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Showing 1-10 of 58 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 102 reviews
on May 11, 2009
So you liked THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT, and now you want another great reading of Tolkien fantasy? Be careful of THE LEGEND OF SIGURD AND GUDRON. It is a scholarly work. If you are interested in Norse mythology, though, and enjoy reading a good translation of Beowulf (which although not Norse mythology has a lot in common with Old Norse poetry) you will love this book. The tales of Odin and company were told and retold by many poets and saga writers, working hundreds of years apart. Many of their tellings are often contradictory. What Tolkien has done is to recreate a unified Norse mythology and given us new lays, written in English, but following the classic 8 line stanzaic style of the Elder Eddas, the Old Norse poetry form. This also means that there is none of the end rhyming we usually associate with poetry. No, these new lays use alliteration, just as in the Old English Beowulf. It really is a treat to get that style of poetry rendered in English. ( Imagine yourself in an old mead hall, while a gifted bard recites in this long-ago verse form. Better yet, read it out loud and become the bard.)

J.R.R. Tolkien's son, Christopher, has provided fascinating introductory information and explanatory notes that really make the reader feel like a serious student of Norse mythology and Old Norse poetry. This material occupies at least as many pages as the poems themselves. Without this extra material, much of the impact and complexity of the poems would be lost.

If you are serious about understanding the life's work of perhaps the greatest author of the 20th Century and the influences that helped lead him to Middle Earth, take a chance on THE LEGEND OF SIGURD AND GUDRUN.
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on December 10, 2011
J. R. R. Tolkien's description of Norse poetry is that it "aims at seizing a situation, striking a blow that will be remembered, illuminating a moment with a flash of lightning..." In this retelling of the tragic Volsung legends Tolkien's terse, alliterative Norse style poetry does just that. He interweaves strands from "The Elder (Poetic) Edda", "The Prose Edda", "The Volsung Saga", and "The Nibelungenlied" while adding a few elements of his own invention. Tolkien's most interesting innovation is providing Sigurd with a "special function." For all of Tolkien's insistence that he prefers the pagan, pre-Christian version of the story, he gives Sigurd some elements of a Christ character that are not present in the original:

"If in the day of Doom
one deathless stand
who death hath tasted
and dies no more
the serpent-slayer
seed of Odin
then all shall not end
nor earth perish."

The explanatory notes by Christopher Tolkien are a badly organized jumble that cover vocabulary, use of various sources, differences between this version and the sources, and possible historical origins of the legends. If you are already acquainted with the Volsung stories these notes are mostly tedious, but they might be of some use for someone new to the Volsung legend.

Despite Christopher's rambling notes, this is one of my favorite books. This tragic tale of heroism, greed, and betrayal illuminated by the flashing lightning of Tolkien's poetry takes the reader on an intense journey back to the heroic age.
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on July 27, 2016
I would have liked to have been able to skip the evaluation of the plot, mood, pace, and characters of this book. This is Old Norse poetry and it cannot be described in the terms I had to choose from.
This is Tolkien's masterful re-telling of the beautiful but sorrowful saga of the Volsungs. He attempted to reconcile the different versions into one whole narrative, and managed to carry the whole thing off in fornyrthislag, the "old court metre" of Old Norse poetry. By doing so he gave his retelling the power and energy of the Old Norse original. Many people have said "you must read it out loud," and I heartily agree. You will be overcome by vigorous beauty of the language as well as the beauty of the story of itself.
There are extensive notes on the poems that will be helpful and interesting to the reader. If you know even a little bit of Old Norse, the notes will make a lot more sense.
I would say, though, that if you have no previous idea of the plot line of the Volsung saga, you will probably have trouble following this one.
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on April 21, 2016
This is a top-notch read if you like vikings and Norse culture or if you like Tolkien. However, before you begin, you should note: This is a translation of real skaldic poetry as best JRRT was able to manage. If the characters are flat, that's because the legend describes them that way. If the plot is predictable, same thing. However, those two things don't detract from the story but aid it! It is a story of people, real or mythological, and their destinies, and their struggles with their destinies. It is epic in scale, brilliant in prose, and really all around a solid read. To get the most enjoyment out of it, take the time to read the preamble about the rigid form for this kind of poem. It will really highlight how difficult a translation this is and how well Tolkien pulled it off.
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on August 31, 2012
When I ordered this book I was sceptical about its contents. Having read brief passages of Beowulf, The Iliad, and The Odyssey many years ago, to my boredom, I was unsure about reading a narrative poem. However, those brief passages were solely brief, required for school, and from an age when my attention span was poorly short. Today I have a greater appreciation for linguistics, and Tolkien has become my favourite author.

First of all these two poems are not translations, but reinterpretations written by Tolkien to fill in missing gaps of the Poetic Edda, an important manuscript of Norse mythology. Tolkien's writing is very faithful to the style of Edda, and it is almost as if his work was simply a translation. That said, the book is not without hints of Tolkien's own outlook on life. You'll also get some hints as to what inspired Tolkien's own legends. The actual poems are enjoying to read, albeit somewhat difficult to understand. Thankfully Christopher Tolkien has included commentary that helps clarify what exactly is going on. On the first read, I recommend reading the entire introduction before the poems and reading the commentaries alongside them. The poetry is beautiful. If you enjoy Tolkien's poems, such as those in The Lord of the Rings or The Lays of Beleriand, you'll probably enjoy this book.

Second of all this book is actually complete! Unlike The Silmarillion and The Children of Húrin, Christopher Tolkien has not had to fill in any missing parts. And, unlike Unfinished Tales, the stories finish and never drop out. (However there are still dozens of footnotes!) It's quite refreshing to be able to read a new and complete tale by Tolkien.

Before reading this book, I recommend reading The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-Earth. Not because they are necessary to understand the book, but because they will train you for reading long passages of description and long passages of commentary. On that note, if you're a guru used to reading archaic literature and 'scholarly' texts, then you can pick up this book and enjoy it without any previous knowledge of J. R. R. Tolkien and Middle-Earth.

I recommend the hardcover edition. I recommend hardcovers for all books because they will last far longer than paperback. The hardcover edition is nicely bound and includes some illustrations. Nothing fancy like an Alan Lee painting, but it adds a touch. They may be included on the trade paperback as well, but I am unsure. Another wonderful bonus is an image of Tolkien's manuscript. It allows you to see the rather interesting handwriting of the author. A little treat for Tolkien fans.

Note that the actual content of the poems is rather short. The majority of the book is the introduction and commentary.

Read this book if:
You like all of Tolkien's works.
You enjoyed The Lays of Beleriand.
You enjoy Norse mythology.
You enjoy archaic poetry.

Do not read this book if:
You don't like poetry.
You don't like heathen literature.
You skipped or dreaded the poems in The Lord of the Rings.
You want more Middle-Earth. For that I recommend reading The Children of Húrin, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales.

Other recommended readings by the author:
The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Orfeo
The Children of Húrin
The Silmarillion
The Lays of Beleriand, The History of Middle-Earth Vol. III
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on December 27, 2011
I will say from the start this is an excellent book and a most brilliant and interesting piece of poetry. But also important is to say this not a book to be purchased based on the fact that this same man wrote The Lord of the Rings, but more based on the love for poetry. Along with a very clarifying introduction from Christopher Tolkien and essays expressing opinions on norse mythology from J.R.R. Tolkien himself, this is an attempt to re-write and re-say in two long lays (that of Sigurd and that of Gudrún) some of the alluring stories that were already said in the poetic and prosaic Edda (our sources of norse mythology). But the intention is not to put the material closest to the reader, nor to clarify existing translations from old norse; no, the intention is to beautifully make a complete and coherent account of that stories in new songs from that which we have in very poor conditions and which severed fragments and lost lays leave us in a very uneasy position. The originals are lost, maimed or plagued with confusion; but nonetheless they are enchanting and bright and beautiful. They are what we have left of that beauty: very little and without hope of ever getting more. Professor Tolkien then decides not to translate again, not to interpret, but to sing a new and complete poem from what he understands of the stories. Also noticeable is that these are poems wrote in english and with the meter intact, as opposed to the translations in english with broken meter of the norse poems with their meters intact. All this renders a fantastic work of art.

And for those who think this is a difficult read, every precaution has been taken by Christopher Tolkien so as to make this a comprehensible work even for those of us who have little idea of the Eddas and the songs of norse mythology. In a few words: this is an exceptional work of poetry, bright, melodious and concise in its images, but also grim and profound in its stories. It's a powerful book of two excellent new norse lays, and excellent essays, commentaries and aids in their reading.
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on March 12, 2013
Tolkien's son prepared this publication from Tolkien's papers. (The history of Tolkien's text is given in the introduction.) It's a verse version after the manner of early English raconteurs of the not-German version of what is more widely known as the Niebelung saga--Sigurd is the Scandanavian "Siegfried" figure. This is not an original fantasy-epic like Tolkien's own "Ring cycle" books, but a somewhat Victorian, but musically alliterative, excercise in versification.
To experience an early oral reconstruction of epic poetic singing, look for Benjamin Bagby's telling the tale of Beowulf on the Internet.
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on February 20, 2016
I really love this story with all the fascinating characters and the language that Tolkien uses throughout the book. It is also interesting for me to read some of the stories from the older of Norway and Iceland because some of my background is Scandinavian. I have heard of a few of characters and it is very interesting to know about the other ancient ones as well.
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on August 16, 2013
There are much better versions of this tale than Tolkien's, though I appreciate the way he used the meter and rhyme scheme of the ancient skalds. If you appreciate ancient literature, then this is a must read. If you're looking for a typical Tolkien tale, look elsewhere.
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on April 13, 2013
I truly enjoyed reading these poems, which are free translations of Scandinavian legends (the Eddas), made by JRRT. They give insight into aspects of Middle-earth and LOTR. They are also intrinsically valuable and intriguing narrative poems. I like the verse style and appreciated JRRT's critical essays as well as Christopher Tolkien's detailed explanatory notes.
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