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The Fall of Gondolin

Review

The Fall of Gondolin

written by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee

- Click here to read Stephen Hubbard's review.

 

Review #1 by Ray Palen

The release of this posthumous novel from the mind of the great J.R.R. Tolkien is bittersweet. It was referred to at the time of its origin in 1955 as “the first real story of this imaginary world.” For those not familiar with Tolkien, "this imaginary world" is that of Middle-earth, which brought us some of the greatest works ever penned in modern literature, including THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

Tolkien so enmeshed himself in Middle-earth that he wrote countless stories and histories of it. There are college courses dedicated to Middle-earth, as well as some that teach the Elvish language. Since his passing, Tolkien's family has remained dedicated to finishing the many works not released in his lifetime. Specifically his son, Christopher Tolkien, has devoted the best part of his life to this endeavor. Now, at the age of 95, Christopher feels like he finally has gotten all of his father's works completed and released to the public.

THE FALL OF GONDOLIN is a terrific novel that once again will transport readers old and new to the world of Middle-earth. It marks a critical point in the history of that fantasy realm and takes place ages before the more familiar action of THE HOBBIT.

"THE FALL OF GONDOLIN is a terrific novel that once again will transport readers old and new to the world of Middle-earth. It marks a critical point in the history of that fantasy realm and takes place ages before the more familiar action of THE HOBBIT."

The hero of this work is Tuor. Based on the name and the pictures (thanks to illustrator Alan Lee) of the title character, I could not help but imagine a Norse god like Thor in this role. Tuor is blessed with great strength, determination and striking long locks. In fact, all he needs is a handy hammer for him to become Thor. Tuor is indeed a man, and men still hold a special place in the history of Middle-earth during this time.

At the start of THE FALL OF GONDOLIN, we find Tuor on a trek that will end when he reaches the city of Gondolin. He is guided by the great Ulmo, Lord of the Waters. His persona is an awesome one and reminds me of King Triton. Ulmo is in direct conflict with the rising seat of evil, ruled by Morgoth, who is amassing an army to claim power over all of Middle-earth. Tuor is given safe passage by Ulmo over the violent seas and waterways he traverses on his swan-ship. Along the way, Tuor is given to song, creating new names for creatures he has never seen before and playing along on his old harp to the tunes he has made for them.

Another part of Tuor's destiny is his marriage. It is no ordinary union, and fans of Tolkien's trilogy will clearly recognize the symbolism involved in the wedding of Tuor to the Elfinesse lady Idril. This is quite ironic since the joining of Aragorn and Arwen in THE LORD OF THE RINGS depicts the rare coupling of men with Elves. Tuor quickly becomes a man of greatness and a natural leader for the men of Gondolin. He and Idril have a son, Eärendil, who will have his own story sketched out in this work.

A great battle wages between the contingency of men and Elves against the forces of evil who are represented by Orcs, Goblins and the nearly unbeatable Balrogs. The night sky is red from flames of dragons as far as the eye can see, and the great skirmish will end in tragedy for many. Lee's illustrations of this battle are striking, particularly those entitled "The King's Tower Falls" and "Glorfindel and the Balrog." These illustrated plates place readers directly in the action in ways that mere imagination cannot. Many feel that the fall of Gondolin is destined as it was predicted by Amnon, a prophet of old. Tuor demands that Gondolin stand up and states it will not fall, but the power of the combined efforts of Morgoth may be too much to repel.

When King Turgon throws down his own crown in the height of battle, refusing to place it back atop his head, many feel that all is lost. He vows to burn with Gondolin should it fall and asks that all place their support behind Tuor as the only option they have for defeating the nearly unstoppable armies of evil and darkness. The depiction of this mighty battle is breathtaking and goes on for many pages, daring readers to look away.

The second part of the book tells of the task Christopher had in interpreting his father's often hurried, penciled notes and turning them into this Tale of the First Age. The information is vast in scope and of the utmost importance to followers of all things Middle-earth. He wraps up with a glossary of all the names involved in this tale, and I found myself referring to it often during my read.

For both new fans and loyal Middle-earth readers, THE FALL OF GONDOLIN is a great place to start your reading or rereading of Tolkien's works. The last three stories Christopher released (the first two being THE CHILDREN OF HÚRIN and BEREN AND LÚTHIEN), along with his father's Lost Tales and the 12 volumes in Christopher's The History of Middle-earth, are the ideal way to dive into the realm of Middle-earth. Trust me, it will make your fresh reading or rereading of THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS that much more fulfilling.

 


 

Review #2 by Stephen Hubbard

In 1916, a young J.R.R. Tolkien was embroiled in World War I, serving in the trenches of the Somme Offensive in France. Enduring bloody carnage and hideous conditions, he contracted trench fever and was sent away to recuperate. The following year, as he fought to recover his health, Tolkien began to put down the ideas that became the seeds of Middle-earth. During his life, he would become known for THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS even as he continued to tinker with the older history of his world.

Sadly, Tolkien died in 1973 and never saw the publication of that historical record. His son Christopher, with the help of Guy Gavriel Kay, polished up and published THE SILMARILLION. Within that volume lay a stripped-down exploration of the ancient hidden city of the Elves and its overthrow by the evil Morgoth.

"THE FALL OF GONDOLIN is a beautiful story, though like its predecessors in this unofficial three-book series...it is layered with dark and sorrowful themes and events."

Now, for one final time, Christopher Tolkien has assembled his father's notes and revisions to compile the third and final installment of the Three Great Tales. With THE FALL OF GONDOLIN, we now get the full scope of the tale, comprised of the earliest of Tolkien's writings. For the first time, readers get to live in the world around Gondolin, to see its creation and rise as the fabled city of the Elves. We see the coming of the great hero, Tuor, and his warning that Morgoth was getting closer to discovering the hidden city, bearing armies led by Balrogs. Tuor would wed Idril, and their son, Eärendil, would go on to father Elrond. The ties to THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS are clear, and they serve to fill historical holes and broaden the depth of the legendarium.

THE FALL OF GONDOLIN is a beautiful story, though like its predecessors in this unofficial three-book series (THE CHILDREN OF HÚRIN and BEREN AND LÚTHIEN being the others), it is layered with dark and sorrowful themes and events. The book, also like the other installments, is not just one story. It is the Tale of the Fall itself, but also variants, including "The Last Version," which is tremendously compelling and among some of Tolkien's most gripping work. And, alas, unfinished.

The story of Gondolin grew in the telling and went through numerous rewrites. Here, in THE FALL OF GONDOLIN, we finally get as close to the full and complete story as we can ever hope to receive. With its multiple variations, it becomes a puzzle whereby readers try to piece together the wider legacy and see what was excised over time.

Gondolin was a fair city, and it is fitting that this beautiful gem should be polished up and delivered for readers to enjoy as the publishing of these old legends draws to a close. It is the well from which Middle-earth was drawn, and all of the great stories we've known sprang from within those walls and grew. It is a heartily fulfilling conclusion, ending where it all began.

Reviewed by Ray Palen and Stephen Hubbard on September 7, 2018

The Fall of Gondolin
written by J. R. R. Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee

  • Publication Date: August 30, 2018
  • Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • ISBN-10: 1328613046
  • ISBN-13: 9781328613042