If you listen very carefully, you may be able to hear the cries of rejoice from the many Ringers around the world as the one author to rule them all has been resurrected for the eighth time since his death in 1973. That’s right, yet another work by J.R.R. Tolkien is in the process of being released, 42 years after his death.
The Story of Kullervo was released in the UK on August 27 and is scheduled to be released in the US and Canada on October 13 of 2015.
Kullervo’s story is one of tragedy and darkness. He is an orphan with supernatural powers who is raised by the evil magician, Untamo, who murdered Kullervo’s father and kidnapped his mother. With only the companionship of his twin sister Wanona and the help of the black dog, Musti, who uses his own magical powers to protect Kullervo, he is all but alone in the world. Three attempts on his life later, he is sold into slavery by Untamo, he swears revenge on the dark magician which is the driving point of the plot. However, vengeance claimed or not, Kullervo is destined for tragedy in the end.
The story was of great importance to Tolkien, although he never put it into publication. It was the first work of prose that Tolkien wrote, sometime between the years of 1914 and 1915, and despite its immense importance to the creation of the fantasy world of Arda and the region of Middle-Earth, was likely not intended for publication by Tolkien. Its release marks a century since Tolkien finished his first work of prose literature and marks the planting of a seed that would later grow and blossom into The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and his many other celebrated works.
For those who have read The Silmarillion, the first of Tolkien’s posthumous publications, Kullervo’s story also serves a unique purpose. Kullervo is the ancestor of the tragic incestuous hero of The Silmarillion, Turin Turambar, who led a life of tragedy after tragedy including his accidental marriage to his sister, Niniel. Not only does The Story of Kullervo serve as the literary ancestor to Tolkien’s various later works, but also as a direct predecessor to one of his many fantastical heroes.
Published alongside The Story of Kullervo, is the Kalevala, a Finnish saga. It’s a Finnish epic poem that played a major role in the nation finding its own cultural identity. The Kalevala served as Tolkien’s inspiration for The Story of Kullervo. This inspiration is really of little surprise since a large majority of Tolkien’s influences came from the vast tales of the various European mythologies that he studied and translated during his time as both a student and later a professor. The Kalevala also featured a character named Kullervo whose story is often criticized as being similar to the Greek story of Oedipus, which in truth, could also be said of the tale of Turin Turambar in The Silmarilion.
The cover art for the new publication is one of Tolkien’s own paintings much like the covers of his more famous works in the past. The original covers for The Lord of the Rings trilogy were designed by Tolkien himself and none since have come close to encompassing the whole of the novel’s contents in a single image. This cover art, also painted by Tolkien, resembles the original cover arts of the three Lord of the Rings books which speaks to the fact that it is an import part of Middle-Earth’s history just as they are.
The story has been prepared for publication with the help of its editor, Verlyn Flieger, who has edited Tolkien’s work for publication in the past. She is a scholar of Tolkien who has published numerous works of her own on the works of Tolkien. She even published The Story of Kullervo in 2010 as part of Tolkien Studies: Volume 7, a publication which she has been a co-editor of for years. No doubt if there was anyone who should be editing this work of Tolkien’s, it’s her.
The international version of the book is set to be released on October 13, in hardcover and eBook, by Harper Collins.