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Book Review: 'The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun' by J.R.R. Tolkien

day came dimly --

the doors were held.

Elsewhere, eerie foreshadowings of Tolkien's later work appear: the traitorous "Vingi the venom-tongued"; the brothers Otr and Andvari, who fish and "there ate blinking/on the bank brooding/of black waters"; their demon father, Hreidmar, who cries, "The wreath├ęd rings/I will rule alone,/as long as life is/they leave me never!" Most tellingly, there is the "nameless shadow" that accompanies the Norse god Odin, which Christopher Tolkien believes is his father's own addition to the text. Tolkien did not invent all these characters, of course -- but he shaped them to his own design, in his own language. Christopher suggests that it was in these early recastings of ancient myth that his father first began to think about creating his own heroes, his own legendarium.

Given the global reach and phenomenal success of the Tolkien franchise, it is difficult sometimes to focus on what a strange, brilliant, obsessive writer he actually was. Millenniums hence, when our own culture has become as remote as that of the Eddas, some far-future historian or scribe struggling to make sense of the countless 20th- and 21st-century iterations of Middle-earth -- in books, films and music, toys, jewelry and clothes -- may well interpret them as evidence that we, too, were a world in thrall to Northernness.

Hand's 10th novel, "Wonderwall," about poet Arthur Rimbaud, will be published this fall.


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