to highlight the difference between its Eastern European mythological background and the Western European traditions we are generally more accustomed to reading. There is certainly something new to the story, not least its darkness, and this warrants a read by even the most well-read mythology/ fantasy reader.

The Harper Collins edition is remarkable for the content it includes beyond the text itself. The notes and commentary provided are extensive and informative. It is the inclusion of two (near identical) lectures given by Tolkien regarding the work, however, that is truly interesting. Here we find much to interest the student of comparative mythology - Tolkien is as always an academic of the highest caliber. We also find a brief glimpse into the mind of the young author - fans of the Professor will find much interesting here.

Most importantly, for real people, the whole book is mercilessly short! The fiction itself is only 40 pages long - the whole book comes in at only roughly 130 pages. As a brief foray into a rich mythological world and an infrequently understood culture, the work is exceptional. It is all the more impressive for incorporating a brief and manageable glimpse into the art of academia that lies behind it. For seasoned academics, voracious fantasy fans and complete beginners alike, I cannot recommend the book enough.

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