Tolkien once said his immediate response to reading any medieval story was to want to write one like it. He did. Three times. “The Story of Kullervo” came from the Finnish Kalevala, Sigurd and Gudrún was his take on the Icelandic Eddas, and The Fall of Arthur was inspired by the Middle English Alliterative Morte Arthure and the Stanzaic Morte Arthure. We’ll read each of these works in the context of its particular literary tradition to explore how Tolkien fits/alters/extends/compresses traditional material to make it his own.
The course divides naturally into three segments each devoted to a mythic story and Tolkien’s treatment of it. Each of the first two sections will be followed by an exam on that section. The last week’s classes will be a summing up in open discussion/evaluation/critique of Tolkien’s use of his material. I will provide some talking points to get us started, but this is your opportunity to try out your opinions about what you’ve learned. It is, if you like, a rehearsal for the cumulative final exam on Friday of the last week in which you will be asked to evaluate Tolkien’s works both individually and comparatively, judging them in the context of each other as well as of their sources as read in class.
Tolkien and Tradition (Fall 2013)
Edda by Snorri Sturluson, translated by Faulkes
The Poetic Edda: The Mythological Poems by Henry Adams Bellows
The Poetic Edda: Heroic Poems by Henry Adams Bellows
King Arthur’s Death by Larry Dean Benson and Edward Foster
The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien