The Fall Of Arthur

  • Books
  • Saturday, 27 Jul 2013

Author : J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien

Genre : Fiction

Publisher : Harper Collins

J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic unfinished Arthurian long narrative poem is a challenging but ultimately enriching read.

THIS is a book of two names: Arthur and Tolkien.

Both names are equally powerful, especially in the world of literature. The former, of course, refers to King Arthur, the myth, the legend, the noble king who wielded the sword Excalibur, and lived in mighty Camelot (which, contrary to what Monty Python says, is not a silly place at all).

The name “Tolkien” is also a powerful one. It is a name that graces that most beloved of all fantasy epics, The Lord of The Rings, a tome that not only towers over the entire fantasy novel genre as one of the greatest ever, but also casts a dark shadow over any other book that bears his name.

The Fall Of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien brings together these two powerful names, and to be honest, it is a book that would probably interest readers who are drawn in by the two names.

The Fall Of Arthur is actually the title of an unfinished poem by Tolkien on the legend of King Arthur’s final days, which has been painstakingly compiled and edited by his youngest son, Christopher. Written in Old English alliterative metre, it tells the story of Arthur’s final campaign overseas against the Saxons, Guinevere’s flight from Camelot, and the struggle against Mordred’s forces upon Arthur’s return to Britain. Even though Tolkien famously abandoned it later and never returned to the king again, it is considered one of his finest achievements in the use of Old English alliterative metre.

This book features the entire poem (which consists of almost 1,000 verses spanning 40 pages), as well as notes, expositions and essays by Christopher about his father’s choice of language, sources and inspiration for The Lord Of The Rings.

I’ll be very honest here: this was not an easy book to read. Even after finishing it, I was acutely aware that I might not have been able to fully grasp entirely the complexity and the deeper meanings of the poem. The language Tolkien used is quite far from what modern readers may be used to, and the prose format perplexed me at times, with certain verses requiring repeated readings before I could fully comprehend them.

What this casual reader found more fascinating than the actual prose itself, however, was Christopher’s foreward about his father, which includes interesting little nuggets about the man, including his love of the long narrative poem format and when he may have written The Fall Of Arthur.

Equally interesting (if overly longwinded at times) were the commentaries and essays about the poem, including Tolkien’s notes, probable source material, and even an attempt to connect the poem to The Lord Of The Rings universe with The Unwritten Poem And Its Relation To The Silmarillion. For a fan of The Lord Of The Rings like me, one who has read almost all of Tolkien’s other books – including The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and the recent Children Of Hurin – this was the probably the one that appealed to me most, even more so than the actual poem itself, as it provided an insight into how Tolkien eventually came up with some of the elements in his Middle Earth books.

As mentioned, reading The Fall Of Arthur does take some e ffort, and it would probably appeal most to fans of Arthurian mythology and Tolkien readers who want to engage more with the author’s fascination for language and mythology, and to see how this led to the writing of Lord of The Rings.

But don’t let me put you off reading this. If anything, consider it an education in this form of writing. Besides, it’s by Tolkien. It may take you a while to get used to the writing and to finish the book, but your literary mind will be so much more enriched by the end of it.

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The Fall Of Arthur


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