Book Review: The Fall Of Gondolin

The Fall Of Gondolin, by J.R.R. Tolkien

It is striking that such an important subject in the lore of the Silmarillion was only explored once.  For all of Tolkien’s voluminous writing, he only ended up inside the city of Gondolin one time, and that was when he was writing about the adventures of the hero Tuor, who escaped from thralldom and ended up seeking to save Gondolin from its doom by attacking.  It is strange that such an important city as that was only seen one time, as the efforts by the author to write more about the life of Tuor was fragmentary and ended just as the city was about to be entered through the various means by which the city kept itself hidden from its enemy.  Is this an essential story?  I’m not sure, it is fragmentary and definitely interesting, but if you are reading a book like this you are probably a pretty serious reader of Tolkien’s works. This obviously isn’t going to be the first book by the author ones reads, and it makes for yet another effort by Christopher Tolkien to update or reconfigure the unwieldy writings of his late father for mass consumption in the awareness of the great demand for “new” writings on the universe of Middle Earth, even if they are fragments.

The contents of this book are, as might be expected, somewhat repetitive and even a bit contradictory, given the fact that Tolkien was by no means uniform in his spelling or in his understanding of the mythos of his universe, which is completely understandable given its sprawl.  The book begins with a list of plates, a preface, a list of illustrations, and a prologue that sets the story within the larger story of the First Age of Middle Earth as a whole.  After that comes the original tale, as it was edited and presented to one of the various societies that Tolkien was a part of, which takes up about a third of the entire book.  After this there is a brief discussion of the earliest text, the relationshop of Turlin to the Exiles of Gondolin, the story as it is told in his Sketch of the Mythology and the Quenta Noldorinwa, which are distinct and even contradictory, and then the last version of the story as it appears.  After this the editor discusses the evolution of the story and closes with a conclusion, a list of names, and some additional notes that make this an interesting volume.

Again, though, this book raises the unpleasant question of graverobbing.  To what extent is it worthwhile to judge the writings of an author by the fragments that they leave after they are dead?  Perhaps new papers were discovered–it is easy to imagine something like that happening–and the pressure from publishers and perhaps even from fans must be intense.  But while this is an enjoyable story, the text of the last version of the story and the original version are not long enough to make a full book, and reading this book is more about looking at the process of editing and rewriting that went into the story rather than reading a coherent and large story to begin with.  And perhaps that is part of the point.  When you are deep enough into the mythos of Tolkien’s Middle Earth to be reading a book like this, perhaps you deserve to read fragments and look at how they were edited over time.  Perhaps a book like this should be seen as a reward of being a loyal reader of a series.  Viewed in that light, the publishing of fragments does not seem like such a problem after all.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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