books Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the EpisodeAuthor J.R.R. Tolkien –

Professor JRRTolkien is most widely known as the author of The Lord of the Rings, but he was also a scholar in the field of Mediaeval English language and literature The story of Finn and Hengest, two fifthcentury heroes in northern Europe, is told both in Beowulf and in a fragmentary AngloSaxon poem known as The Fight at Finnsburg, but so obscurely and allusively that its interpretation had been a matter of controversy for overyears Bringing his unique combination of philological erudition and poetic imagination to the task, however, Tolkien revealed a classic tragedy of divided loyalties, of vengeance, blood and death The story has the added attraction that it describes the events immediately preceding the first Germanic invasion of Britain which was led by Hengest himself

10 thoughts on “Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode

  1. Nicky Nicky says:

    Don't pick up Finn and Hengest expecting a story -- not even in the same sense as Tolkien's The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun. It's mostly a collection of notes and lectures, edited for coherence, in which Tolkien pulled out the threads of what we know of Finn and Hengest from the fragments we have of poems referencing them, and tried to reconstruct the historical events being referred to.

    It's very interesting work, and really fills me with awe at Tolkien's scholarship -- even more so than his work on Beowulf as a whole. And it's readable, too.

    The volume includes both the Old English poetry, and at the back, a facing translation; in terms of Tolkien's notes, it includes a glossary of names, including analysis, an almost line-by-line commentary, and a reconstruction. If only Tolkien had prepared it for publication himself!

  2. Sandi Sandi says:

    Now I know why I am not a philologist. This book is not an easy read, with many sections just detailing names and correspondences, but the end result of illuminating the possible background to the fight at Finnesburg is informative, brings the history to life. A valuable adjunct to Beowulf and helping one to see the depth in the allusions within the larger epic.

  3. Dr. Andrew Higgins Dr. Andrew Higgins says:

    A masterpiece of pure Tolkien. Not always the easiest book to follow but the rewards it gives is like discovering a cave on hidden treasures. Makes one wishes that one could go back in time and be in those lectures with e Professor himself!!!

  4. Pilar Pilar says:

    Interesting and useful for me, who am interested in almost all things Anglo-Saxon.
    A well-structured edition by Alan Bliss.

  5. Juan Gallardo Ivanovic Juan Gallardo Ivanovic says:

    Finn and Hengest is a thoroughtoful research about two Old English poems that are the only account of a debatable historical even known as “The fight at a Finnesburg”.
    The book is mainly an edition of JRR Tolkien’s notes on a series of lectures about the subject.
    The book contains a big deal of ideas and hypothesis about the origin of the poems, characters, relationship about the ones featuring it and some other stuff.
    It is mainly a collection of notes, organized to be coherent and explains topics as names, warring factions, historical context, among others. It is a very in-detail investigation, even analizing the poems line by line and comparing words of Old English with other germanic languages to obtain some unique results.
    Finally and after examining every tid and bit of the poems, Tolkien delivers his translations and his reconstruction of the events, explaining in his opinion how things happened (all speculative but supported by all the previous pages). Also, the work is finished with some very interesting apendixes about the historical context.
    Okay, so who should read this? If you are into early germanic history, you’ve enjoyed Beowulf, the Sagas, Waldhere, etc.; or you have a language academical background, this may be your book. If not, you might not appreciate all the efforts that Tolkien did when lecturing this topic. If that the case, i suggest you to read everything except the textual commentary (where is the most heavy part of the book).
    For me, it was a good read after all but all the language study was very dense. Despite this, I was happy to explore the more academical side of Tolkien.

  6. Nonethousand Oberrhein Nonethousand Oberrhein says:

    Old English masterclass
    Curated and introduced by Alan Bliss, the book is a thorough display of JRRT literary and historical forensic abilities. Far from the creative and inventive author of Middle-Earth, professor Tolkien dons here the role of the college researcher and digs deep in the verses of the cryptic episode in Beowulf and the Finnesburg fragment, to philologically reconstruct a forgotten page in English history in an amazing lecture. It would be better for the reader to brush up any Old English knowledge she/he may have… or at the least read Tolkien’s Beowulf translation before starting this book: this read need scholar preparation!!

  7. Thijs Thijs says:

    This book shows probably more than any other that Tolkien wrote what a master in Linguistics he was. Truely a testament to his intellect. The astaunding amount of conclusions and information he can gather from a pair of texts that is in total not even 5 pages long just blows my mind.

    This book is probably not suited for anyone who is looking for another LoTR from The Man himself.

    Also my greatest respects to Mr. Bliss. Who whould have toyed with the idea that he could come so far from fixing broken cars to putting together this masterpiece. Well done. It shows that not only the elderly Christopher Tolkien is suited to finish his father's work.
    Excuse me for the pun ;)

  8. Tommy Grooms Tommy Grooms says:

    There are things in this book that WILL fly over your head, unless you happen to be some sort of scholar in Old English. It is also very much a scholarly essay, not a narrative, and will reference sources that you are unfamiliar with, assume you can read and understand Old English, and try your patience with subject matter that may require some Googling.

    Even if you have none of the skills above, there is still much to be gained from this book. With enough patience and a willingness to ignore the snatches that are unintelligible to all us rubes, what we get is a discernible look into scholarship concerning an obscure episode in history notable mostly for it's connection to the epic poem Beowulf. Tolkien's logic and opinions are fascinating, and you will learn much about Anglo-Saxon culture from a man who loved it. And now we know a little more about what that long aside in Heorot was all about.

  9. Dave Maddock Dave Maddock says:

    How did I skip reviewing this last year? Perhaps because my brain hurt so bad after reading it. Essentially a raw dump of unpublished lecture notes, the very poor editing (a more generous soul might prefer conservative to poor) makes this a needlessly convoluted read. However, the scholarship presented in this little book is fantastic and is well worth the Herculean effort of will required to actually read it closely.

    Recommended for those with a deep interest in Beowulf or proto-Anglo-Saxon history.

  10. Michael Joosten Michael Joosten says:

    Finn and Hengest is a collation of Tolkien's lecture notes: it is dense at times, fully of arcane knowledge, and somewhat fragmentary by nature (though Bliss manages to combat at least this last point)--and I love it nonetheless because Tolkien's passion and love for Old English literature comes through clearly and infects me (though, of course, I've been through the gateway drugs of Middle-earth...). It is not a huge stretch to say there was a direct influence on at least a corner of my own writing.