Book Cover
Title The Story of Kullervo
Series ---
Author J.R.R. Tolkien
Cover Art J.R.R. Tolkien
Publisher Harper Collins - 2015
First Printing 2010
Category Folklore
Warnings None

Main Characters

Kullervo, Musti, Wanona

Main Elements Gods, spirits, wizards

Kullervo son of Kalervo is perhaps the darkest and most tragic of all J.R.R. Tolkien's characters. "Hapless Kullervo", as Tolkien called him, is a luckless orphan boy with supernatural powers and a tragic destiny.

Brought up in the homestead of the dark magician Untamo, who killed his father, kidnapped his mother, and who tried three times to kill him when still a boy, Kullervo is alone save for the love of his twin sister, Wanona, and guarded by the magical powers of the black dog, Musti. When Kullervo is sold into slavery, he swears revenge on the magician, but he will learn that even at the point of vengeance there is no escape from the cruellest of fates.

Tolkien wrote that The Story of Kullervo was "the germ of my attempt to write legends of my own", and was "a major matter in the legends of the First Age"; his Kullervo was the ancestor of Turin Turambar, tragic incestuous hero of The Children of Hurin. In addition to being a powerful story in its own right, The Story of Kullervo, published here for the first time with the author's drafts, notes and lecture-essay on its source-work, the Kalevala, is a foundation stone in the structure of Tolkien's invented world.

Every year I like to read something by Tolkien in December but I've long since run out of his core works. However, as I was poking through the library one day I found this one, not part of Middle-Earth but you can still see the origins of the Children of Hurin so thought I could keep the tradition going another year.

The Story of Kullervo itself is good, a tale of a boy born into the household of his evil and cruel uncle Untamo, and uncle that had killed Kullervo's good and brave father. The story is then followed by some interesting notes. Then a draft manuscript of a presentation Tolkien made to some colleagues, followed by some notes. Then the same presentation, more polished, followed by more notes...for a work destined to regular readers and not just scholars this seemed a bit much, probably just needed to fill in some extra pages given there's only about 200 of them. Regular people don't really care the exact year a document was written.

So I recommend the 40 or so pages of actual story, and the more polished version of Tolkien's presentation, to the general reader. It is a good tale after all, and makes me want to read the Kalevala upon which his own interpretation was based. The rest is more for die-hard Tolkien fans that worry about little things like what year he wrote something, what exactly he was doing at that time, and whether or not the names he used in the story were to beginnings of his Quenya language, etc.

Posted: December 2017


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