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The Hero Enkidu.

The Hero Enkidu. Lewis Turco. New York: Bordighera Press, 2015. 102 pp. ISBN 978-1-59954-098-6. $14.00.

Lewis Turco, now Professor emeritus at SUNY-Oswego, has had a distinguished career as a poet and critic. His mythopoeic talents, though, have been kept under the wrap of a meticulous formalism; now they have burst through. This retelling of the tragic story of the hero Gilgamesh and his loving friendship with the wild but staunch Enkidu is of interest to readers of Mythlore for two reasons. Firstly, Turco wisely approaches the remote Mesopotamian language and culture through an analogous culture less remote to our language, the Anglo-Saxon of Beowulf. Both the alliterative verse and the grave yet tangible poetic mode of address are adapted from Beowulf, which makes good sense not just because of the comparable emphases on the narrative of male strength, the danger of nature and monsters, and the fragility of life, but because the Gilgamesh and Beowulf stories, as the historical record has left them to us, constitute so much of the little we know of these nearly lost worlds.

Turco's sensitivity and imagination would make this reason enough for the Tolkien fan to read this book, but there is an extra surprise in store for us at the beginning of Canto II:
   On their trek to Erech
   Lilitu told
   Enkidu the tale
   of the city's founding:
   "In the second age
   Isildur carried
   Out of the ruins
   of golden Numenor
   A great globe
   made of stone.
   Upon the stone
   he etched an oath
   And caused the great
   King of the Mountains
   To place his hand
   upon the rock
   And swear that he
   would bear fealty,
   To Isildur's lineage
   and to Erech when
   Its temple and walls
   were raised upon
   The crown of the hill. (27)

Turco goes on to tell a Mesopotamian version of the treason of the Dead, who betrayed their Numenorean overlords for "the wizard Sargon" (27). Although the Sauron/Sargon resemblance is to the moral disadvantage of the historical Akkadian king, who was more an Aragorn than a Sauron in fact, the fortuity of the resemblance between Tolkien's name and that of the ancient Mesopotamian king is a verbal gleam in the word-hoard eagerly seized upon by the ingenious scop. Other Mesopotamian referents also inspired Turco, most obviously the way Erech, the name used by both the Bible and Turco for Uruk, the city of Gilgamesh, was used by Tolkien for the resting-place of the Faithful Stone, while the Sumerian sea-god Ea might have given its name to Ea, the world that is.

In turn, Turco's historical placement teaches us something about Tolkien's' world and its place in myth and history, Tolkien's legendarium--after the Ainulindale and the Akallabeth, which (as Tom Shippey would put it) calque the Creation and the Flood in the Bible respectively--is located in the implied long stretch of pre-Abrahamic history about which the Bible lets us speculate. Thus, when Tolkien in his Letters says we are likely in the Seventh Age (283fn), one has to assume that the Old Testament is the Fifth, from the New Testament to modernity is the Sixth, with the previous four-the ones glimpsed in his stories-being the perceived times of creation, genesis, and myth, and the Fifth thus beginning with Yahweh's call to Abraham, representing the transit-point from speculative myth to dynamic history. Turco's interpolation of Isildur into the Gilgamesh-Enkidu story brings this implication into the forefront.

Although Tolkien, as a Christian, would hardly see Anu and Inanna, as related by Turco, as the gods worshipped by Isildur, on the other hand the very name Isildur, signifying 'servant of the moon' has an inherently 'pagan' aspect to it, and in any event the Mesopotamians 'felt' about Anu and Inanna the way the Numenoreans no doubt 'felt' about Eru Iluvatar. Turco's poem opens up a rich trove of mythic traditions to us, and shows us that Tolkien's twentieth-century secondary world can dwell in the same imaginative vault as stories that have been around for over five millennia.
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Author:Birns, Nicholas
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2015
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