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Tolkien’s Last Book: The Fall of Gondolin

1,085 words

J. R. R. Tolkien (Christopher Tolkien, ed.)
The Fall of Gondolin
New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018

The Fall of Gondolin is Tolkien’s final posthumous publication and the third of his “Great Tales,” alongside The Children of Húrin and Beren and Lúthien. It was compiled and edited by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, and contains multiple versions of the story, accompanied by the younger Tolkien’s commentary and Alan Lee’s sublime illustrations, as well as a list of names and places, additional notes, genealogies, and a glossary.

The centerpiece of the book consists of the original story and the final version, written thirty-five years apart. Christopher Tolkien compares the two in his accompanying essay. All of the material here appears in other collections of Tolkien’s writings (e.g., The Silmarillion, The History of Middle-earth), but grouping them together in one volume allows the reader to compare them more directly and see how the story evolved.

Tolkien began writing The Fall of Gondolin in 1916, making it the first story belonging to the Middle-earth mythos that he ever wrote. Like the other “Great Tales,” it takes place during the First Age, about six thousand years before The Lord of the Rings. Its protagonist is Tuor, son of Huor and cousin of Túrin Turambar. He is visited by Ulmo, Vala of Waters and the “mightiest of all Valar next to Manwë,” who arises from the water amid a storm and instructs him to find Gondolin and tell Turgon, King of Gondolin, to prepare to battle Morgoth. He then embarks on his journey, guided by an Elf called Voronwë.

When Turgon rejects this advice, Tuor tells him to lead the Gondothlim to safety in Valinor. But Turgon insists on remaining in Gondolin. Tuor marries Idril, Turgon’s daughter; their son is Eärendel (later known for his sea voyages and for being the father of Elrond).

The hidden city of Gondolin was founded by Turgon and is located in Beleriand in Middle-earth. It is described as an idyllic city characterized by “fair houses and courts amid gardens of bright flowers” and “many towers of great slenderness and beauty builded of white marble.” Its inhabitants are Noldorin Elves, known for their skill in lore and crafts. They are similar to Europeans in appearance and are described elsewhere as having fair skin, grey/blue eyes, and brown, red, or silver hair. The Gondothlim are also known for their warlike prowess and are skilled archers. They were the only Noldor who did not fall to Morgoth (here called Melko/Melkor) after the catastrophic Battle of Unnumbered Tears. The location of their city remained unknown to Morgoth for nearly four centuries.

The enmity between Morgoth and the Noldor dates back to their days in Valinor. Morgoth envied Noldorin craftsmanship and lusted after the Silmarils (created by Fëanor, son of Finwë, High King of the Noldor). After sowing lies and discord among them, he destroyed the Two Trees of Valinor, killed Finwë, and stole the three Silmarils. Led by Fëanor, the Noldor rebelled against the Valar and pursued Morgoth, crossing the sea to Middle-earth. (These events are detailed in The Silmarillion.)

Gondolin is ultimately betrayed by Turgon’s nephew, Meglin, after he is captured by Orcs. Fearing for his life, he offers to reveal Gondolin’s location to Morgoth and ends up assisting him in his plan to capture the city. Christopher Tolkien calls this “the most infamous treachery in the history of Middle-earth.” Interestingly, Meglin is described as having a swarthy complexion and is rumored to have some Orcish blood.

Morgoth launches an attack on Gondolin with Balrogs, dragons, and Orcs. The ensuing battle is described at length in the earliest version of the story. The Gondothlim fight valiantly, but the battle is a decisive victory for Morgoth. The city goes up in flames, and Turgon is killed. Tuor, Idril, and Eärendel, along with other survivors – including the warrior Glorfindel (whose name means “golden-haired”) – escape through a secret tunnel and flee. They are ambushed by a Balrog and some Orcs. Glorfindel heroically battles the Balrog atop a precipice, perishing in the act. Thorondor (Lord of the Eagles) gives him a proper burial.

Tolkien began writing The Fall of Gondolin while in the hospital after having fought in the Battle of the Somme, and there are echoes of his wartime experiences in the battle scene. This passage evokes the horror of modern technological warfare:

Some were all iron so cunningly linked that they might flow like slow rivers of metal or coil themselves around and above all obstacles before them, and these were filled in their innermost depths with the grimmest of the Orcs with scimitars and spears; others of bronze and copper were given hearts and spirits of blazing fire, and they blasted all that stood before them with the terror of their snorting or trampled whatso escaped the ardour of their breath.

The fall of Gondolin marked Morgoth’s triumph over Middle-earth. He was not defeated until Eärendel persuaded the Valar to unite against Morgoth during the War of Wrath, ushering in the Second Age.

The essential story remains the same across each version presented here, though there are minor differences. The last version is most unlike the others. It depicts Tuor’s meeting with Ulmo and his journey with Voronwë in detail but stops abruptly upon his arrival at Gondolin. This is unfortunate, because it is the most well-written of the lot. The scenes depicting Ulmo’s appearance before Tuor (“clad in a gleaming coat, close-fitted as the mail of a mighty fish, and in a kirtle of deep green that flashed and flickered with sea-fire as he strode slowly toward the land”) and Tuor’s entrance through the seven gates of Gondolin are particularly striking.

As the last Elvish stronghold amid a sea of Balrogs, Orcs, and other mutant creatures, Gondolin cannot help but bring to mind examples of white enclaves located in non-white countries – the Germans in Jamaica, the Poles in Haiti, the Confederates in Brazil, and so forth. None of these groups still exist. It is a very grim prognosis, but whites under such conditions are doomed to the same fate as Gondolin (albeit through the subtler means of miscegenation), and such conditions will eventually become the norm if present trends continue.

I recommend The Fall of Gondolin to all Tolkien fans. The commentary and notes shed light on the story, and it’s interesting to compare the different versions side-by-side. Christopher Tolkien writes that this is “indubitably the last” Tolkien publication. It is really the end of an era.

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23 Comments

  1. Troll King
    Posted September 7, 2018 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Actually most Jews to whom I pose this question answer before I finish speaking. Then they chuckle and say something like, when they begin to know the works of their own masters, then we will fear them.

    • Peter Quint
      Posted September 8, 2018 at 6:40 am | Permalink

      Are you referring to your query below? Is it a maniacal, cacodaemoniacal, laugh? Do you actually talk to the jews about “Lord Of The Rings?” Do you actually talk to jews, are you mad?

  2. Aiser
    Posted September 5, 2018 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Graham,

    As a big fan of the Silmarillion, a book I have read perhaps 3-4 times, I REALLY have to be a grammar Nawtzee about this one.

    “Meglin” is actually spelled “Maeglin”. Unless it is spelled differently in the FOG book.

    cheers.

    • A. Graham
      Posted September 5, 2018 at 7:45 am | Permalink

      He is called “Maeglin” in The Silmarillion and “Meglin” everywhere else.

      A bit pedantic of you, but I’m glad you got it out of your system.

  3. Troll King
    Posted September 4, 2018 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for bringing this book to our attention. The end of an error that started with the Silmarilion back in 1977. When I was little I read silmarilion and was tantalized by the reference to The Fall of Gondolin. He refers you to a yet unpublished book. I assumed book of lost tales was only inchoate versions of silmarillion tales, not realizing until many years later that Fall was in book of lost tales 2! How much more I would have loved it when I was young!

    I believe the Noldor symbolize the Jews, actually. They are dark of hair and specialize in craftsmanship and science, while the golden Vanyar, who are the race of poets, symbolize the English. Morgoth’s destruction of the Noldor is like hitlers destruction of the Jews, and the war of wrath is like world war 2.

    • 1666
      Posted September 6, 2018 at 9:30 am | Permalink

      Tolkien himself was etremely judeophile, many quotes of him reflect that. According to him it´s rather unlikely Noldor or Sauron or other dark charakters or forces symbolize the jews. In his own words there are many parallels between jews and the dwarfs of middle earth.

  4. Voryn Illidari
    Posted September 4, 2018 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    Morgoth sought power over Middle Earth through sheer force, using orcs and Balrogs to batter his foes. Sauron was more Jewey in his tactics, using more corruption and subterfuge to achieve his goals. The end of the Silmarillion, where he allows the Numenoreans to capture him so that he can slowly destroy them from within, is very reminiscent of Jewish tactics to destroy the West. He was also better at entering people’s minds and controlling their thoughts.
    Morgoth is more the external enemy (Islam, Hispanics, Blacks) while Sauron is the internal one (The Jews, our own personal weaknesses, the traitors among us.) Who would you say is the stronger for?

  5. Gnome Chompsky
    Posted September 4, 2018 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    Thank yov for the review. I suspect I may have read all of the source material for this, but certainly enjoyed (not the right word, deeply touched by the ill fate of Turin, far more than in the Silmarillion, and, IIRC, Lost Tales).

    I have the habit of comparing the sons of Tolkien and Herbert. Of course, the latter’s space fantasy is not really to be compared with the lyricism of Tolkien. However, the first three, at least, of the Dune series (possibly to a little later) are pretty good.

    There is a gigantic difference between the respective sons. Christopher Tolkien has dedicated himself to only editing, and possibly to allowing insults to the narrative in films.

    Brian Herbert and his partner in crime Kevin McDonald wrote, or more likely, the latter dictated, largely rubbish.

    However, Christopher Tolkien may made have a little more effort to do something himself, instead of being only his father’s literary executor. … and living off the proceeds.

    I have not seen the bloated trilogy of the novel, The Hobbit, but am pretty sure, from reading, that Christopher would have been able to correct it, if he had wanted, after all, his father wrote it for he and his siblings as children.

    • Marcus Hamilton
      Posted September 5, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

      Sadly, the Tolkien family have no control over any Lord of the Rings or Hobbit spin-off such as films or merchandising. These rights were sold off in the 60s for £10,000. Saul Zentz acquired them in the 70s, and has made millions from licensing ever since.

  6. Peter Quint
    Posted September 4, 2018 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Who do you think was more powerful, Morgoth or Sauron? Remember that Sauron used to work for
    Morgoth/Melkor.

    • Gnome Chompsky
      Posted September 5, 2018 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      Busy day, left it too long, got a timeout.

      Peter, Melkor.Sauron, and Saruman are cast as different classes of being, Melkor being Valar, Sauron and Saruman being Maiar, the former of far more power in the artificial mythos, but diminished by twice having lost his corporeal presence and investing power in the ring. So, in this fictional world, if Saruman had got the ring, maybe he would have been able to cotrol it and Sauron, of course, to evil ends.

      Without the injuries inflicted on the former two, and Sauron having invested power in the ring, that is the order of power. It is also the descending order of power required to defeat them.

      I make one very Counter Currents comment, it irritates me that Tolkien denied any influence from the Niebelungenlied. Was listening tn it and following notes (don’t have a lot of German, esp. in opera voices), some years after having read Tolkien’s then-published work, the influences on Tolkien are very obvious, that he was strenuously denying any is, despite the beauty of his own invented mythos, to his discredit.

      As for Fall of Gondolin, A. Graham, I am not convinced that there could be anything to add to what Christopher Tolkien has already published on, but sure, thanks to your review, I will go to a bookshop that is likely to have it and at least flick through. As I said, The Children of Hurin was a surprisingly good, but so sad (although IMHO, the title was poorly chosen, something like ‘The Dread Fates of Turin Turambar’ would have been more apt).

      • Troll King
        Posted September 6, 2018 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        Sometimes Tolkien abused the works of George Macdonald and er eddison, yet his debt to them is obvious. One can understand distancing himself from Wagner for economic and political reasons. I think I catch occasional Wagnerian quips and allusions in Tolkien. For example, of Morgoth “he had grown so evil that he could no longer create original works but only mockeries of the works of others,” echoes Wagner in an infamous treatise on music, do you think? Also, in a letter he once denied any influence except Haggard. Palpably absurd…he made catagorical statements at times.

        Have you read Worm Ouroboros by er Eddison yet? I think you would really like this book too. The longest epic fantasy before lotr.

        • Gnome Chompsky
          Posted September 9, 2018 at 7:10 am | Permalink

          No, but thank you. Presume that, likely not in any Tokyo lending library, but PD, as it should be after that time, so I will try to look into it on-line or after downloading for reading on electronic dictionary.

          A. Graham is certainly wrong that the Elves were creating the Ents, there are lines to say they (the Ents) were the first of the children of Iluvatar. Although, on second thought, I am also to recall (IiRC), that there is a line where the elves were imparting language to them.

          This of course, is reflecting natural history, although there never were ambulatory trees, trees were around long before mammals. Not plants, sure, but the siime moulds did evolve locomotion, as did some fungi.

          Some plants move indepently of the wind.

      • Troll King
        Posted September 6, 2018 at 8:37 am | Permalink

        Regarding the question of the power of the various characters: Morgoth was the most powerful of the Valar, but his power was delocalized into middle earth and by the end of the story, Eonwe, the greatest of the Maia of Manwë was able to defeat him in single combat. The maiar ranged in power from little(like aiwendel, biology majors always seem dim to me lol)to right next to the valar, but I think any Vala would be greater than any Maia, but maybe not in their fields of specialty. Melian, the first of the maiar of yavanna, was able to vie with Morgoth for a long time, to hold him in check. I think Sauron even diminished without his ring was greater than any of the wizards, since Gandalf feared him even in necromancer stage.

        I will pose this question to counter currents readers to test your Tolkien mettle: what power do the maiar have over mortals(orders from men on down)? Sometimes the higher elves are observed to use it too, but is it an intrinsic ability in them, or do they need something else to do it? Provide examples. If anyone can answer this to my satisfaction, I will give $100 to counter currents.

        • Peter Quint
          Posted September 7, 2018 at 9:07 am | Permalink

          Off the top of my head, I would have to say Saruman’s “voice” as a prime example. When the wizards were sent into middle earth by the Valar to organize whatever forces were present, they were not allowed to lead from the front, only influence with advice, and personality. Although, the “voice” of Gandalf was not effective as Saruman’s, he was able to put his “chess pieces” in motion at the proper time, to the desired effect. I reread the book back in February, so, as for the elfs, their ability to talk something into motion/power was displayed by their use of their voice to bring the trees to life , and create the race of Ents. I would also like to point out that after the battle of the Pelennor Fields, Gandalf counseled the king, and his generals that even if the ring was destroyed that Sauron would not be destroyed, only reduced to “a shadow that gnawed on itself.” Gandalf also counseled them that their battle was not the final battle, just the one that they had been selected to face, to overcome, or fail. Gandalf stressed the fact that the dark force would send champions in the future that others would have to overcome, or fail. That has nothing to do with your question, I just thought I would bring it up. It just suggests to me that there would always be a dark force (the jews) out there plotting our doom. It has been a few years , since I read “The Silmarilion,” but that dark force is Morgoth/Melkor, whatever happened to him?

          • Troll King
            Posted September 7, 2018 at 9:30 am | Permalink

            No. It’s something simple, but is never openly stated and requires some small inference.

          • Peter Quint
            Posted September 8, 2018 at 6:17 am | Permalink

            How about telepathy, or mind control.

        • Peter Quint
          Posted September 7, 2018 at 9:52 am | Permalink

          As to their ability to “spellbind,” neither the wizards, nor the elfs need anything but their little own voices. I may be wrong about the elfs creating the Ents, but they did wake up a whole mess of trees that the Ents in their role as “tree shepards” were able to mobilize into an army.

          • Troll King
            Posted September 9, 2018 at 10:23 am | Permalink

            You are very warm on something, but you need examples and explanations to make me think it’s more than the shotgun approach.

          • Troll King
            Posted September 11, 2018 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

            The answer was looking for was telepathy. For example, when Pipin first looks in the palantir, he sees a figure, presumably sauron, who says in his mind what are you and he has to answer. Later Gandolf knows things that happened to Pepin, and says he talks in his sleep. No, in reality Gandolf is reading his mind while he was asleep. In the story of Beren and Lúthien in silmarillion, Thingol speaks threateningly to Beren and he is cowed, but then looks at Melian and proud words enter his mind. When the fellowship come before Galadriel, She scans their minds for loyalty. Later, she, Elrond and Gandolf speak over distance in their minds.

            So would seen some of the high elves have the ability too. But it’s not intronsic to them, it’s the ones with the Elven rings who are able to do it, Varnya, et al. The rings have the quality that the elevate the order of the individual. Elves wearing the rings function as Maiar. Sauron with his ring is on a level with the Valar.

          • Troll King
            Posted September 12, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            Mind control might be an aspect too. When Sauron commands pippin he has to answer. At the flight to the ford, the ringwraith was commanding Frodo to halt. The ringwraiths are like the elves with rings of power, but they don’t seem to use the ability at other times. Makes sense too that only evil maiar would ever use this aspect of it.

            Did someone tell you guys this? Y’all seem to have someone you consult with. Who was it who explained the scene from The Square?

        • Gnome Chompsky
          Posted September 9, 2018 at 7:23 am | Permalink

          The ability to call on the Valar to intercede at times? The ability to sing or dance things into being as a kind of subcreation at times? I am sure that neither is the answer you want, but both valid.

          In any case, need to do some IRL-related things, then sleep, work tomorrow.

          Your posts are entertaining, but Troll King has a strange meaning on a Tolkien thread. Not ‘net troll.

          • Troll King
            Posted September 9, 2018 at 10:28 am | Permalink

            I reread the section in Unfinished Tales on the wizards or istari, and regarding their power, it said this: the Valar chose spirits similar in order or power to Sauron. Aule Saruman, Manwë Gandalf, Orome alastor. Yavanna prevailed upon aule to take rhadaghast, and alastor took pallando as company. So those two are probably of a lesser order than Sauron.

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