Monday, August 27, 2012

The New Arrival: Stella Mills' HROLF KRAKI

So, the deadline's now past, the piece done and sent off (to await the inevitable 'needs this, needs that' wh. always follows the completion of a project).

Which means it's time to straighten up the office (books pulled off shelves tend to stack up in the final stages), answer some e-mail, deal with various little tasks that have been put on hold, nail down some details for the upcoming trip, and get going on the next few projects, one (small) one due this week and four (larger) ones all due in the two-week period from the last week of September through the first week of October (announcements on those soon).

Speaking of books piling up, it's been more than a week now since the latest release from Doug Anderson's new publishing imprint, NODEN BOOKS, arrived, making it high time I got around to it. THE SAGA OF HROLF KRAKI is one of the more interesting surviving sagas for any Tolkienist, since it was almost certainly the source for the figure of Beorn/Medwed in THE HOBBIT. It also is of particular interest to Old England and Old Norse scholars because its story overlaps with the first half of BEOWULF, but with the events told from an entirely different point of view. In BEOWULF, wise old King Hrothgar reigns in Heorot, a kind of Danish King Arthur, honored throughout the land, though there are some foreshadowing of trouble to come from his nephew, who it's hinted might usurp the kingship from Hrothgar's young sons. In HROLF KRAKI, the point of view is reverse: here it's the member of the younger generation ("Hrothulf" in BEOWULF, Hrolf in the saga*) who's the hero, with the main emphasis being divided between his spectacularly dysfunctional family (incest and murdering each other being family traditions) and his champions, of whom Bothvar (the Beorn-figure) is the chief.


*or, as we wd say it today, Ralph. 'Kraki' is a nickname meaning 'beanpole', the king being tall and thin.


Ardamir said...

We do say "Rolf" here in the Nordic countries. "Ralf" exists too, though.

Dale James Nelson said...

Rolf is not unknown in the US (e.g. my America-born pastor's first name).

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Ardamir & DJN:
Fair enough. I just wanted to make the point that what seems a strange and exotic name to most English and American readers ("Hrolf Kraki") is actually still around in familiar form (e.g., Jackie Gleason's character on THE HONEYMOONERS). Although I'm told it was pronounced "Raff" in early modern English, as in the 16th century play RALPH ROISTER DOISTER.

Here's a question for those knowledgable in such matters: is the name HUNFERTH still used in any form? This is the actual name of the character better known as "Unferth" in BEOWULF. I know there are a few recorded people of that name in pre-Conquest England (including a bishop of Winchester) but don't if it survived into later English or whether it had (and has) Scandinavian parallels. It'd be interesting to find out.

--John R.

Troels said...

In the street where I live (a few miles from Roskilde and perhaps 15 miles from Lejre) there is at least one young man named Rolf and one named Bjarke (modern Danish version of Bodvar Bjarki).

The modern Danish equivalent of Hunferth would be ufred which is known as a word, but not as a name.

Nelson said...

'The modern Danish equivalent of Hunferth would be ufred which is known as a word, but not as a name.'

Strictly speaking that's the Danish form of the corrected form Unferth - 'Hunferth' being quite rightly rejected as a purely scribal form in Beowulf (the name alliterates as if it begins with a vowel, not an 'h').