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The Fall of Arthur

The Fall of Arthur

Автор J. R. R. Tolkien

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The Fall of Arthur

Автор J. R. R. Tolkien

4/5 (7 оценки)
218 страниц
3 часа
23 мая 2013 г.


New York Times bestseller   “An incomplete but highly compelling retelling . . . An action-packed, doom-haunted saga, full of vivid natural description.”—New York Times Book Review

The Fall of Arthur recounts in verse the last campaign of King Arthur, who, even as he stands at the threshold of Mirkwood, is summoned back to Britain by news of the treachery of Mordred. Already weakened in spirit by Guinevere’s infidelity with the now-exiled Lancelot, Arthur must rouse his knights to battle one last time against Mordred’s rebels and foreign mercenaries. Powerful, passionate, and filled with vivid imagery, this unfinished poem reveals Tolkien’s gift for storytelling at its brilliant best. Christopher Tolkien, editor, contributes three illuminating essays that explore the literary world of King Arthur, reveal the deeper meaning of the verses and the painstaking work his father applied to bring the poem to a finished form, and investigate the intriguing links between The Fall of Arthur and Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

“Compelling in pace, haunted by loss, it lives up to expectations.”—Daily Beast

“Erudite and beautiful.” – NPR.org
23 мая 2013 г.

Об авторе

J.R.R. TOLKIEN (1892–1973) is the creator of Middle-earth and author of such classic and extraordinary works of fiction as The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion. His books have been translated into more than fifty languages and have sold many millions of copies worldwide.

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


Title Page




The Fall of Arthur

Notes on the Text of The Fall of Arthur

The Poem in Arthurian Tradition

The Unwritten Poem and its Relation to The Silmarillion

The Evolution of the Poem

Appendix: Old English Verse

Read More from J.R.R. Tolkien



First Mariner Books edition 2014

All texts and materials by J.R.R. Tolkien © The Tolkien Trust 2013, except for those derived from The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm’s Son © The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Limited 1953, 1966, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl and Sir Orfeo © The J.R.R. Tolkien Copyright Trust 1975, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien © The J.R.R. Tolkien Copyright Trust 1981, The Book of Lost Tales Part One © The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Limited and C.R. Tolkien 1983, The Book of Lost Tales Part Two © The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Limited and C.R. Tolkien 1984, The Lays of Beleriand © The J.R.R. Tolkien Copyright Trust and C.R. Tolkien 1985, The Shaping of Middle-earth © The J.R.R. Tolkien Copyright Trust and C.R. Tolkien 1986, The Lost Road and Other Writings © The J.R.R. Tolkien Copyright Trust and C.R. Tolkien 1987 and The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún © C.R. Tolkien 2009

Introduction, commentaries and all other materials © C.R. Tolkien 2013

Quotation from The Development of Arthurian Romance © Roger Sherman Loomis 1963 reproduced courtesy of Dover Publications, Inc.

Quotation from The Genesis of a Medieval Book by C.S. Lewis published in Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature in 1966 © Cambridge University Press 1966, 1998, reproduced with permission

Quotation from The Works of Sir Thomas Malory © Eugène Vinaver 1947, 1971 published by Oxford University Press, reproduced with permission

Illustration © Bill Sanderson 2013

and ‘Tolkien’® are registered trade marks of The J.R.R. Tolkien Estate Limited

First published in Great Britain by HarperCollinsPublishers, 2013

The facsimile manuscript page that appears on page 6 of this book is reproduced courtesy of The Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, and is selected from their holdings labelled MS. Tolkien B 59/2 (1), fol. 109

For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.

ISBN 978-0-544-11589-7 ISBN 978-0-544-22783-5 (pbk.)

eISBN 978-0-544-12606-0




It is well known that a prominent strain in my father’s poetry was his abiding love for the old ‘Northern’ alliterative verse, which extended from the world of Middle-earth (notably in the long but unfinished Lay of the Children of Húrin) to the dramatic dialogue The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth (arising from the Old English poem The Battle of Maldon) and to his ‘Old Norse’ poems The New Lay of the Völsungs and The New Lay of Gudrún (to which he referred in a letter of 1967 as ‘a thing I did many years ago when trying to learn the art of writing alliterative poetry’). In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight he displayed his skill in his rendering of the alliterative verse of the fourteenth century into the same metre in modern English. To these is now added his unfinished and unpublished poem The Fall of Arthur.

I have been able to discover no more than a single reference of any kind by my father to this poem, and that is in a letter of 1955, in which he said: ‘I write alliterative verse with pleasure, though I have published little beyond the fragments in The Lord of the Rings, except ‘The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth’ … I still hope to finish a long poem on The Fall of Arthur in the same measure’ (The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, no.165). Nowhere among his papers is there any indication of when it was begun or when it was abandoned; but fortunately he preserved a letter written to him by R.W. Chambers on 9 December 1934. Chambers (Professor of English at University College, London), eighteen years his senior, was an old friend and strong supporter of my father, and in that letter he described how he had read Arthur on a train journey to Cambridge, and on the way back ‘took advantage of an empty compartment to declaim him as he deserves’. He praised the poem with high praise: ‘It is very great indeed … really heroic, quite apart from its value in showing how the Beowulf metre can be used in modern English.’ And he ended the letter ‘You simply must finish it.’

But that my father did not do; and yet another of his long narrative poems was abandoned. It seems all but certain that he had ceased to work on the Lay of the Children of Húrin before he left the University of Leeds for Oxford in 1925, and he recorded that he began the Lay of Leithian (the legend of Beren and Lúthien), not in alliterative verse but in rhyming couplets, in the summer of that year (The Lays of Beleriand, p.3). In addition, while at Leeds he began an alliterative poem on The Flight of the Noldoli from Valinor, and another even briefer that was clearly the beginning of a Lay of Eärendel (The Lays of Beleriand, §II, Poems Early Abandoned).

I have suggested in The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (p.5) ‘as a mere guess, since there is no evidence whatsoever to confirm it, that my father turned to the Norse poems as a new poetic enterprise [and a return to alliterative verse] after he abandoned the Lay of Leithian near the end of 1931.’ If this were so, he must have begun work on The Fall of Arthur, which was still far from completion at the end of 1934, when the Norse poems had been brought to a conclusion.

In seeking some explanation of his abandonment of these ambitious poems when each was already far advanced, one might look to the circumstances of his life after his election to the Professorship of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford in 1925: the demands of his position and his scholarship and the needs and concerns and expenses of his family. As through so much of his life, he never had enough time; and it may be, as I incline to believe, that the breath of inspiration, endlessly impeded, could wither away; yet it would emerge again, when an opening appeared amid his duties and obligations – and his other interests, but now with a changed narrative impulse.

No doubt there were in fact specific reasons in each case, not now to be with any certainty discerned; but in that of The Fall of Arthur I have suggested (see here) that it was driven into the shallows by the great sea-changes that were taking place in my father’s conceptions at that time, arising from his work on The Lost Road and the publication of The Hobbit: the emergence of Númenor, the myth of the World Made Round and the Straight Path, and the approach of The Lord of the Rings.

One might surmise also that the very nature of this last, elaborate poem made it peculiarly vulnerable to interruption or disturbance. The astonishing amount of surviving draft material for The Fall of Arthur reveals the difficulties inherent in such use of the metrical form that my father found so profoundly congenial, and his exacting and perfectionist concern to find, in an intricate and subtle narrative, fitting expression within the patterns of rhythm and alliteration of the Old English verse-form. To change the metaphor, The Fall of Arthur was a work of art to be built slowly: it could not withstand the rising of new imaginative horizons.

Whatever may be thought of these speculations, The Fall of Arthur necessarily entailed problems of presentation to the editor. It may be that some who take up this book would have been content with no more than the text of the poem as printed here, and perhaps a brief statement of the stages of its development, as attested by the abundant draft manuscripts. On the other hand, there may well be many others who, drawn to the poem by the attraction of its author but with little knowledge of ‘the Arthurian legend’, would wish, and expect, to find some indications of how this ‘version’ stands in relation to the mediaeval tradition from which it arose.

As I have said, my father left no indication even of the briefest kind, as he did of the ‘Norse’ poems published as The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún, of his thought or intention that lay behind his very original treatment of ‘The Legend of Lancelot and Guinevere’. But in the present case there is clearly no reason to enter the labyrinth in an editorial attempt to write a wide-ranging account of ‘Arthurian’ legend, which would very likely appear a forbidding rampart raised up as if it were a necessary preliminary to the reading of The Fall of Arthur.

I have therefore dispensed with any ‘Introduction’ properly so-called, but following the text of the poem I have contributed several commentaries, of a decidedly optional nature. The brief notes that follow the poem are largely confined to very concise explanations of names and words, and to references to the commentaries.

Each of these, for those who want such explorations, is concerned with a fairly distinct aspect of The Fall of Arthur and its special interest. The first of these, ‘The Poem in Arthurian Tradition’, simple in intent, avoiding speculative interpretation, and very limited in range, if somewhat lengthy, is an account of the derivation of my father’s poem from particular narrative traditions and its divergences from them. For this purpose I have chiefly drawn upon two works in English, the mediaeval poem known as ‘The Alliterative Morte Arthure’, and the relevant tales of Sir Thomas Malory, with some reference to his sources. Not wishing to provide a mere dry précis, I have cited verbatim a number of passages from these works, as exemplifying those traditions in manner and mode that differ profoundly from this ‘Alliterative Fall of Arthur’ of another day.

After much deliberation I have thought it best, because much less confusing, to write this account as if the latest form of the poem (as printed in this book) were all that we could know of it, and the strange evolution of that form revealed by the analysis of the draft texts had therefore been lost. I have seen no need to enter into the shadowy origins of the Arthurian legend and the early centuries of its history, and I will only say here that it is essential to the understanding of The Fall of Arthur to recognize that the roots of the legend derive from the fifth century, after the final end of the Roman rule in Britain with the withdrawal of the legions in 410, and from memories of battles fought by Britons in resistance to the ruinous raids and encroachments of the barbarian invaders, Angles and Saxons, spreading from the eastern regions of their land. It is to be borne in mind that throughout this book the names Britons and British refer specifically and exclusively to the Celtic inhabitants and their language.

Following ‘The Poem in Arthurian Tradition’ is a discussion of ‘The Unwritten Poem and its Relation to The Silmarillion’, an account of the various writings that give some indication of my father’s thoughts for the continuation of the poem; and then an account of ‘The Evolution of the Poem’, primarily an attempt to show as clearly as I could, granting the extremely complex textual history, the major changes of structure that I have referred to, together with much exemplification of his mode of composition.

Note. Throughout this book references to the text of the poem are given in the form canto number (Roman numeral) + line number, e.g. II.7.




How Arthur and Gawain went to war and rode into the East.

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  • (3/5)
    As many others have pointed out Tolkien's poetry makes up a small portion of the book. The rest is made up of Christopher Tolkien's notes and thoughts on the poem and how it compares to the history of the Arthurian legend.

    I really enjoyed the poem and I think it would sound lovely read aloud.

    Note, I have the Easton Press leather version. There is no illustrations other than the symbol of the knight on the horse on the cover repeated a few times in the book.
  • (4/5)
    I've been waiting for this book - finally got it and was not disappointed. I like both the text of the father and the notes of the son.
  • (4/5)
    I really enjoyed the J.R.R. Tolkien portions of this book. Not to say that Christopher Tolkien is a bad writer, on the contrary, his analysis is very well thought out and interesting. It's just that when you are reading the pieces written by the master, you certainly know it. Fair warning to the casual reader out there, this offering is a poem purposely written to emulate the meter an feel of an old piece of English literature. Only about a quarter or less of the book is actually material produced by J.R.R. Tolkien, the rest is an in-depth analysis of the poem and it's fit with other classic Arthurian literature by his son, Christopher Tolkien. Unless you get into the inner workings of literature and poetry and enjoy reading excerpts of Olde English, I wouldn't recommend this book to just anybody.Overall, I found this to be a fairly fascinating book. I think that Christopher does a very admirable job of breaking down and analyzing his father's work and tying it into the other classic literature. I also appreciate the connections that he makes to his fathers penultimate masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings. Even thought this is a seemingly unrelated work, Christopher has managed to find some interesting similarities between it and his father's writings of Middle Earth.Where this truly shines is in allowing the Tolkien fan to read a previously unpublished piece of Tolkien literature that we may not have otherwise seen. Make no mistake, this is a piece of what would have been a larger work but was for one reason or another abandoned by the author. What we are offered is a fragment and may not have ever looked even remotely like the piece we are presented with in its final form, but we will never actually know. A huge thank you to Christopher Tolkien for bringing us what he could of this work. My only real complaint in the layout that Christopher presented is that I would have put the second study directly after the poem as it deals more with the notes of things that were to come and I think would have provided a more satisfying feel to read while the actual work was still fresh to my mind.On a side note one thing that I did find interesting is that, even though Christopher is a great analyst and very detailed in his research, he presents a small excerpt of a lecture that his father gave at some point. This small excerpt of lecture illustrates just how talented his father is as it literally jumps off the page. He's not talking about anything of particular interest unto itself, but the nuances and the wording make the excerpt come alive. Not to take anything away from his son, but this piece really made me realize what the difference is between someone who is an expert and very good at what he does and a true master of the written word.
  • (4/5)
    Christopher Tolkien presents the best version of his father's unfinished and previously unpublished alliterative verse poem The Fall of Arthur then discusses the poem in relation to Arthurian tradition, the poem's relevance to JRRT's other work (particularly The Silmarillion), and the poem's development from draft to draft. Fascinating stuff and should be thrilling to Tolkien fans and scholars interested in either Tolkien or representations of Arthurian legend in the twentieth century.
  • (5/5)
    Like the other books that Christopher Tolkien has edited, this consists of his father's writing with Christopher's commentary and reflection on how the writing was completed. Tolkien composed a poetic narrative about King Arthur that was never completed. Christopher has pieced together the work and given us this treasure, plus a glimpse of his father's writing process. I thoroughly enjoyed the writing itself, and while some of the commentary was tedious, written in Middle and Old English, I enjoyed none the less. It reminded me of my days in college as an English major.
  • (3/5)
    It's a shame J.R.R. Tolkien never finished "The Fall of Arthur," which was meant to be an epic poem. The small fragment that exists is really great, even though it definitely appears to be a rough draft of sorts.The poem is just a short part of this book-- most of it is Christopher Tolkien's analysis of his father's poem and how it fits in with the legend of Arthur. I found the analysis to be okay.... it more or less felt like padding to turn this posthumous publication into something that was book length.
  • (4/5)
    I love Arthurian literature, and and I love Tolkien, so I was excited when this was released. Like other reviews have mentioned, the poem is only a small part of the book, and the rest is commentary by Christopher Tolkien. I found the poem to be interesting, and fun to read out loud. I was confused by his choice of making Guinevere a little manipulating of Lancelot, because I think in most other texts their tryst is a mutual thing. I liked Christopher's section placing his father's poem in the Arthurian tradition, of where he is getting his material from, and how he changed it to make it his own. I also enjoyed the section about the poem's relation to the Silmarillion, but I did not enjoy the section about the Evolution of the Poem, as it was confusing and dull. I was confused at why he would have so many drafts of the poem, but then when I read the final section where J.R.R. Tolkien is talking about alliterative verse I realized there are a lot more rules to follow than just "string words that start with the same letter together" Some of his discussion of the metre was a little dense for me, and I didn't understand exactly what he was talking about with "head rhymes" "staves" and the emphasis on different syllables.
  • (3/5)
    When I heard about a previously unpublished story by J.R.R. Tolkien, I could not wait to read it. Of course, most readers know something of Tolkien’s masterpieces, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit – if not directly from the books, then from at least the films. I first encountered Tolkien while an undergraduate in the late 60s. I stumbled upon a copy of Diplomat Magazine. According to its website, “Diplomat is a foreign affairs magazine that provokes intelligent discussion from the heart of the Diplomatic community in London. This 65 year old magazine provides a unique insight into the minds of the most prominent world leaders and governments.” The October 1966 issue – which I still have -- features a picture of a Hobbit on the cover. It has been quite a while since I looked at the magazine, and it seems like a version of The New Yorker for those interested in world politics and diplomacy. A large portion of the magazine is devoted to Tolkien, and what it called “Hobbitmania.” I immediately went to a bookstore and purchased the four books. Yes, my book addiction is at least that old.I devoured the four volumes and fell in love with Tolkien and the amazing worlds he created. I also loved the films, which are as close to the books as any films I have ever seen. Right now, I am anxiously awaiting parts two and three of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy.The Fall of Arthur combines several interests of mine: Tolkien, Anglo-Saxon, alliterative literature, and the legends surrounding King Arthur and the knights of the round table. The provenance of this unfinished tale is covered in great detail in an introduction by Christopher Tolkien, third son of J.R.R. He found scant mention of the manuscript in his father’s letters, and only a mention or two about wanting to finish the story. The poem itself is rather short, and a great deal of space is reserved for discussions of the history of Arthurian literature, the parts of the poem which Tolkien never finished, the evolution of the existing manuscript, and an extended appendix on Anglo-Saxon verse. Christopher places all this after the introduction and the essay, and freely admits that specialists can dig into the appended material, while casual readers can limit themselves to the poem. I found this material fascinating.Unfortunately, not so much the poem itself. Parts of the narrative seemed forced and pasted together. I read several passages and encountered a stumble or two over attempts at alliteration that were nothing less than awkward. I believe Tolkien abandoned the manuscript for a reason. In much of his work, he was a perfectionist, and in my humble opinion, he had a difficult time making the entire poem flow as smoothly as does Beowulf, “The Wanderer,” or “The Battle of Maldon.” For example, he wrote, “Grief knew Arthur / in his heart’s secret, … and his house him seemed / in mirth diminished” (40). I also gritted my teeth when he blamed Lancelot for the fall of the “Table Rounde.” Tolkien wrote, “Strong oaths they broke” (37). But that is a tangled subject for another time. Anglo-Saxon alliteration and King Arthur do not feel right to me. This poem was interesting but only worth 3 stars.--Jim, 7/16/13
  • (4/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    The Fall of Arthur is the story of how the Knights of the Round Table disintegrated, ending the legend of King Arthur and closing a chapter in British history. In this poem, Tolkien writes of Mordred's usurping and Lancelot and Gwenivere's affair. What this poem lacked was the romantic aspects of Arthurian legend such as the Holy Grail. Interestingly, it is written in Saxton metre-- the very people who ended Arthur's reign. We are-- once again-- reminded of J.R.R. Tolkien's brilliance. It is ironic that the poem was written in Saxton metre (the Saxton's brought about Arthur's downfall as mentioned above), until we remember that Tolkien was a professor of Saxton language. His poetic voice is similar to his retelling of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or The Salmarillion (both of which Tolkien's son, Christopher address in an analysis after the poem). For those of us who fell in love with Tolkien's prose in Lord of the Rings, this is just another reminder of the man we love. For those just getting into Tolkien, congratulations on reading high-class literature.

    1 person found this helpful

  • (4/5)
    Who wrote this blurb? Seriously?"The Fall of Arthur, the only venture by J.R.R. Tolkien into the legends of Arthur King of Britain" -- What's his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight? Chopped liver?"...his finest and most skillful achievement in the use of the Old English alliterative metre..." -- Old English metre? Not from what I've seen. Where're the half-lines? Not sure the stresses work either. I'm sure it is a wonderful, skillful work, but more likely in Middle English alliterative metre -- like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight -- which is rather more relaxed.I've been looking forward to this since I found out this poem existed, and once swore I could write my PhD on it. Guess we'll find out soon.--Okay, I admit I seem to have been wrong -- it is Old English metre, the sample I looked at didn't reproduce the formatting. I'm still not sure the alliteration is right, though: I'll need to look it up to be sure, but I think there's too much alliteration. I could, however, be remembering the rules for Skaldic verse, which are not dissimilar, but more strict.I have my copy in hand and a dental appointment later, so I shall stick my nose into these pages studiously until I am dragged to the dentist's chair...-- Finished the poem itself, now to the additional matter. But why has he written a poem about the fall of the British (Celtic) Arthur in battle against the Saxons... in Saxon metre? Conquerors have certainly claimed Arthur before now, but... I wish he'd published this in his lifetime, with his own notes, with his attentiveness to every detail, his concern with the provenance of texts and his invented histories for them. Perhaps he would have recognised the irony in his choice of metre, even explained it.Onward, anyway, to Christopher Tolkien's bit....Which I found less than enlightening, really, since I wasn't interested in a play-by-play of the evolution of the poem and I don't need a primer on the Arthurian legends.Anyway, in summary: fascinating to me as an academic, but I'm not sure how it'll strike non-academics. I wish I could write a PhD on this, but there doesn't seem to be enough material.