Friday 7 June 2013

Review of The Fall of Arthur by JRR Tolkien


I think this is probably the most important work of Tolkien's to be published since The History of Middle Earth was finished.

It's not that this is anything like a 'must read' - because it isn't. I do not suppose many people would actually enjoy, or even get much out of, reading this 1000 line alliterative poem The Fall of Arthur; nor would they have the patience and interest to read the marvellous notes and commentaries by Christopher Tolkien.

This kind of book is a minority taste.


But for people like myself, who are deeply concerned with Tolkien as a creative thinker, this book is of outstanding importance; since it reveals new aspects of, and perspectives on, what Tolkien was doing.

But the book will take me a while to assimilate.


At present I will just make two comments.

1. Tolkien clearly intended to join-up his Arthur legend with his Middle Earth (Arda) legends. At the point this poem had reached, this occured at the deaths of Arthur and Lancelot - but it is plausible that having established this edge-to-edge join, Tolkien would have made further revisions to his Arthurian legend to integrate the two mythologies.


2. This version of the Arthur legend is focused around the character of Guinevere - who is beautiful, cold-hearted, selfish and evil: she instigates the plots, and the main male characters - Arthur, Lancelot and Mordred - are in thrall to her fey glamour (only Gawain perceives her true nature).

This would make a terrific basis for dramatization whether on stage, TV, or movies - and could potenitally create a great and original female protagonist of Shakespearian stature (think Lady Macbeth and Cleopatra combined).


Deniz Bevan said...

I think that's one of the main reasons I've enjoyed reading The Fall of Arthur - to see the connections to Earendil, and the Notion Club Papers. I love this overarching myth/legend for Britain.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the poem a lot and wish JRRT had finished it. I am less sure I would like to see a Lady Macbeth-like Guinever though, and your review doesn't mention that Tolkien's Mordred seems to have plenty of evil all on his own!

Ariston said...

Thanks for the review. I had been wondering a lot about whether or not I should pick this up sooner rather than later. I've had a deep interest in the Arthurian legends since high school, and a love of Tolkien instilled in me very early, so eventually reading this was inevitable— it's about prioritizing the book–buying budget!

Bruce Charlton said...

@A - There's a very interesting section by Christopher Tolkien on how this work fits into the Arthurian tradition - and the various versions. It is most closely related to an alliterative version of Morte Arthur.

You might also find it interesting to read Arthurian Torso by Charles Williams and C.S Lewis (published after C.W's death).

Anonymous said...

I am glad I found this blog. The focus is perfect and reading it was like getting a peak into Tolkien's own motivation.


Sørina Higgins said...

Thank you for this excellent post! Your response to "The Fall of Arthur" is right on. Here are mine:

Bruce Charlton said...

@IA - I'm pleased to come across your new blog about Charles Williams - I shall be watching it unfold.

Susan Call Hutchison said...

Glad to have found this blog! I did not know of this poem until now. I'm enthralled with the idea of Arthur and Middle Earth merging. It's one of those, "I knew it!" moments. The Guinevere you describe sounds exactly right, too. I have never bought her as a victim of "romance."

Bruce Charlton said...

@SCH - " I'm enthralled with the idea of Arthur and Middle Earth merging. It's one of those, "I knew it!" moments."

Yes, I expect it will be a great stimulus to fanfiction writers, as well as day dreamers...