Saturday, November 26, 2022

Living With Morals: A Review of 'The Fall of Gondolin'

The Fall of Gondolin

Glorfiindel and the Balrog

Since watching The Rings of Power I have been reading up on Tolkien's legendarium and seeing where the creators of the new series found their ideas. The Fall of Gondolin is magnificent and tragic if repetitive, and by repetitive I mean that the same story is told over and over again, with slight variations, in the same volume. But for Middle-earth lovers there are loads of tidbits of details that add to the understanding of the lore. It is interesting that Tolkien originally referred to the Noldorian elves as "gnomes." From The Public Discourse:

J.R.R. Tolkien’s first tale of Middle-earth was of ruin, written “in hospital and on leave after surviving the Battle of the Somme.” His “first real story of this imaginary world” told of the destruction of the hidden city of Gondolin, greatest of Elven cities in mortal lands and the last stronghold against Morgoth, the Great Enemy. The story was never completed in mature form, but it was referenced in both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. This saga of disaster and hope underlies the tone and setting of Tolkien’s creation. His tales of monsters and heroes illuminate the moral condition of mankind better than the works of our current adolescent popular culture. The problem is less moral ambiguity than a lack of moral will.

The various fragments and versions of the story have now been published together. In The Fall of Gondolin, the venerable Christopher Tolkien has edited his father’s unfinished work for the last time. He had described his previous effort, Beren and Lúthien, as “presumably” the last; now he writes, “in my ninety-fourth year The Fall of Gondolin is (indubitably) the last.” Only the first iteration of the story presented the complete narrative in detail, but that version is rough, with Tolkien having not yet settled on the material or style. Over subsequent years he wrote condensed or partial versions of the story, and in the incomplete final version of the tale he approaches his mature best—writing in the high prose style that he had mastered.

This book also includes materials that place the tale in context of Tolkien’s larger creation. These additional fragments are worth reading, even for those already familiar with the history of the Elder Days contained in The Silmarillion, as The Fall of Gondolin contains bits of elven mythology, history, and even eschatology not found in that volume. Overall, the collected texts and commentary by Christopher Tolkien, plus the masterly illustrations by Alan Lee, make this book a worthy final addition to the Tolkien canon.

Publication of The Fall of Gondolin follows last year’s announcement that control of the Tolkien Estate has passed to a new generation, which seems more willing to exploit its lucrative licensing potential than Christopher and his father were. And the captains of the entertainment industry, who lack Tolkien’s moral vision and imagination, are unlikely to produce good adaptations.

But we will always have the books. (Read more.)


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