With the reading world longing to sink its eye teeth into lost works of beloved authors like Dr. Seuss and Harper Lee, an unfinished story by J.R.R. Tolkien that pre-dates The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings is set to hit bookstores in the UK on August 27th. It’ll be available in America on October 27th, according to The Daily Dot. Amazon is calling the new release “the world’s first publication of a previously unknown work of fantasy by J.R.R. Tolkien, which tells the powerful story of a doomed young man who is sold into slavery and who swears revenge on the magician who killed his father.”
Based on the Finnish epic poem The Kalevala, The Story of Kullervo was a very early J.R.R. Tolkien fantasy story. John Ronald Reuel Tolkien did not complete the dark story, which takes the reader on a journey with the magician Kullervo as he sets out on his quest to avenge his family against the sorcerer Untamo. The August release will mark more than a century since the work was originally written. Tolkien, then a philologist set to become a major scholar of the English language, specializing in Old and Middle English, began The Story of Kullervo at Oxford in 1914 when he was 22-years old, per DNA.com.
As listed by Amazon, Kullervo, son of Kalervo. or‘Hapless Kullervo’, “is a luckless orphan boy with supernatural powers and a tragic destiny.”
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 [cruelest] of fates.
Tolkien himself said that The Story of Kullervo was ‘the germ of my attempt to write legends of my own’, and was ‘a major matter in the legends of the First Age’. Tolkien’s Kullervo is the clear ancestor of Túrin Turambar, tragic incestuous hero of The Silmarillion. In addition to it being a powerful story in its own right, The Story of Kullervo – published here for the first time with the author’s drafts, notes and lecture-essays on its source-work, The Kalevala – is a foundation stone in the structure of Tolkien’s invented world.
Very exciting for fans of the LotR universe, Tolkien mentions the “First Age” in The Story of Kullervo. The “First Age” pre-dates the “Third Age” in which The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place.
A quick synopsis of The Silmarillion isn’t easy, but the complicated book was published by J.R.R.’s son Christopher in tandem with fantasy authors pulling from J.R.R.’s notes. It is a compendium of histories of Middle-Earth translated from Elvish by Bilbo while the irrepressible Hobbit was a guest of the Elf Lord, Elrond of Rivendell. A Silmarillion movie may or may not be in the works as part of the Peter Jackson series of Tolkien trilogies.
The Daily Dot points out that “though The Story of Kullervo is being marketed as an unknown and previously unpublished story, it was actually published along with notes by Verlyn Flieger in Volume 7 of the journal Tolkien Studies.” The newly published story, however, features commentary by Flieger, a comparative mythology specialist with a focus on Tolkien.
World-renowned Tolkien biographer John Garth offered his substantially weighty commentary on the work to The Sunday Times, “It’s a very important and significant book, but more for being vital in Tolkien’s development as a writer. Most crucially, it led to his Elvish languages for Middle-earth. So this book is key to him inventing languages of his own for later works. But, interestingly, he deliberately never completed it. He just knew he could write, but wanted to move on.”
The HarperCollins release will feature drafts of the story by Tolkien, along with notes and essays on its sources.
Update: News sources originally stated that HarperCollins will be publishing the U.S. edition this October. In actuality, as reported by Vulture,”HarperCollins is publishing the overseas edition this fall. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is publishing the U.S. edition next spring.” The Kindle edition will be available internationally on August 27.