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Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode Hardcover – May, 1983

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

J.R.R.Tolkien (1892-1973) is best known as the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It was Professor Tolkien's own wish that the preparation for publication of this work should be undertaken by Alan Bliss, who studied under him from 1946-48. Alan Bliss has himself died since Finn and Hengest's hardback publication in 1982. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (T); 1st American ed edition (May 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0395331935
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395331934
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #446,794 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

J.R.R. Tolkien (1892.1973), beloved throughout the world as the creator of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, a fellow of Pembroke College, and a fellow of Merton College until his retirement in 1959. His chief interest was the linguistic aspects of the early English written tradition, but even as he studied these classics he was creating a set of his own.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 51 people found the following review helpful By L. E. Cantrell VINE VOICE on July 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
For all of you Middle Earth fans, the appendices in "The Lord of the Rings" were just games. This is the real thing.

Tolkien was a heavyweight scholar before he published a word of fiction. In his admittedly narrow academic circle, he was a famous man before ever there was a Hobbit. This book is based on lectures delivered by Tolkien over a period of years. Tolkien being Tolkien, he never got around to publishing them and he never stayed his hand from making changes. They have been deciphered, collated and edited into coherent form by a younger man, Alan Bliss, no mean feat of scholarship in itself.

The Dark Age was not entirely dark, nor were the Germanic barbarians wholly devoid of culture. Beyond a shadow of doubt, they possessed full-scale epics and many shorter heroic songs and lays. Many were gathered together by Alcuin, the great Anglo-Saxon scholar imported into the court of Charlemagne. When the mighty emperor died, he was succeeded by his son, then known as Louis the Debonaire, but more accurately called Louis the Pious by later generations. When Louis came in, out went his father's mistresses and his secular books. "What has Ingeld [an epic hero mentioned in Beowulf] to do with Christ?" asked Alcuin, now an enthusiastic book burner. [However, see the first comment shown below this review.]

In our time, just one full-scale Germanic epic survives, Beowulf--and that clung to life in only a single copy. A pitifully few fragments of another large-scale poem, Waldhere, the epic of Walter of Aquitaine's conflict with his best friend and direst enemy, Hagen the Niblung, were found in the binding of an old book. Tolkien's book deals with a third epic story, the tale of Hengist, a hero who is caught in a particularly nasty moral dilemma.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Kent Wittrup on March 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Alan Bliss's Introduction to Old English Metre first appeared in justified 12-pitch Courier back in '76 and remains the standard study on the subject. In Finn and Hengest, Bliss is somewhat more than an editor and Tolkien somewhat less than an author. According to Bliss's preface, his having given a paper on the implications of historical comparison between Beowulf and the Finnsburg fragment, he was advised that Tolkien had anticipated his conclusions decades before, and he then proceeded to get permission to edit Tolkien's lecture notes on the topic, which were in various states of development.
What results, though bound to be tough sledding for all but the very most scholarly of readers, is a window on a past that is far more remote from our contemporary situation than imperial Rome or 5th-century Athens, even though less distant in time: namely, the period immediately preceding the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain. This was a time of blood feuds between pagan proto-Viking tribes in the wake of the Roman's empire's all-but-forgotten withdrawal from northern Europe, a time when noble ideals could result in bestial atrocities, from which in turn could result tragedies that Aeschylus might have telescoped for the dramatic stage.
Which is not to say that what emerges from a close reading is presented in this way. These are classroom lecture notes, which assume a working knowledge of Old English and a general knowledge of its surviving written records, literary and prosaic (not that this is a hard-and-fast distinction in the surviving Old English documents from our present-day perspective).
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By E. A. Kinzel on September 26, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have made it clear that this book is not some kind of prequel to the The Hobbit or something, so I won't dwell on that.

This book deals with two related episodes in Old English poetry having to do with Finn Folcwalding, King of the Frisians, and Hengest, founder of some Anglo-Saxon ruling houses. The two sources for the story are an episode related in Beowulf, and a fragment describing the incident.

This was evidently a topic of great interest to Tolkien, one on which he pondered many years. Alan Bliss has collected Tolkien's notes, articles, and lectures on the topic, edited them, and unified them in the present work.

I found the Glossary of names most interesting; no dry catalogue of names, this portion summarizes all of the conjectures, bits of lore, and related accounts dealing with a particular name from the episode. A single entry can run for several pages.

The Textual Commentary was a bit out of my depth; I am no Anglo-Saxon scholar, so some of the finer points explaining why a particular word was chosen over another in the translation, or justifications for emendations in the text, were lost on me. I did read this part, though, and found an occasional pearl which was edifying.

Tolkien's scholary style is easy and convivial; there is no reason why an amateur with an interest in the Migration Age or the early Germanics in general would not enjoy and treasure this work.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A. B. Whiting on November 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is NOT an adventure story, like "Lord of the Rings" or "the Hobbit"; nor even a compendium of stories and myths, like "the Silmarillion." It is from Tolkien's main work of linguistic study in the Dark Ages, gleaning a bit of insight from a few scraps of language and a lot of guesswork. It is really only for those working in Old English, or the Anglo-Saxon culture, or closely related fields. It is probably very good in that context; I haven't the background to say; but it is nothing like Tolkien's popular works, and anyone looking for something of that sort should seek elsewhere.
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