Unfinished Early J.R.R. Tolkien Work to Be Published

J.R.R Tolkien - Portrait - 1956
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'The Story of Kullervo' helped the author arrive at Middle-earth.

Some of the earliest origins of Middle-earth will be seen by the general public for the first time at the end of this month, with the release of The Story of Kullervo, an early, unfinished work by Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien.

Loosely based on the Finnish poem the Kalevala, The Story of Kullervo was started by the writer in 1914 while he was studying English language and literature at Exeter College, Oxford.

Kullervo is a character in the Kalevala described as "the only tragic character in Finnish mythology" because of a complicated, horrific backstory that includes the death of his tribe and subsequent time as a slave before seeking redemption by killing those responsible for his tribe's slaughter and, ultimately, committing suicide. (The accidental seduction of his own sister, which led to her suicide, didn't help matters.) Tolkien's attempt to rewrite the mythological tale stalled, but in later life, he cited the attempt as an important step in creating the legends and universe behind his own Middle-earth.

This will actually be the second time the material has been released; in 2010, Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger — who edits this official release, sanctioned by the author's estate — published the manuscript in the journal Tolkien Studies: Vol. 7, alongside essays with titles like "The Books of Lost Tales: Tolkien as Metafictionist" and "Faërian Cyberdrama: When Fantasy Becomes Virtual Reality."

The incomplete manuscript will be published, alongside additional notes by Tolkien and other material placing it into historical context, in the U.K. Aug. 27, ahead of a U.S. release Oct. 27.