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22875Re: Article in The New Yorker about Tolkien (or whatever)

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  • nmb@kingcon.com
    Jan 27, 2012
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      I just joined the group and noticed you discussed Adam Gopnik's article in the New Yorker a couple of months ago. I too thought it was a mess, but for different reasons. Here's a letter I wrote to the magazine, which unfortunately they didn't publish.

      Adam Gopnik, in his review of Christopher Paolini's "Inheritance" ("The Dragon's Egg," December 5th), seems to have muddled up his Eddas and Sagas. There is nothing remotely approaching "big Icelandic romance" in the Elder or Poetic Edda. This anonymous collection of obscure and disjointed medieval poems is hard to even make sense of without reference to the Prose Edda of Snorri Sturluson, written c. 1220, or to the anonymous Volsunga Saga. "Big Icelandic romance" better refers to another work of Snorri's, Heimskringla, his collection of sagas of the kings of Norway, or to Egil's Saga, also attributed to Snorri. If Paolini's Eragon books "are effectively co-written with Tolkien," then Tolkien's books are effectively co-written with Snorri Sturluson. Snorri created the character of the wandering wizard and loremaster with the long grey beard, broad-brimmed hat, and magical staff; he called him Odin. Tolkien called Gandalf an "Odinic wanderer." It was on Snorri's templates that Tolkien modeled his dwarves and trolls, heroes and kings, shapeshifters, wargs, dragon, valkyries, giant eagles, magic swords, and cursed ring of power. And he expected his readers to know it. Reviewing "The Hobbit," C.S. Lewis wrote, it "has the air of inventing nothing. [Tolkien] has studied trolls and dragons at first hand and describes them with that fidelity which is worth oceans of glib `originality.'" Lewis was also the one to compare Tolkien's work to a marriage between "The Wind and the Willows" and—not the Elder Edda—but the grand and sweeping Njal's Saga.

      Nancy Marie Brown
      author of The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman (Harcourt 2007) and the soon-to-be-published Song of the VIkings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myth (Palgrave-MacMillan 2012)
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