30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Rory McTurk, "Tolkien’s Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún: Creative Drama or Scholarly Exercise?"

J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (ed. by Christopher Tolkien, London, HarperCollins, 2009) consists of two long narrative poems on the major events of Völsunga saga, making use, where possible, of eddic sources as well as the saga, and accompanied by notes written by Tolkien himself, but edited and augmented by his son. I use the term ‘drama’ because the poems, written in eddic metres and consisting to a large extent of dialogue, are amenable to analysis in terms of Terry Gunnell’s concept of dialogic eddic poetry as a form of drama (The origins of drama in Scandinavia, Cambridge: D.S Brewer, 1995). The first of the two poems partly fills the gap left by the lacuna in the Codex Regius, but with a much smaller number of stanzas than the 200-300 stanzas that Tolkien evidently believed the lost leaves contained (p. 221), the reason for this apparently being that the smaller number of stanzas accords better with the overall structure of his poem. The book as a whole thus shows a tension between scholarly and creative impulses. The same might also be said of Völsunga saga and the part of Snorri’s Skáldskaparmál that treats the same material, however, and my paper, if accepted, will argue, with reference to Tolkien’s fondness for ‘creating depth’ (identified by T.A. Shippey, The road to Middle-Earth, London: Grafton, 1992, pp. 272-81), that his treatment of the material is very comparable to what might be expected of a learned thirteenth-century Icelander with a poetic gift.


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