Genre: classic; poetry; myth; fantasy; medieval
Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] In the “Lay of the Völsungs” is told the ancestry of the great hero Sigurd, the slayer of Fáfnir most celebrated of dragons, whose treasure he took for his own; of his awakening of the Valkyrie Brynhild, who slept surrounded by a wall of fire, and of their betrothal; and of his coming to the court of the great princes who were named the Niflungs (or Nibelungs), with whom he entered into blood-brotherhood. In that court there sprang great love but also great hate, brought about by the power of the enchantress of the Niflungs, skilled in the arts of magic, of shape-changing and potions of forgetfulness.
My Book Review: I am not a hardcore Tolkienite, but I do enjoy stretching myself and have made my way through many of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works. “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun” was my continuation of reading his non LOR books.
The book is made up of two longish poems (“lays”), and one is a sequel to the other. Actually, the book is Tolkien’s retelling of an ancient Norse myth called “The Lay of the Volsungs,” and was published after his death by his son Christopher, who added many of his father’s notes and his own commentary.
It shouldn’t have taken me so long to read it as it did. It would have been relatively quick reading, but I was busy and to tell the truth I found it murky and boring. I found it hard to remember what happened the last time I left off, and by the time I made it to the breaks with Christopher Tolkien’s notes to explain what it was I just read, I’d completely forgotten and not much made sense. A lot of oath-swearing, deceiving, fighting and killing. Blood and guts.
On the plus side, I found it a lot of fun to read out loud. Tolkien wrote the lays in the style of the old Norse and there are a lot of ancient, outdated words that were fun to come across. Tolkien really was a master at language and it shows (even if I’m too thick to fully appreciate it). There was even a particular line or two I copied down that reminded me much of the True Story of the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ. This sounds very strange, but I plan to include in my Christmas cards this year:
In the day of Doom
he shall deathless stand
who death tasted
and dies no more,
seed of Odin:
not all shall end,
nor Earth perish.
On his head the Helm,
in his hand lightning,
afire his spirit,
in his face splendour.
When war passeth
in world rebuilt,
bliss shall they drink
who the bitter tasted.
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns. He has a name written on Him that no one but He Himself knows…. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ …And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years…. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever…. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…. ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ …He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.’ …No longer will there be any curse… Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 19:11 – 22:20)
I found it interesting that one of the characters toward the end of the tale, named Atli, is loosely based on what we know from old legends of Attila the Hun. That gave a wonderful grounding to the story, as if there really was a historical basis to the fiction I was reading.
I know there will be die-hard Tolkien fans out there who will want to read anything they can get their hands on of his who would enjoy this book. Otherwise, you might want to pass on it.
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