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The One Ring Forums: Tolkien Topics: Reading Room:
The Fall of Arthur by JRR Tolkien


Jan 27 2013, 3:25am

Post #1 of 12 (2497 views)
The Fall of Arthur by JRR Tolkien Can't Post

In anticipation of the publication of Tolkien's The Fall of Arthur on May 23, 2013, I wanted to share the description of the "deluxe edition" posted at Amazon, and possibly get some early impressions and comments.

The world first publication of a previously unknown work by J.R.R. Tolkien, which tells the extraordinary story of the final days of England's legendary hero, King Arthur. The Fall of Arthur, the only venture by J.R.R. Tolkien into the legends of Arthur King of Britain, may well be regarded as his finest and most skilful achievement in the use of the Old English alliterative metre, in which he brought to his transforming perceptions of the old narratives a pervasive sense of the grave and fateful nature of all that is told: of Arthur's expedition overseas into distant heathen lands, of Guinevere's flight from Camelot, of the great sea-battle on Arthur's return to Britain, in the portrait of the traitor Mordred, in the tormented doubts of Lancelot in his French castle. Unhappily, The Fall of Arthur was one of several long narrative poems that he abandoned in that period. In this case he evidently began it in the earlier nineteen-thirties, and it was sufficiently advanced for him to send it to a very perceptive friend who read it with great enthusiasm at the end of 1934 and urgently pressed him 'You simply must finish it!' But in vain: he abandoned it, at some date unknown, though there is some evidence that it may have been in 1937, the year of the publication of The Hobbit and the first stirrings of The Lord of the Rings. Years later, in a letter of 1955, he said that 'he hoped to finish a long poem on The Fall of Arthur'; but that day never came. Associated with the text of the poem, however, are many manuscript pages: a great quantity of drafting and experimentation in verse, in which the strange evolution of the poem's structure is revealed, together with narrative synopses and very significant if tantalising notes. In these latter can be discerned clear if mysterious associations of the Arthurian conclusion with The Silmarillion, and the bitter ending of the love of Lancelot and Guinevere, which was never written.

I thought the highlighted part at the end would be of particular interest to many here.

Kindly visit listings at:

- amazon.com;
- goodreads.com; and especially
- tolkiengateway.net.

(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jan 27 2013, 3:33am)


Jan 27 2013, 6:07am

Post #2 of 12 (1454 views)
Arthur, we never knew ye [In reply to] Can't Post

It's nice to know that the bottom of the barrel is being scraped so thoroughly.

This may help to rid us of the idea that Tolkien, with his so-called "mythology for England" mission expressed in his early Elven tales, regarded the Arthurian cycle as entirely alien and uninteresting. On the other hand, the fact that he never finished this poem may be touted as proof that, in his mind, Middle-earth and Arthur were competing to occupy the same mythopoetic space! At least, that's how I take the mysterious hint in the blurb that Christopher Tolkien will point out some connections between this poem and the Silmarillion material.

Thanks for the links!

squire online:
RR Discussions: The Valaquenta, A Shortcut to Mushrooms, and Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit
Lights! Action! Discuss on the Movie board!: 'A Journey in the Dark'. and 'Designing The Two Towers'.
Footeramas: The 3rd (and NOW the 4th too!) TORn Reading Room LotR Discussion; and "Tolkien would have LOVED it!"
squiretalk introduces the J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: A Reader's Diary

= Forum has no new posts. Forum needs no new posts.

N.E. Brigand

Jan 27 2013, 6:53am

Post #3 of 12 (1463 views)
There's an entire book devoted to the idea that Arthuriana underlies Tolkien's legendarium. [In reply to] Can't Post

The Epic Realm of Tolkien, Part One: Beren and Luthien (2009) by Alex Lewis and Elizabeth Currie, which is mostly unconvincing (and Lewis and Currie don't help themselves with the mistake mentioned here) though they suggest so many possible connections that a few of them may prove right when the poem is published.

The blurb you cite describes The Fall of Arthur as "previously unknown". That's not entirely true: several lines were quoted in Humphrey Carpenter's biography of Tolkien, and Verlyn Flieger wrote a speculative (?) article about the poem in J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia.

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Jan 27 2013, 9:10pm

Post #4 of 12 (1405 views)
Well well [In reply to] Can't Post

A book about Arthurian legend (something I'm a huge fan of) and written by (to my mind) the greatest writer in the history of the world.

This is a must-buy.

"These are Gundabad Wargs! They will outrun you!"

"THESE are Rhosgobel Rabbits! I'd like to see them try...."


Jan 27 2013, 10:53pm

Post #5 of 12 (1419 views)
Quite [In reply to] Can't Post

I don't want to be too nit-picky as I'm actually really looking forward to this... who knows I may even shell for the deluxe edition rather than the standard edition at a quarter of the price.

I wondered about "previously unknown," which seems highly unlikely at this stage of the game. Thank you for the reference.

I wonder too at this statement, especially as Sir Gawain is a major figure in the Arthur myth: "The Fall of Arthur, the only venture by J.R.R. Tolkien into the legends of Arthur King of Britain..." The only venture? Really? Perhaps they meant as an entirely new effort as opposed to a translation?

(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jan 27 2013, 10:54pm)


Jan 28 2013, 3:46pm

Post #6 of 12 (1362 views)
is it in Old English?// [In reply to] Can't Post


"clever hobbits to climb so high!"
Check out my writing www.jdstudios.wordpress.com


Jan 28 2013, 6:02pm

Post #7 of 12 (1408 views)
Not according to the link NEB posted [In reply to] Can't Post

actually you have to follow that link to another link to this October 9, 2012 Guardian article: 'New' JRR Tolkien epic due out next year.

Here is a passage from The Fall of Arthur reproduced in the Guardian article:

"Arthur eastward in arms purposed
his war to wage on the wild marches,
over seas sailing to Saxon lands,
from the Roman realm ruin defending.
Thus the tides of time to turn backward
and the heathen to humble, his hope urged him,
that with harrying ships they should hunt no more
on the shining shores and shallow waters
of South Britain, booty seeking."

Definitely not Old or even Middle English. According to the Amazon blurb though it does employ Old English alliterative metre -- something he became quite familiar with I'd imagine, while wrestling with Sir Gawain, et al in his early days at Oxford.

It's a little early to judge. The alliteration is obvious in the above passage, especially through the mid section. But I wonder if he might not have been able to find a better word than "booty" in the last line.

Does Carpenter offer any reason why Tolkien abandoned the poem? Sometimes when I look at things I wrote many years ago I think, "argh, what was I thinking?" It's embarrassing sometimes, but then I'm no Professor Tolkien. Wink

(This post was edited by SirDennisC on Jan 28 2013, 6:03pm)

Fredeghar Wayfarer

Jan 28 2013, 10:23pm

Post #8 of 12 (1369 views)
What Radagast-Aiwendil said [In reply to] Can't Post

I'm a huge fan of both Tolkien and Arthurian legend. Very excited to read this!

I never got the feeling that Tolkien disliked the Arthur story. He just didn't feel as deep a connection to it as the Norse and Anglo-Saxon legends. The Arthurian legend was a product of Celtic/Welsh myth reinterpreted by English and French writers. It was a bit of a mishmash and thus not distinctly English. Tolkien wanted a mythology just for England. I would assume that's why he abandoned the poem.

As far as a connection between Arthur and the Silmarillion material, there already is one. In The Book of Lost Tales, the narrator Eriol is described as the father of Hengest and Horsa, the legendary leaders of the Anglo-Saxon invasion of Britain. In Arthurian legend, Hengest and Horsa were enemies of Uther Pendragon, Arthur's father. If the end of this poem connects to that material, I wonder if we'll see Eriol or Aelfwine (the later version of that character) or members of his family. Or maybe after Arthur's fall, the Saxons take over Britain and creatures of magic, like the Elves, flee across the sea into the West, bringing an end to the age of legend.

(This post was edited by Fredeghar Wayfarer on Jan 28 2013, 10:26pm)

N.E. Brigand

Jan 29 2013, 6:46am

Post #9 of 12 (1423 views)
"His bed was barren; there black phantoms" [In reply to] Can't Post

"of desire unsated and savage fury
in his brain had brooded till bleak morning."

That's three of the five-and-a-half lines quoted in Carpenter, who does not say why Tolkien never finished the poem.

Carpenter does quote from the appreciation R.W. Chambers expressed for the poem: "great stuff -- really heroic, quite apart from its value as shoing how the Beowulf metre can be used in modern English".

Discuss Tolkien's life and works in the Reading Room!
How to find old Reading Room discussions.


Jan 29 2013, 3:09pm

Post #10 of 12 (1403 views)
Sometimes I look at stuff I wrote yesterday [In reply to] Can't Post

and think, "argh what was I thinking?" Yes of course likely it was while wrestling with "the Beowulf" that Tolkien became familiar with Old English alliterative metre.

(I have Sir Gawain on the brain, which rhymes by the way.)

Thanks for the quote N.E.B.; that snippet looks very promising.

900 lines... that's about the average length of one of Tennyson's Idylls (for instance Balin and Balan is around 600 lines, Lancelot and Elaine about 1400 lines, and The Last Tournament about 750). In my Penguin edition of Idylls of the King, 900 lines fits neatly on 24 pages. There must be copious notes indeed.


Jan 30 2013, 8:00pm

Post #11 of 12 (1323 views)
Just a thought, but if we are to imagine the intersection [In reply to] Can't Post

of 5th century Britain with any lingering remnant of
earlier age beings in Britain, I think we would have to consider any lingering elves as substantially reduced in both power, numbers and physical form having missed the chance to take the Lost Road. They would have become the "wee folk" of folktales and myth.

Wiki - ∆lfwine of England
"He found EressŽa with the directions of an old man on an island, and the Elves hosted him and narrated their tales to him. He afterwards learned from the Elves that the old man he met, was actually "Ylmir (Ulmo)".

So Eriol / AElfwine was given special passage to Tol Eressea.


Feb 1 2013, 4:34pm

Post #12 of 12 (2084 views)
I nominate you to finish the poem. [In reply to] Can't Post

Good thoughts... I really appreciate where you and Eruonen have gone with this. Just some additional thoughts that I may not be committed to for all time:

The idea of a mythology for "England only" is perhaps a tidge misguided (though not a profoundly bad idea) because the English didn't just appear on the scene from nowhere... they were a mishmash of indigenous islanders and all the other peoples who invaded or simply settled in the British Isles prior to the sense of nationhood called English emerged.

If I follow the reasoning behind the Arthur legends picking up where the Sil leaves off, it is to trace English-ness to a source previously unknown; that is not Roman, Welsh, Pict, Franc, Gaul, Saxon and so on. I can see how Tolkien, as he matured, might have abandoned the project as his intentions might have been misconstrued as promoting racial purity.

On the other hand, if the Sil et al were cast as mythologies that imparted the spark of English-ness to the historical cultural that produced the Arthur legends and present day England... well that seems a less risky proposition.


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