The Story of Kullervo, by J.R.R. Tolkien


I was browsing the shelves of my local library when I came upon this book. I got a bit excited because I used to devour everything by Tolkien pretty ravenously - even the stuff that most people haven't heard of that were effectively polished drafts and alternative versions of his legendarium. I'm a bit rusty these days having fallen behind on things still being published, and so when I saw this I perked up.

This is Tolkien's version of a scandanavian story with which I was unfamiliar, but the jacket cover made some references to it being related to his legandarium in some way and ties to some characters that I liked, so I figured it was worth the read.

The Good

It's short - it's physically a small book, and much of it is notes and commentary making the actual meat of the work shorter still than it seems.

I like the story of Túrin Turambar and there were some clear elements that eventually did find their way into his story which made me smile.

The Bad

This is raw - and very unfinished - and quite chaotic. The names of things change constantly throughout such that it's really hard to follow who is who and how the characters are related. Even the very beginning, like the first paragraph, he starts with a bit about a goose having 3 goslings that turn out being people - and then no more of that ever again.

Also, the style that it's written in is difficult. I understand that this was really the first prose that Tolkien had ever written, and I'm also not British, let alone a scholar of old english, but it's not an easy read.

Maybe some of this is due to Tolkien retelling a story from another culture and he was trying to stay true to the source material. Maybe - but I still had trouble with it.

Lastly, aside from a few elements that made their way into Túrin's story, this had nothing to do with Tolkien's legendarium and the book jacket shouldn't have led me to believe that it did. It's a story all on its own that maybe through a really chaotic journey led to Túrin, but this by itself is not part of it. This would have been fine, except I thought it was more. Don't be fooled similarly!

Final Thoughts

It's bad. Really, really bad, and I hate saying that because Tolkien is so dear to me. I think this gets a 1/5 though I'm tempted to give it a 2 just because it's Tolkien and I love him. But it sucks. Don't read it unless you're a completionist; it's not even worth getting out of a library (and most libraries should buy other things).

Sorry Mr. Tolkien - this should never have been published widely and kept as something for other scholars studying you to encounter. You deserved better.