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Finn and Hengest

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Finn and Hengest
Finn and Hengest.jpg
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien, Alan Bliss (editor)
PublisherGeorge Allen and Unwin (UK)
Houghton Mifflin (US)
Released20 January 1983 (UK)
May 1983 (US)

Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode is a 1982 study by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited posthumously by Alan Bliss. It deals in great detail about the events described in the so-called "Finnsburg Fragment", an Old English text of 47 lines, and the "Finnsburg Episode", an epic tale told in Beowulf. They tell of Finn Folcwalding, a Frisian king, and Hnæf Hocing, a Halfdane. The main character seems to be Hnæf's lieutenant, Hengest.


The Fragment

The Fragment tells the first part of the story. Hnæf, a young king, notices his troops are being assailed. Sixty men of his comitatus become trapped inside a hall. A fight ensues between the sixty men and the assailers, described as eotenas. The battle lasts five days, and only then, the first Dane dies.

The Episode

This is a text incorporated in Beowulf (lines 1063-1159). In Heorot, a bard tells Hrothgar and his guests of the glorious Danes. The perspective lies with Hildeburh, the sister of Hnæf, and the wife of Finn. Both Hnæf and Hildeburh's son with Finn have fallen, along with most of Finn's knights. It remains unclear whether Finn was involved in the fight. Desparate, Finn pleads a bargain. As Tolkien states, it hardly was a bargain:

  • Finn had lost so many men that he could not force his way into the hall again.
  • The Danes were occupying his royal hall, and he was unwilling to burn it to get them out.
  • Finn must have felt both guilty and ashamed that his feuding thanes had killed Hnæf, who was his brother-in-law and guest.

In the end, Hengest is compelled by his thanes to break this oath to Finn and kills him. They carry off Hildeburh and many of his treasures back to Denmark. Tolkien considers this oath-breaking to be a major reason for Hengest's "exile" to England.

Status as research

Though it is the most thorough research done into the events in both texts, it can be seen as outdated. Tolkien applies a literal interpretation - understandable, because unlike Beowulf itself, these tales do not have monsters or Christian allegories. However, recent studies consider it part of the mythification of Hengest. Hengest, and his brother Horsa, are accounted as the first Anglo-Saxons in England (a mirror of these names is seen in Marcho and Blanco). There is argument over whether Horsa actually existed, and whether this Hengest is the same as the Hengest who went to England. The name Finn is unusual for a Frisian; it is Scandinavian, literally meaning "gatherer, finder", and applied to a giant and a dwarf in Norse myths. Finn's father, Folcwald, bears some resemblance of Folkvaldr, a name for Freyr. Therefore, it is presumed to be originally a myth involving gods, which evolved into a politicized hero saga over time.


There are some names in these stories that Tolkien later used for Rohirrim:

  • Garulf, the instigator of the attack on Hnæf.
  • Guthlaf, one of Hnæf's retainers.

External links