Sunday, 26 September 2010

Super Deluxe Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun - 2009

There’s been a lot of criticism of this book, almost making it the ‘ugly sister’ of the Tolkien book collecting world. Indeed, it does seem to have a lot stacked against it: in terms of sibling rivalry, there’s no doubt that it’s not as impressive as the super deluxe Children of Hurin which preceded it, and the story itself, set out in verse, has nothing to do with Middle Earth. However, when I saw this book come up for sale at a decent price, I had to ask myself ‘what dictates the nature of my collection?’ It didn’t take much soul searching to decide that public opinion was not a determining factor, and I therefore took the plunge and bought a copy.

The Super Deluxe Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun is a limited edition of 500 copies published by Harper Collins in 2009. It is bound in goat-skin and housed in a leather and suede clamshell case.

The text itself was written before The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, during the 1920s and 30s. It is a rewriting of Sigurd the Völsung and the Fall of the Niflungs, Norse tales which Tolkien enjoyed reading as a youngster. It seems Tolkien was experimenting with writing in the old Norse metre, a challenge he has excelled in.

Whilst I haven’t yet read the complete text (although I plan to), I am already very impressed with the extensive foreword and introduction, which explain a large amount of the back-story to the whole thing.

Now what I won’t do is compare this to the Children of Hurin, but judge it on its own merit, as the comparison is irrelevant to those who are only interested in this book.

The book comes in a sturdy clamshell case of brown leather with a gold gilt JRR Tolkien monogram on the front and Sigurd's horse, Grani on the spine in gold gilt. The suede material lining the box looks (as you can see from the pictures) to have been rubbed by fingers – it marks very easily despite the fact I haven’t even touched it!

The book is bound in brown goat-skin which is a shade lighter than the case. This skin is very soft, and indeed my own copy (although sealed until I opened it) does have some faint impressions and dents on it. It gives the book a slight feel of weakness, and I would have liked a sturdier choice of material. The pages are edged in gold which catches the light fantastically and really does look good.

The front cover is a repetition of the gold gilt picture from the spine of the case, with Sigurd's horse, Grani on it. Out of all the features of the book, this is my least favourite – the design isn’t that good, and it looks a bit cheap for reasons I can’t quite explain.

The spine has raised ribs, which I like, and standard information is again printed in gold gilt.

The marbleised inside covers are lovely and rich in dark reds and purples (a lovely feature).

There are a few very small black and white illustrations, by Bill Sanderson. The illustrations are not at all interesting, and could just as well have been left out. There is, however, a nice colour image of part of Tolkien's original handwritten manuscript which has a lot of charm about it.

The book is signed and numbered by Christopher Tolkien (I have number 17 which I am quite proud of!)

The book retails at £350, although I picked mine up for just under £180 sealed, which I think is a worthwhile price. Although it’s undoubtedly not as nice as some other releases, it is still a collectible, limited and signed book, so it’s worth that price in my opinion.

All in all I was happier than I thought I might be with this book. Yes, comparatively it’s not as nice as the Hurin edition, but it is still a nice book in its own right.

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