10:00 am EST, June 6, 2013

Hypable Book Review: ‘The Fall of Arthur’ by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Fall of Arthur is Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien’s version of the Arthurian legend, presented in an edited collection by his son Christopher Tolkien.

Christopher Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur collection includes J.R.R. Tolkien’s unfinished poem “The Fall of Arthur,” Christopher Tolkien’s foreword and notes on the poem, his three essays: “The Poem in Arthurian Tradition,” “The Unwritten Poem and its Relation to The Silmarillion,” and “The Evolution of the Poem,” as well as a final Appendix entitled “Old English Verse.”

It is important to note immediately that in a book running approximately 230 pages, Tolkien’s poem comprises only 44 pages, with the rest being supplementary material.

The Fall of Arthur book coverTolkien’s unfinished “The Fall of Arthur” poem presents only a section of the Arthurian legend. This fragment begins with Arthur and Gawain, as they ride to war against their enemy Mordred. The second half relates to Lancelot and Guinevere, both of whom are at this point estranged from Arthur.

Christopher Tolkien’s supplementary material aims to contextualise his father’s work, both within his body of work, and as part of the Arthurian legend. Readers who are unfamiliar with the legend will be grateful for “The Poem in Arthurian Tradition,” an essay which explores the the nature of the legend, and Tolkien’s place within it.

“The Unwritten Poem and its Relation to The Silmarillion” explores Christopher Tolkien’s process in rebuilding “The Fall of Arthur,” highlights the many similarities between the Arthurian legend, and Middle Earth. “The Evolution of the Poem” breaks down J.R.R Tolkien’s own process in the development of the poem. The “Old English Verse” appendix will be of use to readers who are unfamiliar with this structure, and will still be of interest to those who are.

‘The Fall of Arthur’ review:

The Fall of Arthur is a collection for die-hard Tolkien fans, and those interested in literary and poetic structure, or the Arthurian legend. If your only interest in Tolkien or Arthur is your repeat viewings of The Hobbit DVD, or your obsession with TV show Merlin, this may not be the book for you.

The beauty of this collection is in the context and analysis provided by the supplementary material written by Christopher Tolkien. If you are uninterested in this then remember that you will essentially be buying a short 40-page poem for the cost of a hardcover book.

Those who are more familiar with Tolkien’s body of work, however, will adore it. Breaking away from Middle Earth, “The Fall of Arthur” itself is demonstrative of a style of writing that we forget to apply to Tolkien, to our own detriment. Fans of his other writing will be famililar with his skilled turn of phrase, however it is only when restricted by the limitations of the poetic structure that his truly masterful understanding of language becomes so apparent.

The Fall of Arthur is a piece of writing that demands attention. If you are willing to commit yourself to it, you will be rewarded with a highly skilled piece of writing from one of England’s greatest writers.

Tolkien’s original manuscript of The Fall of Arthur can be viewed at Oxford Library, where it will be on display until 1 October 2013.

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