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Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode

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Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode
Finn and Hengest 1982.png
AuthorJ.R.R. Tolkien
EditorAlan Bliss
PublisherGeorge Allen and Unwin (UK)
Houghton Mifflin (US)
Released1982 (UK)
1983 (US)
FormatHardcover; paperback
Pages180
ISBN0048290033

Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode is a study by J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Alan Bliss and published posthumously in book form in 1982.

Finn and Hengest are two Anglo-Saxon heroes appearing in the Old English epic poem Beowulf and in the fragment of "The Fight at Finnsburg". Hengest and his brother Horsa (the names meaning "stallion" and "horse") were the legendary leaders of the first Anglo-Saxon immigrants to Britain as mercenaries in the 5th century.

Contents

[edit] Contents

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. Desperate, 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.

[edit] From the publisher

Tolkien’s famous translations and lectures on the story of two fifth-century heroes in northern Europe.

The story is told in two Old English poems, Beowulf and The Fights at Finnesburg, but told so obscurely and allusively that its interpretation had been a matter of controversy for over 100 years. Bringing his unique combination of philological erudition and poetic imagination to the task, however, Tolkien revealed a classic tragedy of divided loyalties, of vengeance, blood and death.

Tolkien’s original and persuasive solution of the many problems raised by the story ranged widely through the early history and legend of the Germanic peoples. The story has the added attraction that it describes the events immediately preceding the first Germanic invasion of Britain which was led by Hengest himself.

This book will be of interest not only to students of Old English and all those interested in the history of northern Europe and Anglo-Saxon England, but also admirers of The Lord of the Rings who will be fascinated to see how Tolkien handled a story which he did not invent.

[edit] Relation to the legendarium

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.

[edit] Publication history and gallery

UK Editions
1982 hardcover  
1998 paperback  
2006 paperback  

[edit] External links