Penguin Classics is re-releasing several titles that inspired J R R Tolkien to tie in with the release of the new Hobbit film this winter.
Legends from the Ancient North brings together some of the magical texts that most influenced Tolkien, and the re-packaged books have been slashed in price and given new jackets to be published before “The Hobbit: the Desolation of Smaug” comes out in cinemas.
The five titles include Beowulf, The Saga of the Volsungs, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Elder Edda and The Wanderer. Publishing director Simon Winder said: “Tolkien was professor of Anglo Saxon for many years at Oxford so he knew all of these inside out and was fascinated by them.
“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, who was behind several of Penguin Classics’ series including Great Ideas, Great Journeys, Mini Modern Classics and Penguin English Library, said he saw an opportunity to “get everyone reading sagas again”, and added that the Legends from the Ancient North series was a way of celebrating Penguin Classics and Tolkien’s imagination.
The five key works’ links to the Hobbit film is a “light link, but an important one”, Winder added. “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 new jackets were created by a Swedish designer, who photographed thousands of pieces of coloured paper. The Legends from the Ancient North series is published on 7th November (£6.99, p/b).