J.R.R. Tolkien may have written The Silmarillion as a precursor for many things Middle Earthen — supposedly corresponding with Bilbo Baggins’ (the minuscule protagonist of The Hobbit‘s) Translations from the Elvish, which he wrote while staying with the elves in Rivendell. (I mean, duh.) But before all of these affairs leading up to Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had written another work, which can, as Wired points out, be seen as a sort of precursor to The Silmarillion. For the first time ever, it’ll be widely published for the public to purchase, after the writer’s estate decided to release it.
It’s called The Story of Kullervo, and, as one of the first works of prose by the author, is now 100 years old. Its title character, Kullervo, is a relative of Silmarillion’s Túrin Turambar. Tolkien himself said of Kullervo:
The germ of my attempt to write legends of my own to fit my private languages was the tragic tale of the hapless Kullervo in the Finnish Kalevala. It remains a major matter in the legends of the First Age (which I hope to publish as The Silmarillion)”
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 cruellest of fates.
It’s being published with notes and essays in the UK on August 27 and in the US on October 27. Just as The Silmarillion got its inspiration from “The Kalevala” by Elias Lonnrot (an epic Finnish poem with seemingly nothing to do with a salad green), so too did this new work. And so, alas, we seem to be reaching so far back into the history of both Tolkien and Middle Earth that it wouldn’t be too shocking if next his estate were to publish an early epic from Tolkien’s toddler years that was the germ of his first full sentence (it’d also, of course, be based on a Finnish poem). And surely that would stir excitement, too.