13 July 2013

Penguin Classics to Re-release Tolkien Inspirations

With the next Hobbit film, “The Desolation of Smaug,” arriving in theatres this December, Penguin Classics has decided to re-release several classic titles which inspired J.R.R. Tolkien to write his own sagas.

Being re-packaged in new jackets created by a Swedish designer and lowered in price, these titles will be part of a new series, “Legends from the Ancient North,” and will include Beowulf, The Saga of the Volsungs, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Elder Edda, and The Wanderer.

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“Tolkien was professor of Anglo Saxon for many years at Oxford so he knew all of these inside out and was fascinated by them,” said publishing director Simon Winder.

“There are some really interesting links—The Wanderer has all the kinds of riddles that Golem told in it—and The Hobbit is totally a work of Tolkien’s own imagination, but you can see what fired him was this world of elves and dragons and swords and heroic bravery and terrible monsters and dangerous journeys. He just revelled in all of that, and we wanted to create something new which would express his own excitement at this world that he knew really well.”

Winder said he saw this as an opportunity to celebrate both Penguin Classics as well as Tolkien’s own imagination, and to “get everyone reading sagas again.” And despite the links between these five works and the Hobbit films being light, Winder stressed that they are important.

“We’re hoping that bookshops will display them intelligently so people will make that link. I think it’s fair to say that Tolkien was the first serious academic who thought Beowulf was a great work of art; until then it was considered a curiosity and I think only one copy existed. People thought it was a ridiculous story about swords and witches, and when he was writing The Hobbit that was on the back of his mind—how do you dramatise these sorts of things?

“It’s funny how the stories in the world of Edda and The Saga of the Volsungs has sunk into the minds of millions of people through Tolkien, but we’ve sold hundreds of thousands of copies of Beowulf now; it in itself is a famous translation.”

The Legends from the Ancient North series will be available on Amazon on 29 October.  

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