The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R.Tolkien

Hugh

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Mar 27, 2016
Messages
714
#1
fall-of-arthur-jrr-tolkien.jpg


I thought this was truly marvellous. I really enjoyed it.

The book is made up of:
(1) Five Cantos of Tolkien’s poem “The Fall of Arthur” (about 40 pages)
(2) Brief notes on the poem (about 10 pages)
(3) Three essays by Christopher Tolkien
(i) The poem in Arthurian Tradition
(ii) The Unwritten Poem and its Relation to the Silmarillion
(iii) The Evolution of the Poem
(4) Appendix: Old English Verse (about 10 pages).

As you probably already know, this is essentially a fragment that was begun by Tolkien in the early 1930s and abandoned unfinished (as with so much of his work) around 1937 (the year of publication of the Hobbit). It is just a fragment but a lengthy fragment, and of course it doesn’t tell us anything new about Arthur, but I think the verse is magnificent. What I love is the use of “Old English Alliterative Verse” of which of course I know nothing about, but I find it so epic and atmospheric and It is also very interesting to get a sense of something that will emerge later in the Lord of the Rings.

For example, doesn’t this convey something of Mirkwood?

Cold touched the hearts of the host encamped
on Mirkwood’s margin at the mountain-roots.
They felt the forest though the fogs veiled it;
their fires fainted. Fear clutched their souls,
waiting watchful in a world of shadow
for woe they knew not, no word speaking.

And how about this for Mordor and the Nazgul?

The Endless East in anger woke,
and black thunder born in dungeons
under mountains of menace moved above them.
Halting doubtful there on high saw they
wan horsemen wild in windy clouds
grey and monstrous grimly riding
shadow-helmed to war, shapes disastrous.

NB: annoyingly in transcribing these verses I don't seem able to include the important gap in the middle of each line.

And then of course there is Tolkien’s take on the figure of Guinever, but I will say no more...

I also found the essay “The poem in Arthurian Tradition” very interesting in that it tracks the evolution of and the variations in Arthurian writing from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, through the “Roman de Brut” of the Norman poet Wace, then the “alliterative Morte Arthure”, and on to Sir Thomas Malory. I realised in reading this that the writer can take whatever he likes from the Arthurian mythos, that there are no tablets of stone. This made me enjoy the more and appreciate the variations introduced by Tolkien in his own poem. The Appendix is helpful in that it conveys something of the context of Old English Alliterative verse.

All in all, I would not buy an expensive edition for a first encounter, but there are plenty of second-hand copies to be had, and it’s so worth a look!

1545409247470.png
 
Last edited:

farntfar

She turned me into a newt.
Joined
Oct 26, 2013
Messages
2,024
Location
France.
#2
Your first example (Cold touched the hearts....) has very much the same feel as the verse he gives in the LotR as written by the poets of Rohan. Certainly the same structure and metre.
 

Hugh

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Mar 27, 2016
Messages
714
#3
Your first example (Cold touched the hearts....) has very much the same feel as the verse he gives in the LotR as written by the poets of Rohan. Certainly the same structure and metre.
Aha! I will take a look!
 

farntfar

She turned me into a newt.
Joined
Oct 26, 2013
Messages
2,024
Location
France.
#4
for instance:

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!


and

We heard of the horns in the hills ringing,
the swords shining in the South-kingdom.
Steeds went striding to the Stoningland
as wind in the morning. War was kindled.
There Théoden fell, Thengling mighty,
to his golden halls and green pastures
in the Northern fields never returning,
high lord of the host. Harding and Guthláf
Dúnhere and Déorwine, doughty Grimbold,
Herefara and Herubrand, Horn and Fastred,
fought and fell there in a far country:
in the Mounds of Mundburg under mould they lie
with their league-fellows, lords of Gondor.

etc

Both from The Battle of Pelennor Fields

And the one I first thought of at Theoden's burial in Many Partings

Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day's rising
he rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
Hope he rekindled, and in hope ended;
over death, over dread, over doom lifted
out of loss, out of life, unto long glory.
 

Hugh

Well-Known Member
Supporter
Joined
Mar 27, 2016
Messages
714
#6
for instance:

Out of doubt, out of dark to the day's rising
I came singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
To hope's end I rode and to heart's breaking:
Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red nightfall!


and

We heard of the horns in the hills ringing,
the swords shining in the South-kingdom.
Steeds went striding to the Stoningland
as wind in the morning. War was kindled.
There Théoden fell, Thengling mighty,
to his golden halls and green pastures
in the Northern fields never returning,
high lord of the host. Harding and Guthláf
Dúnhere and Déorwine, doughty Grimbold,
Herefara and Herubrand, Horn and Fastred,
fought and fell there in a far country:
in the Mounds of Mundburg under mould they lie
with their league-fellows, lords of Gondor.

etc

Both from The Battle of Pelennor Fields

And the one I first thought of at Theoden's burial in Many Partings

Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day's rising
he rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
Hope he rekindled, and in hope ended;
over death, over dread, over doom lifted
out of loss, out of life, unto long glory.
That's spot on! Many thanks for transcribing.

If you like these, I'm sure you will appreciate the "Fall of Arthur".
 

farntfar

She turned me into a newt.
Joined
Oct 26, 2013
Messages
2,024
Location
France.
#8
Well I never.

I had never noticed that the verse at Theoden's funeral so closely matches that at the Pellenor Fields.

Going slightly off topic, JRRT uses this trick at other times too, such as the several versions of The road goes ever on.
 

soulsinging

the dude abides
Joined
Oct 23, 2008
Messages
2,169
#10
Odd that both Tolkien and Steinbeck were working on, but did not finish, interpretations of Arthurian legend around the same time...
 

Lafayette

Man of Artistic Fingers
Joined
Jun 14, 2016
Messages
339
Location
Phoenix, Arizona
#11
I don't if anybody mentioned it, but you can download 'The Fall of Arthur' at Amazon.com as an e-book for $9.99.

For me it is a great deal. I just wish he finished it. His vocabulary and the way he employed it is astoundingly beautiful.

I wish I was one tenth as good.
 
Top