Author: J.R.R. Tolkien
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: 2015
The world first publication of a previously unknown work of fantasy by J.R.R. Tolkien, which tells the powerful story of a doomed young man who is sold into slavery and who swears revenge on the magician who killed his father.
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 tries 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 himself said 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’. Tolkien’s Kullervo is the clear ancestor of Túrin Turambar, tragic incestuous hero of The Silmarillion. In addition to it 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-essays on its source-work, The Kalevala – is a foundation stone in the structure of Tolkien’s invented world.
The Story of Kullervo was a fascinating read both as a story in its own right and, more interestingly, as a take on The Kalevala. In fact, as with several of these recent Tolkien releases, I found the notes and discussion almost more captivating than the text itself, looking at how Tolkien sourced and adapted his material, eventually reconfiguring it completely, as in this case where Kullervo later became Túrin. There is plenty of intriguing information here, but it is all neatly presented and makes for easy, light reading. This probably isn't a book to pick up if all you know is The Lord of the Rings and/or The Hobbit. But if you have already delved into The Simarillion and other such works, this will be a rewarding read. Likewise, if you love The Kalevala, Tolkien's piece offers an interesting interpretation and comparison.