28 June 2009

books to buy, as of June 2009 (part 1)

I always add new books to my "Books to Buy" list in my Moleskine every time I browse a bookstore.

If I had my way, I'd buy all the new, interesting books in sight. Alas, I am only a commoner and must resign myself to a realistic, trimmed-down list until book sale season in August-September starts and I can then maximize my book-buying budget.

Here are the books I plan to get very soon (as in, this week):

1. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun by J.R.R. Tolkien. I saw this in Fully Booked at that time I was experiencing vicious stomach cramps. (I don't even know why I was bullheaded enough to go out in that state.) When I first clapped eyes on it inside the bookstore, my heart contracted painfully--and my stomach followed suit. I guess my stomach couldn't handle all that better-than-sex excitement of encountering Tolkien's previously unpublished re-telling of Nordic lore.

Gasped out in pain first and grabbed the shelf to avoid keeling over and making a fool of myself inside the store. When my condition had stabilized, I managed to open the book and check out the contents. I've always been a huge, HUGE fan of Tolkien's written works, and I've said this a couple of times already: if you can read his numerous, headache-inducing drafts of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings compiled in that 12-volume The History of Middle-Earth--and manage to enjoy these--then you can basically love anything else that he has written.

The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is Tolkien's English re-telling of these old Norse poems. He wrote this during his days as a professor in Oxford, before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings were even published.

I mainly owe my love for mythology to J.R.R. Tolkien (and Joseph Campbell); any Tolkien fan would know that much of Tolkien's Middle-earth was based on the Northern Mythologies of old. Tolkien lamented the fact that England was not able to preserve much of its early mythology, and he sought to create his own English mythology, drawing heavily on Nordic, Welsh and Finnish sources.

What excites me about Tolkien's new book is that it is published in its complete and unaltered form, as Tolkien had written it. And, it includes an introduction by Tolkien on the Elder Edda. So reading it would be kind of like sitting in class, listening to the great man himself lecturing on Norse mythology.

I am honestly into all this Tolkien/mythology stuff, and I'd probably babble away with an equally enthusiastic Tolkien fan if the opportunity presented itself.

Basically, here's the blurb on the said legends in Tolkien's new book:

The New Lay of the Völsungs
In the Lay of the Völsungs is told the ancestry of the great hero Sigurd, the slayer of Fafnir most celebrated of dragons, whose treasure he took for his own; of his awakening of the Valkyrie Brynhild who slept surrounded by a wall of fire; and of his coming to the court of the great princes who were named the Niflungs (or Nibelungs), with whom he entered into blood-brotherhood. In that court there sprang great love but also great hate, brought about by the power of the enchantress, mother of the Niflungs, skilled in the arts of magic, of shape-changing and potions of forgetfulness. In scenes of dramatic intensity, of confusion of identity, thwarted passion, jealousy and bitter strife, the tragedy of Sigurd and Brynhild, and Gudrun his sister, mounts to its end in the murder of Sigurd at the hands of his blood-brothers, the suicide of Brynhild, and the despair of Gudrun.

The New Lay of Gudrun
In the Lay of Gudrun her fate after the death of Sigurd is told, her marriage against her will to the mighty Atli, ruler of the Huns (the Attila of history), his murder of her brothers, and her hideous revenge.

Amazing stuff. Younger generations should read more of this. I've always felt disgruntled by the fact that back in high school and college, we were only exposed to the standard Beowulf and Shakespeare readings. There should be an entire class devoted solely to world mythology.


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