There’s a treat in store for Middle Earth fans and collectors later this month when one of J R R Tolkien’s earliest prose works, The Story of Kullervo, is released.
Kullervo is a tragic character, perhaps the darkest of Tolkien’s creations. ‘Hapless Kullervo’, as Tolkien called him, was orphaned and in the charge of the cruel magician, Untamo. Untamo had killed Kullervo’s father, Kalvero, kidnapped his mother and tried, three times, to do away with the young boy. Kullervo survives through the bond with his twin sister, Wanona and with the protection of the magical black dog, Musti. Sold into slavery, he swears revenge against Untamo; and so the story unfolds. The publishers acknowledge The Story of Kullervo as ‘the foundation stone in the structure of Tolkien’s invented world’. Kullervo becomes a forefather of Turin Turambar, the incestuous hero of The Silmarillion.
Loosely reworked from the epic Finnish poem, Kalevala, (which was also the inspiration for a suite of symphonic movements by Sibelius) Tolkien described his story of Kullervo as ‘the germ of my attempt to write a legend of my own to fit my private languages’ and ‘a major matter in the legends of the First Age’.
Tolkien worked on The Story of Kullervo in 1913 and 1914 while he was at Exeter College, Oxford, studying English. In a contemporary letter to his future wife, Edith Bratt, he explained that he was “trying to turn one of the stories [of the Kalevala]—which is really a very great story and most tragic—into a short story somewhat on the lines of Morris’ romances with chunks of poetry in between”. Tolkien didn’t finish the story and it remained unpublished until 2010 when it appeared in an academic journal alongside two drafts of an essay, On the Kalevala. Release by HarperCollins later this month marks the first mass market publication.
The Story of Kullervo is published by HarperCollins on 27 August 2015 and will be available in hardback and as an e-book. The story is accompanied by the author’s notes and drafts illuminating his source material for Kullervo. The volume is edited by Verlyn Flieger who was behind its academic publication in Tolkien Studies (Volume 7, 2010, pp 211-278).