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J.R.R. Tolkien's The Story of Kullervo Will Be Published In October

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There’s a new fantasy story from J.R.R. Tolkien set to be published later this fall: the author’s estate will be releasing The Story of Kullervo in October, one of his earliest prose works that would eventually lead him to Middle Earth.

Here’s what the story is about:

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.


The story is one of Tolkien’s oldest stories, started while he was at college in 1914, and was heavily inspired by Finnish epic poetry tradition, particularly with one poem, the Kalevala, as well as the styling of English author William Morris.


While at Oxford, Tolklien came across the Finnish epic poem, which biographer John Garth, in Tolkien and the Great War, noted that “He was ‘immensely attracted by something in the air’ of this verse epic of dueling Northern wizards and lovestruck youths, beer-drinkers and shape-changers’, then recently published in English in a popular edition.”

In 1914, Tolkien began to retell the story on his own, experimenting with prose, rather than poetry, and seems to have never finished it during his lifetime. This book is Tolkien’s original draft, along with his notes and essays about the source material. The book also includes some additional commentary from Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger.

This isn’t the first time that the manuscript has been published: in 2010, Flieger published the story in Tolkien Studies: Volume 7, along with some commentary.


Of the story, Tolkien indicated that this was an early germ of epic fantasy that would eventually spark his major Middle Earth epics:

“The germ of my attempt to write legends of my own to fit my private languages was the tragic tale of the hapless Kullervo in the Finnish Kalevala. It remains a major matter in the legends of the First Age (which I hope to publish as The Silmarillion)“


The Story of Kullervo is due to be released on August 27th in the UK and on October 27th in the US.

[H/T to Joe Trask]