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The Story of Kullervo and the Brazilian contribution to its publication

Professor Tolkien, until the end of the 20th century, was not recognized (or even known) as a great writer in Brazil. His works were generally read by people who had a good routine of reading and among youngsters who used to play RPG.

The big push in this aspect occurred certainly because of The Lord Of The Rings movies 2001–3. The success of the movies directed by Peter Jackson provided a great amount of readers, who made several groups. In fact, it was one of the most brilliant era in Brazil for Tolkien-happenings.

However, after the release of the final movie, we could see that the intensity was not the same. And gradually, the “Tolkien culture” was fading, reduced, but never abandoned.

Since I founded the Tolkien Brasil website with a few friends in September 2012, I always had the idea that Tolkien´s works had to be much more publicized in Brazil. I don´t mean that it should be done in an informative way as it was already being done, but also in academic spaces, through lectures, seminars and promotion of academic theses.

With that intent in mind we created (in February 2013) a study group of Beowulf and the Kalevala, the epic Finnish work that influenced J.R.R. Tolkien during his youth and that contributed to the making of his legendarium.

The group was basically made of about 15 university students of many Colleges in my home town (which has a strong academic group). We proposed debates about mythology, psychology, philosophy, literature and many other aspects related to Kalevala and Tolkien´s works.

The basic material utilized in these meetings were Tolkien´s own texts about the Kalevala and “The Story of Kullervo”, which had already been published in 2010 in the journal periodic called Tolkien Studies (Volume 7) edited by Verlyn Flieger.

So, in this debating environment about the Works, I had the idea of gathering all this material and publishing it together with academic essays.

The initial idea was that it would be a piece for that small circle of students and others who might be interested. That´s why there would be no need of a large scale publication and there was a non-profit mindset regarding the project. So we decided to put forward our proposal to the Tolkien Estate with the condition that there would be a limit of 100 copies for publication.

Besides, it would be a two-language format in Portuguese and English. Considering that Tolkien many times used archaic words even for English and that it would be complicated to translate without losing bits of the original meaning.

Having established the project, it would be a matter of getting the due permissions. Although the Brazilian copyright laws granted, in a way, the possibility of publication of such material restricted to academics, as an attorney and Tolkien enthusiast, I had to make sure of all necessary registrations and due authorizations were in order to use the original texts.

So, on 16th April 2013, I contacted Verlyn Flieger, who thankfully answered, saying:

We’d be happy to have the Kullervo material translated into Portuguese.

Then, she sent the project to Hilary Attfield, the representative of West Virginia University, which had published volume 7 of Tolkien Studies. Fortunately, Attfield also agreed with the project, but point out that we would need approval of the Tolkien Estate.

The Tolkien Estate is the organization founded by the heirs of Tolkien and has the objective of taking care of copyright of all the material left by the author. Since the passing of the Professor, its main director is Christopher Tolkien, who strongly protects the works of his father.

The contact with the attorneys of Tolkien Estate was much simpler than what I thought it would be, because I believed they would be quite busy with other projects, but even so they had the time and good will of paying attention to the proposed small project.

The representatives of the Tolkien Estate were very comprehensive about my ideas and got in contact with their client Christopher Tolkien. Soon the project was approved, but with a series of conditions, and one of these was to send the complete material to them for analysis before it was published.

Meanwhile, I searched for many people who could contribute to the work. I contacted Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull, two great researchers of Tolkien, and John Garth, the renowned biographer of Tolkien and author of Tolkien And The Great War. They believed in the good intention of the project and allowed the publication of their texts in the book.

I am gladly a member of The Tolkien Society, so I informed a few members about the project and they supported the idea and even were excited about it. In this period, I got in touch with Shaun Gunner, the current chairman of The Tolkien Society, so that he could also contribute to the project.

I also talked to the Italian Oronzo Cilli, who was a great enthusiast of the project and contributed a lot, and even became my friend. He was responsible for writing the introduction of the book and had the collaboration of Greta Bertani Paolo Simonetti.

I also contacted the illustrator Jay Johnstone, who would make wonderful works for the book in medieval parchment style. We settled some quick meetings to discuss the future of the book.

Although I have knowledge of English to some extent, I looked for translators with more experience who could do a quality job. So, to translate the original work to Portuguese we had Sérgio Ramos, Mônica Peli and her sister Márcia Peli, and the final review would be made by Débora Souza (known as Valië).

During the 2014, the project was developed. I wrote to the University of Coimbra (Portugal) and it fortunately supported the project.

At the same time I realized that the year before the Kalevala was published in Portuguese with a complete and direct translation from Finnish. I got in touch with the translators Ana Isabel Soares and Merja de Mattos-Parreira and Camões publisher, and they kindly gave permission to publish the chants of Kalevala that had to do with “The Story of Kullervo”.

Ana Isabel Soares has doctorate in the Theory of Literature. Merja de Mattos-Parreira, a native speaker of Finnish, has a doctorate English Linguistics. Both are professors at Algarve University.

The project was taking good shape, although its publication turn out to be very difficult. Despite that, the work was rewarding and full of learning about Tolkien´s way of writing and the origins of his world. I wrote to the Kalevala Institute, which promotes the study of this epic piece beyond the borders of Finland.

We had the idea that, if the Project reached a good quality, we would ask the publishers HarperCollins to make it in large scale, or even one of the Brazilian publishers that had already published the works of Tolkien.

The book “The Story of Kullervo” would be in the same standard of the already published books The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, The Fall of Arthur, and Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary. These are all books that show academic studies and creative exercises of Tolkien in other mythologies that directly or indirectly influenced his works.

On 1st December 2014, I heard that The Story of Kullervo would be published as a book on 27th August 2015 by HarperCollins. It would therefore be published by an official publisher in Brazil, so the project would not need to be published any more because the objective would have been achieved. Besides, there could be two official translations of the same Tolkien text in Brazil, what I don´t consider to be an interesting fact.

I was (and still am) certain that, when published in Brazil, the book will have due attention by the translators, especially Ronald Kyrmse, who is already developing an excelent job in the several translations to Portuguese.

So, knowing about this intention of HarperCollins, I was thrilled, because I believed that my project contributed for the publishing of the book in large scale and now the whole world will read the writings of Tolkien that originated his legendarium.

I then decided to send an e-mail to the attorneys of Tolkien Estate in order to try to know more about this publication by HarperCollins. They told me that:

The editor, Verlyn Flieger, proposed its publication as a book some years ago, though her proposal was only taken up by the Tolkien Estate relatively recently.

Regarding our Project begun in 2013, they declared that it had some contribution concerning the possibility of publishing the work in Brazil:

However, your interest in the work, which was communicated to the UK publishers, HarperCollins, will, I’m sure, have contributed to the prospect of the translation of the work into Portuguese for Brazilian readers by HarperCollins’ local publishing partners.

So, as it seems, our project was a way of giving the initial spark for Tolkien Estate and the British publisher HarperCollins, and even regarding the possibility of publishing the book in Portuguese for Brazilian readers.

There are still other projects that I am developing which will certainly be sent to the Tolkien Estate for approval. However, they are less ambitious than the “The Story of Kullervo” project.

Through letter exchanges with Priscilla Tolkien (Tolkien’s daughter), I spoke to her about these future projects. In this opportunity, she sent a message on 22nd December 2014 to the Brazilians and allowed it to be published at the website:

Greetings to all admirers of my father, J.R.R. Tolkien’s works. I am delighted that there are so many people in Brazil who love and enjoy his stories. It is a remarkable tribute to his gifts as writer and illustrator that his work has touched so many people’s lives throughout the world.

I must thank all those who participated in the project with good will and I hope I will get in touch with you again for future projects, because we have the sincere objective of promoting the works of this great author in Brazil and around the world.


This article was originally posted in Portuguese on on 2nd July 2015. It was translated into English by Sérgio Ramos.

About the Author: Daniel Helen
Daniel is an Officer without Portfolio and Trustee of The Tolkien Society. Elected in 2014, he is mainly responsible for the Society's digital operations, including this website.