The Story of Kullervo: Tolkien Inspired by the Finnish Folk Epic

J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Story of Kullervo edited by Verlyn Flieger will be published only a few weeks from now in the U.S. The October release was preceded by a late August launch in the U.K.

HarperCollins.
HarperCollins.

According to the publisher’s statement,

“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 wrote 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’; his Kullervo was the ancestor of Túrin Turambar, tragic incestuous hero of The Silmarillion. In addition to 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.”

As The Kalevala is my national epic, it feels odd to see the storylines and names used with little or no change by a celebrated international author. I’m used to thinking of my country and culture as small and unimportant. Perhaps that is our strength, after all – we’ve managed to hold on to some unique features in our little corner of Europe.

If the original folk epic interests you, an English-language version of The Kalevala is available for free at Project Gutenberg.

This post has been edited for formatting.

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