The Complete Tolkien

MLC

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I've only stumbled on this forum just now and I have signed up as I want to share with some souls the curious journey I've decided to embark on (and there's really no one interested in it in my surroundings). I decided to read the entire Tolkien curriculum. I have started on August 8 with The Story of Kullervo, ed. Verlyn Flieger, which I finished just now. I am moving onto The Book of Lost Tales, ed. Christopher Tolkien.

I hope people will be interested enough to discuss some bits and pieces with me -- or even join me on this journey to the Perilous Realm!
 

Hugh

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Welcome!

I look forward to your comments. I know others will be interested also.
 
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Kris_01

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I tried reading Lost Tales 35 years ago and never finished.
 
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Extollager

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Bravo! I probably wouldn't be prepared to go the whole journey, but I'd love to see this thread catch on. It's fine if you're going to go at your own pace just as you please, but I wondered if you had any kind of a tentative to schedule -- like a book a month or whatever.
 
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MLC

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I have started on August 8 with The Story of Kullervo, ed. Verlyn Flieger, which I finished just now.
I meant I finished it on August 8 and started the whole thing on August 1!

I tried reading Lost Tales 35 years ago and never finished.
I think what is off-putting is the endless commentary of Christopher Tolkien in between. He sometimes has interesting things to say but it certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

I wondered if you had any kind of a tentative to schedule -- like a book a month or whatever.
As it’s the summer holiday at the moment, there is more time to spend. I haven’t set a time path but I guess if people are requesting to read alongside me, I could do that.


So maybe it’s time for some tentative remarks on Kullervo? There are several reasons why this is a tricky read. First of all, it is the first prose work that Tolkien tried his hands on. Prior to this he only wrote poetry and therefore you see he isn't as skilled a writer as the one we know to have written The Lord of the Rings. Secondly, the source of the work, the Kalevala, is also very strange with its crazy magic and whatnots, that it's hard at times to enjoy for a modern reader (though this is actually what attracted Tolkien to the work!). There is an example that in one line a man kills a gigantic elk and in the next line it is mentioned the beast was a bear. That sounds too inconsistent for us nowadays. Thirdly, there's a lot of poetry that simply isn't for everyone. And lastly, it doesn't end! It's quite frustrating that one of the first peeks into his legendarium remained unfinished.

But there are also reasons to read this book. First of all these pretty much are Tolkien's first steps into Middle-earth, even though the story isn't set in that world. Kullervo has the same feel as ME with its woods, magics, overcoming evil and unlikely heroes. The strange names found in the tale sound as if they were taken from the Finnish original but most of them are made up and this might be the first venture into the Elvish Tolkien constructed. Now after finishing the tale, it begs to continue with The Children of Húrin of course.

Besides the prose tale, there is also an essay (+ a revised one) about the source the Kalevala and why Tolkien enjoyed it. The commentary of editor Verlyn Flieger can easily be ignored if that doesn't float your boat. It isn't incorporated in the text, notes follow after the work, et cetera. The book is less than 200 pp. so you read through it rather quickly. And it's always worth to listen to Flieger as she's one of the best-known Tolkien scholars.
 

Extollager

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Here's my Amazon review of Keith Bosley's translation of Kalevala, submitted 17 years ago already!

There's a lot less bloodletting in this epic than in many mythic-legendary works. But -- what a lot of frustration, inhospitality, and breakage! Boats jam, people lie, an heroic expedition to the North is a flop. You won't find any great romances here, but a number of maidens who would druther not leave home (especially undesirable if the prospective husband is a "nook-haunter" -- an old man). A suitor might perform all the tasks the girl's mother demands, and after doing the impossible, he doesn't get to marry her even so. Heroes arrive in a village to be sent on from one house to the next in an unfriendly manner. A quest for fire leads to calamitous accidental conflagrations. Quests don't end in dazzling triumphs; the great quest-object for this epic ends up plopping into the sea and being broken. This is indeed the epic of the "luckless lands of the North."
Especially powerful are the cantos about that scary young punk Kullervo. Where else in traditional literature is there such a portrait of a kid born to make everyone miserable before he takes his own life?
It's not all dour stuff, to be sure. There are a number of passages in which the words practically writhe off the page as the lines describe tingling, squirming magical growing. There's some humor.
The work is suffused with an earthy quality. It's not ambrosia and nectar we have here, but fish to eat, home-brewed beer to drink, and plain bread -- sometimes bulked up with bark -- to chew. People wear wool, navigate fogs, get up early to light fires and milk the cows.
It was one of a select few works that C. S. Lewis cited, in his essay "On Science Fiction," as works that provide additions to life. Other things that made the list were Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, parts of the Odyssey and of Malory's Morte d'Arthur, Peake's Titus Groan, etc.
Interesting list!
This translation seemed to me quite readable.
 

hitmouse

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Welcome. I am sure we would be interested to know something of your background. Presumably you are not approaching this project as a complete Tolkein virgin.
 
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MLC

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Interesting, Extollager! As I recall, Tolkien wasn't one bit happy about the Kalevala translation(s) he read.

Welcome. I am sure we would be interested to know something of your background. Presumably you are not approaching this project as a complete Tolkein virgin.
I have read Tolkien before but that's been quite a while ago. I believe there are things in my mind that aren't necessary true and accurate. I guess it's time to remedy that.

A second reason for (re-)reading Tolkien's work is that I'm a high school teacher of English and want to incorporate the professor's (fiction) work into the curriculum of my classes.
 

pyan

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Welcome to the Chrons, MLC. Are you intending to read all of 'The History of Middle-earth' and 'The History of The Hobbit' as well?
 
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BAYLOR

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Interesting, Extollager! As I recall, Tolkien wasn't one bit happy about the Kalevala translation(s) he read.


I have read Tolkien before but that's been quite a while ago. I believe there are things in my mind that aren't necessary true and accurate. I guess it's time to remedy that.

A second reason for (re-)reading Tolkien's work is that I'm a high school teacher of English and want to incorporate the professor's (fiction) work into the curriculum of my classes.
Welcome to Chrons. Book you might find of interest.:)

Tales Before Tolkien : The Roots of Modern Fantasy by Douglas A Anderson
 

MLC

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Welcome to the Chrons, MLC. Are you intending to read all of 'The History of Middle-earth' and 'The History of The Hobbit' as well?
That is the idea, yes. I think the first five parts hold the most merit but I will read them all in the end. And thanks for the welcome.

Welcome to Chrons. Book you might find of interest.:)

Tales Before Tolkien : The Roots of Modern Fantasy by Douglas A Anderson
I have Anderson's edition of The Hobbit (the annotated one). He is of course a well-known Tolkien scholar but I haven't read this one you're recommending. I guess it goes on the to read pile (though that one doesn't seem to do any shrinking at all!).
 

BAYLOR

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That is the idea, yes. I think the first five parts hold the most merit but I will read them all in the end. And thanks for the welcome.


I have Anderson's edition of The Hobbit (the annotated one). He is of course a well-known Tolkien scholar but I haven't read this one you're recommending. I guess it goes on the to read pile (though that one doesn't seem to do any shrinking at all!).
Book piles are not supposed to get smaller. :D:cool:
 

Extollager

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That is the idea, yes. I think the first five parts hold the most merit but I will read them all in the end. And thanks for the welcome.
Not to dispute your preference -- but my favorites of the HoMe volumes -- none of which I have read cover to cover -- are the last few, in which you get the intriguing Notion Club Papers, the polished gem Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, some intriguing ponderings by Tolkien of certain elements of Middle-earth, etc.
 
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MLC

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Not to dispute your preference -- but my favorites of the HoMe volumes -- none of which I have read cover to cover -- are the last few, in which you get the intriguing Notion Club Papers, the polished gem Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth, some intriguing ponderings by Tolkien of certain elements of Middle-earth, etc.
I have never reached the latter part, to be honest. Maybe I'll stand corrected in a little while ;-)
 

MLC

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I have finished reading The Book of Lost Tales, Part One and will obviously move on to The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two. This time around, I skipped Christopher Tolkien's Commentary but I do recall that he wrote that the only reason these are two books, is that it would have been too big a tome if he hadn't. So it only makes sense to continue with Part Two.

I believe the merit in The Book of Lost Tales, Part One is that it's the earliest writing of Tolkien. Personally I find the frame narrative enjoyable. Eriol ends up in the land of fairies and begs tales off of them. I guess everyone would love to have a place like the Cottage of Lost Play and listen to master storytellers doing their thing.
 

MLC

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Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans, I guess. I still have to start BLT2...
 
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