Wednesday, September 22, 2010


So, I was delighted last week to learn that this fall there'll be a new, fiftieth-anniversary edition of Christopher Tolkien's edition and translation of THE SAGA OF KING HEIDREK THE WISE coming out from HarperCollins.

I found out about this through the notice in the Sept. issue of BEYOND BREE, but quick confirmation and more details came via Tolkien Library:

And it was through Tolkien Library that I learned the entire text is currently available online, thanks to the generosity of The Viking Society:

I'm particularly happy about this since HEIDREK's is my favorite saga, and the first one I read (back when I had to get special dispensation from the college library to check out books there, since I was still in high school). Though it came as a bit of a shock to discover that Heidrek himself was the 'hero' of the saga only in the sense of protagonist: a kin-slayer and wife-murderer and generally dangerous and disagreeable person to be around. The most striking character for me was (and is) not Heidrek but his mother, Hervor*, who summons her own dead father from the grave to demand the family heirloom, the cursed sword Tyrfing (made by Durin & Dvalin), which had been buried with him. This scene was one of the first bits of Old Norse lore to be translated into English** at the beginning of the revival of interest in old legends and mythologies and literatures in the mid-18th century. Tolkien fans will probably be more focused on the Riddle-game, which was surely one of Tolkien's main sources for Gollum's riddle-game (along with two lays in the ELDER EDDA): one of Gollum's riddles ("no-legs") actually appears in one of the HEIDREK manuscripts. There's also the famous battle between the Goths and the Huns that ends the saga, although this occurs after Heidrek's day and in fact is set in motion by his children.

I managed to get a copy of my own a few years back to replace the photocopy of the entire book I'd made right at the start of the MR. BAGGINS project. But that took years of searching, and the generosity of friends; now others can get it just by placing an order online. Well worth it for anyone who loves a good saga (they don't get any better than this), and for anyone interested in Tolkien's sources (e.g., the riddle-game, the name Durin, the cursed sword, &c.).

And, if you like this, make sure you track down CT's essay on THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE GOTHS AND HUNS, which originally appeared in SAGA-BOOK, the journal of The Viking Society, back in 1955. It's a tour-de-force focusing on the possibility of a real historical battle underlying the one in the saga, and attempts to establish where it took place. Now if we only had the text of CT's lecture on Attila (and how differently he is portrayed by the Romans historians vs. the Germanic sources) praised by JRRT in a Feb. 21st 1958 lecture (see LETTERS p. 264); that an endnote in LETTERS quotes from it (p. 447) suggests it still survives.


*this being a family saga, there are two Hervors in it -- Heidrek's mother and also his daughter, the latter a probable model for Eowyn who dies heroically fighting the Huns. There are also three Angantyrs; Hervor's mother (i.e., Heidrek's grandfather), the original owner of the curse sword, and Heidrek's brother, whom he kills, and Heidrek's son (Hervor the younger's brother), who succeeds him.

**v. badly, by Thomas Grey, better known for quiet fare such as "Elegy Writ in a Country Churchyard".


Gabriel said...

As for CT's essay, it can be found in Saga-Book vol. XIV and is also available for download at the Viking Society website (along with others Saga-Book volumes, from I to XXXI (2007).

Here's the URL:

N.E. Brigand said...

Christopher Tolkien also discusses portrayals of Attila in his notes in Sigurd and Gudrun.

Carl Anderson said...

It is cool that this book is being reprinted, as it was extremely difficult to come by for a very long time -- though as it is only a print-on-demand production that includes no additional material (even a new, retrospective essay or afterword from Chris Tolkien would have been something), it's hard to what it really offers over the freely available electronic edition other than (presumably) a nicer binding than I could manage on my own. Oh well! I guess it's nice that they are offering that, anyway.