Fans of J.R.R. Tolkien have another new book to read, nearly forty years after the author passed away. The Fall of Arthur is an unfinished poem of 1000 verses retelling the Arthurian legend. It has been edited by his Christopher Tolkien and is published by HarperCollins.
The poem, using Old English alliterative meter and written in modern English recounts how Arthur was a British military leader fighting the Saxon invasion, and includes characters such as Guinevere, Lancelot and Mordred.
Tolkien began writing the poem in the 1930s, and it was sufficiently advanced for him to send it to a very perceptive friend who read it with great enthusiasm at the end of 1934 and urgently pressed him, “You simply must finish it!” Instead, the Oxford professor and author concentrated his efforts on The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. In a letter from 1955, Tokien said that he “hoped to finish a long poem on The Fall of Arthur,” but it was never completed. His son Christopher has been able to include many notes about the poem to offer some more details on how the work would have ended.
Shaun Gunner, chairman of the Tolkien Society, tells the Oxford Mail “We’re all used to seeing Tolkien’s stories set in Middle Earth, but this is the first time we’ve ever seen Tolkien write about legendary Britain. We know Tolkien loved the powerful verse of Anglo-Saxon epics, so his own reimagining of Arthur’s downfall in this format makes for an interesting read. This is fundamentally important in terms of considering Tolkien’s academic career and his wider creative process.”
Coinciding with the release of the book, the original manuscript of The Fall of Arthur is on display as part of the Magical Books: from the Middle Ages to Middle-earth exhibition at the Bodleian Library. The exhibition features Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis, Philip Pullman, Alan Garner and Susan Cooper, all of whom links with Oxford and with the historic Bodleian Library in particular. All five authors were Oxford-educated and are considered members of the group of writers informally known as the ‘Oxford School’.
The exhibition, which begins today and runs until October 27th, will include a selection of Tolkien’s original artwork for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; C.S. Lewis’s ‘Lefay notebook’ and his map of Narnia, and manuscripts of novels and poems by Alan Garner, Philip Pullman and Susan Cooper. One can also see the First Folio Macbeth, the extraordinary ‘Ripley Rolls’ which illustrate the quest for the life-prolonging philosophers’ stone, richly-illuminated mediaeval bestiaries and even a 17th-century marble copy of the ‘Holy Table’ which John Dee used to converse with angels.
From The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien:
From the West comes war that no wind daunteth,
Might and purpose that no mist stayeth; Lord of legions,
light into darkness, East rides Arthur!’ Echoes were
wakened The wind was stilled. The walls of rock