This might be the last new Tolkien novel, though you never know, of course, considering the prodigious amount of unpublished work the writer left behind. But for fans of middle earth, another book from the creator of The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit can only be cause for rejoicing.

One might say that John Ronald Reuel Tolkien found love as he explored Finnish grammar at the Exeter College library. It was the Finnish epic, The Kalevala, especially the tragic character of Kullervo, that he developed such a deep and enduring love for – a love that would eventually translate to the vast corpus of Middle Earth lore that he spent his life crafting.

Legend has it that Kullervo is the only tragic character in all of Finnish folklore. Orphaned at an young age and raised by his uncle – the very man who killed his father – Kullervo grows up to kill his master’s young wife and, later, seduces his sister. The story of Kullervo is one of betrayal and loss, a tale littered with violence and murder.

But it was only in 1914 that Tolkien, then a young Oxford student of 22, started work on his first ever piece of English prose – The Story of Kullervo. Inspired by the Finnish legend, Tolkien’s hero, too, is a man shaped by tragedy.

Brought up practically as a prisoner in the homestead of the Magician Untamo who kills his father, Kullervo has little else in the world but the love of his twin sister, Wanona, and the guardianship of the magical dog, Musti. And like his Finnish ancestor, Tolkien’s Kullervo, too, swears revenge on the culprit  when he is sold as a slave. And it is in this glorious fragment that we are finally introduced to the one legend that had a profound influence on Tolkien’s legendarium.

The earlier posthumous works

So taken was Tolkien by Norse mythology that he not only taught himself the language, but also based the High-Elven speech, Quenya, on Finnish. And then in The Silmarillion and Children of Hurin, he introduced us to Túrin Turambar – a tragic, incestuous hero, much like Kullervo. However, like The Story of Kullervo, the story of Túrin Turambar too was completed after Tolkien’s death in 1973 when his son Christopher came in possession of his father’s manuscripts – seventy boxes of unpublished narratives, lectures, poems (of up to 4,000 lines) and letters. And it was four years later, in 1977, that Christopher Tolkien and Guy Gavriel Kay posthumously published The Silmarillion.

Criticised heavily for being “too serious” at the time of its release, The Silmarillion is actually a masterpiece, if we’re being completely honest. It is in The Silmarillion that we are introduced to the entire corpus of Tolkien’s mythology, and condensed as it is, the brilliance of his imagery and characters as the story unfolds over the hills and vales of Beleriand  cannot be ignored.

The key text to exploring the far more detailed and scholarly Histories of Middle Earth, The Silmarillion is the book which helps us understand that Tolkien’s legacy isn’t just a few whimsical tales of fancy - instead, it fulfills much of the ambition this classical scholar had set out with, that of writing a mythology of his beloved England.

And in 2007, little more than three decades after his death, another posthumous release, The Children of Hurin offered us one more glimpse into the heart of Middle Earth. It is here that we are reintroduced to a hero whose beginnings can be traced back to 1914 when Tolkien wrote The Story of Kullervo.

Following the primeval wars witnessed in The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin introduces us to Tolkien’s tragic hero Túrin Turambar. Separated from his mother and sister at a very young age, Turin eventually grows to be a heroic warrior, though arrogant, short-tempered and violent. Through his adventures that we realise that no amount of bravery is enough to overcome the cruel brutality of his fate – a curse far stronger than his will to overpower it.

As the book progresses, although Turin becomes the legendary slayer of Morgoth’s orcs, he also becomes an outlaw who encourages his violent men to loot and plunder. He kills a man who is known to be his closest friend and, like Kullervo, he too indulges in an incestuous relationship with his sister which, later, leads to his suicide.

But first there was Kullervo

After years and years of fostering familiarity with the epic that acted as the foundation stone for Tolkien’s Arda – the realm within Eä (Quenya for ‘the universe’) created by Eru Ilúvatar, the omnipotent, omnipresent and only creator – it is finally time to meet Tolkien’s darkest character of all time in The Story of Kullervo. A pagan character created during a time when his narratives were not heavily influenced by Christian moralities.

However, the retelling of this story remains incomplete due to a shift of plans in 1919, which led to the merging of this myth with the Norse legend to create the brave dragonslayer Sigurd whose story – The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun – inspired by ancient Norse poems- was also published posthumously in 2009. It is through the posthumous publications of Tolkien’s world that we realise that there is more to Middle Earth than Lord of the Rings. In fact, if anything, it is a magical universe painstakingly created to be far more immortal than his popular trilogy of heroic glories.

And though fans complain about Kullervo’s incomplete story, Tolkien’s archive of previously unpublished works shows us the evolution of an inspirational character. And we realise that, through gradual revisions, he did finish telling us the tale of Kullervo – only, in a different avatar.