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The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún

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Christopher Tolkien publishes a long verse poem, ‘The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún,’ by his father. If any Tolkien fans read it I hope they will tell us about it here.

Christopher Tolkien, who as a child was paid two pence by his father for every mistake he could find in The Hobbit, and as an RAF pilot during the war contributed suggestions to the progress of The Lord of the Rings, worked from a manuscript which he believes his father wrote in the early 1930s. JRR Tolkien taught Old Norse alongside Anglo-Saxon at Oxford university, giving lectures and classes on Norse language and literature for at least 13 years.

Telling in verse the story of Sigurd the Völsung and the fall of the Niflungs – also adapted by Wagner into the Ring cycle – The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún sees the hero Sigurd kill the dragon Fafnir (a slaying which may have influenced Tolkien's writing of Bilbo's encounter with Smaug in The Hobbit), take his gold and rescue the Valkyrie Brynhild from her imprisonment on a rock surrounded by fire. Love, magic, jealousy, and, eventually, tragedy in the murder of Sigurd and the suicide of Brynhild ensue.

Review in brief.

Unlike 2007’s The Children of Hurin, this latest posthumous Tolkien publication, edited by J.R.R. Tolkien’s son and literary executor, is not particularly accessible to the average Lord of the Rings devotee. The volume contains two epic poems based on the Norse legends that inspired Richard Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen opera cycle. While the poems showcase Tolkien’s considerable gifts with language, the material could have been better organized.

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Ernest Reyer wrote a four-act opera sigurd which included three ballets. It is almost never performed. Opera Manhattan did one act of sigurd in the late 1990s.

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