The Fall of Gondolin by JRR Tolkien
I was delighted when I heard about the release of this book because in Beren and Lúthien Christopher Tolkien erroneously stated that it was going to be the last restoration of his father’s work he undertook. He changed his mind. And I thank him for it because this is a glorious tale, showcasing much of Tolkien’s brilliance.
Firstly though, many readers will have a pertinent question on their mind: is The Fall of Gondolin worth buying for those who have read The Silmarillion? It most definitely is.
There’s a brief section dedicated to this tale in The Silmarillion. In my edition, there’s only six pages of the story. And that’s it. It’s like a historical plot summary without the finer details of real storytelling involved as per the mythopoetic style Tolkien was using through the work. So, yes, this is absolutely worth reading because you will never have seen the full details of this story before. There is new material here, though it is largely unfinished and lacking the immersive powers his completed works possess.
So, whether or not you decide to pick this up depends on your level of dedication to the author. I knew I couldn’t miss it because it sounded so compelling. The plot is similar to Beren and Lúthien and The Children of Hurin in the respect that a powerful romance strengthens it. The lovers are Tuor and Idril. Idril is the daughter of Turgon, king of Gondolin. Tuor had been sent to the kingdom by Ulmo, one of the Vala, to encourage Turgon to initiate a pre-emptive assault on his enemy Melkor (Morgoth) The king ignores the advice and ushers in his own doom.
The beautiful city of Gondolin is sacked years later by an army of Morogth’s, comprising of dragons, balrogs and orcs. Tuor fights to save Idril through the siege and as a huge battle on his hands when he tried to defend her father, the king. Tuor and the survivors are hopelessly outnumbered and are forced to flee. The battle is vivid as the language artfully captures the intensity and drama of such an epic moment in the First Age of Middle-earth. Many heroes fall and many legends are made, several of which acute readers may remember brief mentions of in The Lord of the Rings.
As a huge Tolkien enthusiast, I know I speak for many other readers, when I extend my undying thanks to Christopher Tolkien for allowing his father’s unfinished work to be published. Although this work is far from a shining jewel, I can imagine how fantastic this would have been as I read the segments (and various drafts) of the story: I can see what this would have been. And, as ever, the artwork of Alan Lee brings the words to life. However, this is the very last we will see of it. Christopher Tolkien explicitly states that this is the final piece (and that he will not change his mind this time.) The destruction of a fine city is an appropriate last glimpse of such a vast world, as the walls of Gondolin crumble and the tower collapses, it marks the very end.
Sean Barrs, 9/10
In 1977 Christopher Tolkien published The Silmarillion, a literary epic penned by his father, the great J.R.R. Tolkien, beginning what would – for all intents and purposes – herald the man’s life’s work. Christopher Tolkien is the youngest son of his more-famous father, but also his literary executor, and has for over 50 years tasked himself with the mammoth undertaking of editing and publishing his father’s many unfinished and unpublished writings.
Among the many titles attributed to J.R.R. Tolkien which his son, Christopher, was instrumental in publishing, is the mammoth 12-volume The History of Middle Earth, Unfinished Tales, and more recently a series of hardcover editions of various Middle Earth tales, including The Children of Húrin, Beren and Lúthien, and most recently (2018), The Fall of Gondolin.
Each book over the last 50 years has been a variation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s unpublished manuscripts – of which there were untold numbers – and critical assessment of said manuscripts. This was more evident in the last six editions published since 2007, which often included critical essays by Christopher which looked at the developmental progression of the story in question, or other relevant queries into the text.
But, as Christopher hinted at in Beren and Lúthien and confirmed in The Fall of Gondolin, his work as editorial trustee of his father’s work has come to an end, and “in my ninety-fourth year The Fall of Gondolin is (indubitably) the last … in the long series of editions of my father’s writings’ (p. 9).
The Fall of Gondolin does exactly what its title suggests it does – tell the tale of the Fall of the great Elven city of Gondolin, one of the last events of the First Age of Middle Earth. It is a tragic tale of love and betrayal, greed and ambition and arrogance, but is nevertheless romantic in its treatment of these themes.
In many ways, this book is a duplicate of material already published – specifically in The Silmarillion. But Christopher Tolkien’s ambition was to, “using previously published texts … to follow … one single particular narrative from its earliest existing form and throughout its later development.” (p. 13) This is what Christopher Tolkien did with Beren and Lúthien and what he has done again in The Fall of Gondolin.
Thus, what we have in this final edition of Christopher Tolkien’s works is a repeated, slowly evolving development of the fall of Gondolin. This format allows us to see the way in which J.R.R. Tolkien developed the story, dismissed certain ideas and modified others, through to the last extant versions available to us. “In this mode there come to light passages, or even full-fledged conceptions, that were later abandoned.” (p. 14)
There is tremendous value in this form, but there is also tremendous value in extricating this smaller story from the larger History of Middle Earth, as it allows us to see unlooked for examples of stories which intersect, if so ever briefly. Regarding one such story – which I will leave unnamed for the sake of enjoyment – Christopher Tolkien explains that, “Here is a breath of one of the great stories of Middle-earth” (p. 11) which passes by unnoticed to all participants, except the “Maker of the history” (p. 10).
The story in itself can be broken into two distinct halves – one taking place before arrival in Gondolin, and the second taking place within. For my own opinion, I prefer the former, as there is more of it and we get to see the varying ways in which J.R.R. Tolkien wrote – when brevity was called for and when his preferred longer narrative style was allowed. The story is captivating, and there is no real sense of repetition – despite the inherent nature of the format of the book – with evolving twists and turns keeping each new version alive, informing the reader of both the story and the author.
It is, therefore, with sadness that I acknowledge the last of Christopher Tolkien’s editions. Each year which brought a new Tolkien-written, Tolkien-edited book was a good year, and that we (likely) will see no more is sad. And yet, with so much work already published over the past 50 years, we can safely ensconce ourselves in two-dozen and more Tolkien-written works, which ever a new nook and cranny to explore.
Joshua S Hill, 10/10
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