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The Song of the Nibelungs

Tolkien's Bookshelf: Book 1

Margaret Armour

Thought to have been first written down in the 12th century by an author who is still unknown, "The Nibelungenlied", translated from Middle High German as "The Song of the Nibelungs", is an epic German poem reflecting the oral tradition, heroic motifs, and actual events and individuals from the 5th and 6th centuries. This remarkable work begins with an assurance of both joy and sorrow, though ultimately tragedy reins in "The Nibelungenlied".

The early chapters recount the young life of Siegfried, a great Netherlands prince, who slew a dragon and bathed in its blood while still young, giving him extraordinary strength. He goes on to meet the lovely princess Kriemhild, whose brother Gunther requires his help to marry the strong Icelandic Queen Brünhild in exchange for his sister's hand. All is well until Brünhild discovers the deception of Gunther and Siegfried, and her successful plot to murder the latter incites bloody revenge from Kriemhild.

From the court of the Burgundians to the court of Etzel, from terrible deaths to hidden treasure, "The Nibelungenlied" is a masterful illumination of German antiquity and dramatic legend.

The Poetic Edda

Tolkien's Bookshelf: Book 2


The Poetic Edda, also known as The Elder Edda or Saemund's Edda, is a magnificent and magical collection of thirty-four Icelandic poems, interwoven with prose, dating from the 9th century to the 12th. The original Old Norse verses are printed here, side by side with English translations. The collection includes the archetypal stories about wise Odin, hammer-wielding Thor, mischievous Loki and the other gods and goddesses of Asgard.

The poems features a dragon called Fierce-stinger: "Fares from beneath a dim dragon flying, a glistening snake from the Moonless Fells. Fierce-stinger bears the dead on his pinions away o'er the plains. I sink now and cease." The language is archaic, so for 21st century readers a glossary is provided at the back of this book, as well as an index of names to help identify all the characters. Bray's lengthy introduction has also been revised for modern readers, and some footnote citations omitted. Remarkably in Bray's edition, the original Icelandic text was included.

The Poetic Edda is the most important existing source on Norse mythology and Germanic heroic legends.

The Worm Ouroboros

Tolkien's Bookshelf: Book 7

E. R. Eddison

The Worm Ourorobos is second only to the Lord of the Rings in the pantheon of 20th century English fantasy. E.R. Eddison, who moved in the same literary circles as Tolkien, was praised by Tolkien as "The greatest and most convincing writer of 'invented worlds' that I have read."

The Worm Ourorbos was originally published in a very limited and now very rare edition in 1922 (a used first edition recently listed for $3,750). Eddison wrote three sequels set in roughly the same universe, but none of them have the sustained pacing and invention of Ouroboros.

Before diving in, there are a few things to be aware of. The rich language Eddison uses is based on Tudor and Jacobean English, with some modern anachronisms; it may take some getting used to, and occasionally a trip to the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. The narrator, one Lessingham, who appears in a very brief framing sequence, disappears a few dozen pages in. The book is set on Mercury; however, keep in mind this is not science fiction, so this is not literally the planet Mercury. Eddison on several occasions in the body of the book calls the world 'Middle Earth', and the setting is recognizably the Midgard of the Norse myths and sagas, although for some unexplained reason the denizens worship the Greek pantheon. The cast of characters, like Tolkien, are principally masculine, albeit with a couple of standout female leads. And lastly the various nationalities (Demons, Witches, Pixies, Imps, etc.) are not really separate species as in Tolkien; they are all essentially humans.

Wonder Tales: The Book of Wonder and Tales of Wonder

Tolkien's Bookshelf: Book 8

Lord Dunsany

Irish writer Edward J. M. D. Plunkett, the eighteenth Baron Dunsany, was one of English literature's most original talents. The author of many of the best fantastic tales in the language, he also greatly influenced other writers working in the genre. This collection of all the stories from two of his finest collections includes the famous "Three Sailors' Gambit," possibly the best chess story ever written, as well as "The Bad Old Woman in Black," "The Watch-Tower," "The Three Infernal Jokes," "The House of the Sphinx," and 28 other literary gems.

This book combines The Book of Wonder, originally published in 1912, and Tales of Wonder, published in 1916.


v • The Book of Wonder • (1912) • collection by Lord Dunsany

v • Preface (The Book of Wonder) • (1912) • poem by Lord Dunsany

1 • The Bride of the Man-Horse • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany

5 • Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany (variant of The Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller, and of the Doom That Befell Him)

9 • The House of the Sphinx • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany

12 • Probable Adventure of the Three Literary Men • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany (variant of The Probable Adventure of the Three Literary Men)

16 • The Injudicious Prayers of Pombo the Idolater • (1910) • short story by Lord Dunsany

20 • The Loot of Bombasharna • (1910) • short story by Lord Dunsany

24 • Miss Cubbidge and the Dragon of Romance • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany

27 • The Quest of the Queen's Tears • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany

32 • The Hoard of the Gibbelins • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany

36 • How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany

41 • How One Came, as Was Foretold, to the City of Never • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany

45 • The Coronation of Mr. Thomas Shap • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany

49 • Chu-Bu and Sheemish • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany

53 • The Wonderful Window • (1911) • short story by Lord Dunsany

58 • Epilogue (The Book of Wonder) • (1912) • essay by Lord Dunsany

59 • Tales of Wonder • (1916) • collection by Lord Dunsany (variant of The Last Book of Wonder)

59 • Preface (Tales of Wonder) • (1916) • essay by Lord Dunsany

61 • A Tale of London • (1912) • short story by Lord Dunsany

64 • Thirteen at Table • (1916) • short story by Lord Dunsany

72 • The City on Mallington Moor • (1913) • short story by Lord Dunsany

79 • Why the Milkman Shudders When He Perceives the Dawn • (1914) • short story by Lord Dunsany

82 • The Bad Old Woman in Black • (1914) • short story by Lord Dunsany

84 • The Bird of the Difficult Eye • (1914) • short story by Lord Dunsany

88 • The Long Porter's Tale • (1914) • short story by Lord Dunsany

93 • The Bureau d'Echange de Maux • (1915) • short story by Lord Dunsany

97 • A Story of Land and Sea • (1914) • novelette by Lord Dunsany

118 • The Loot of Loma • (1914) • short story by Lord Dunsany

122 • A Tale of the Equator • (1914) • short story by Lord Dunsany

125 • A Narrow Escape • (1912) • short story by Lord Dunsany

127 • The Watch-Tower • (1912) • short story by Lord Dunsany

130 • The Secret of the Sea • (1914) • short story by Lord Dunsany

134 • How Plash-Goo Came to the Land of None's Desire • (1916) • short story by Lord Dunsany

136 • The Three Sailors' Gambit • (1916) • short story by Lord Dunsany

144 • How Ali Came to the Black Country • (1914) • short story by Lord Dunsany

148 • The Exiles Club • (1915) • short story by Lord Dunsany (variant of The Exiles' Club)

153 • The Three Infernal Jokes • (1915) • short story by Lord Dunsany

Grimms' Fairy Tales

Tolkien's Bookshelf: Book 10

Jacob Grimm
Wilhelm Grimm

When Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published their Children's and Household Tales in 1812, followed by a second volume in 1815, they had no idea that such stories as "Rapunzel," "Hansel and Gretel," and "Cinderella" would become some of the most celebrated in the world. Yet few people today are familiar with the majority of tales from the two early volumes, since in the next four decades the Grimms would publish six other editions, each extensively revised in content and style.

From "The Frog King" to "The Golden Key," wondrous worlds unfold--heroes and heroines are rewarded, weaker animals triumph over the strong, and simple bumpkins prove themselves not so simple after all.