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The Fall of Arthur

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Goodreads Choice Award
Winner for Best Poetry (2013)
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.

233 pages, Hardcover

First published May 23, 2013

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About the author

J.R.R. Tolkien

1,081 books68k followers
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien: writer, artist, scholar, linguist. Known to millions around the world as the author of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien spent most of his life teaching at the University of Oxford where he was a distinguished academic in the fields of Old and Middle English and Old Norse. His creativity, confined to his spare time, found its outlet in fantasy works, stories for children, poetry, illustration and invented languages and alphabets.

Tolkien’s most popular works, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are set in Middle-earth, an imagined world with strangely familiar settings inhabited by ancient and extraordinary peoples. Through this secondary world Tolkien writes perceptively of universal human concerns – love and loss, courage and betrayal, humility and pride – giving his books a wide and enduring appeal.

Tolkien was an accomplished amateur artist who painted for pleasure and relaxation. He excelled at landscapes and often drew inspiration from his own stories. He illustrated many scenes from The Silmarillion, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, sometimes drawing or painting as he was writing in order to visualize the imagined scene more clearly.

Tolkien was a professor at the Universities of Leeds and Oxford for almost forty years, teaching Old and Middle English, as well as Old Norse and Gothic. His illuminating lectures on works such as the Old English epic poem, Beowulf, illustrate his deep knowledge of ancient languages and at the same time provide new insights into peoples and legends from a remote past.

Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1892 to English parents. He came to England aged three and was brought up in and around Birmingham. He graduated from the University of Oxford in 1915 and saw active service in France during the First World War before being invalided home. After the war he pursued an academic career teaching Old and Middle English. Alongside his professional work, he invented his own languages and began to create what he called a mythology for England; it was this ‘legendarium’ that he would work on throughout his life. But his literary work did not start and end with Middle-earth, he also wrote poetry, children’s stories and fairy tales for adults. He died in 1973 and is buried in Oxford where he spent most of his adult life.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 549 reviews
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
February 28, 2018
I've read a great many of Tolkien’s works, many of which were published posthumously. This does not always detract from the value of the work. The Children of Hurin and Beren and Luthien are both still fantastic pieces of writing despite the fact that Tolkien never really finished them.

However, they were completely drafted; the entire stories were told and they just needed a final polish and an edit: they were almost ready. Unfortunately, The Fall of Arthur was far from ready. What we have here is but a fragment, the setting of the stage if you like, of what would have been a fully developed epic. This book, and the forty pages of poetry we are given, provides a mere curiosity for the most enthusiastic of Tolkien’s fans, and for the casual reader it would only provide bitter disappointment.

This is not the only case of such a thing in the world of Tolkien fiction, thought it was the worse I have come across. Despite the small amount of original work some of the books contain, they still feel like they belong to Tolkien. This, on the other hand, felt more like a commentary on Tolkien’s work. The writing of his son dominates the book as he tracks the creation and history of the very small amount of writing his farther created here. All in all, Christopher Tolkien is the real author here.

And that saddens me. He has dug deep into the treasure troves of his father’s work, and he has pulled out many shinny gems but on this occasion he has pulled out a piece of pewter, tarnished and grey, and not at all ready for fine company. The glimpse of the epic we see here provides just enough content to demonstrate how fully fleshed out it would have been had Tolkien wanted to finish it. And there’s the rub: it’s all one big tease. I truly would have loved Tolkien to write the entire thing, I think it could have been fantastic.

The Fall of Arthur then is only worth it if you are really invested in Tolkien and even then I think most readers will be dissatisfied with it. Not one I recommend.
Profile Image for William Gwynne.
355 reviews1,480 followers
May 24, 2022
I now have a YouTube channel that I run with my brother, called 'The Brothers Gwynne'. Check it out - The Brothers Gwynne

My full review for this wonderful creation is on BookNest - BookNest - The Fall of Arthur

The Fall of Arthur is an epic poem recounting the end of the tale of Arthur, left unfinished, but still managing to feel complete and amazing.

"Wild rode the wind though the West country.
Banners were blowing, black was the raven
they bore as blazon. Blaring of trumpets,
neighing of horses, gnashing of armour,
in the hoar hollows of the hills echoed .
Mordred was marching; messengers speeding
northward and eastward the news bearing
through the land of Logres. Lords and chieftains
to his side he summoned swift to hasten
their tryst keeping, true to Mordred,
faithful in falsehood, foes of Arthur,
lovers of treason and freebooters"

This epic poem is about one of my favourite subjects and legends of all time. I have always been obsessed and enamoured by the tales of Arthur, and this is no exception.

Tolkien's prose in this epic poem is purely exceptional. Inspiring, immersive, beautiful. Just so brilliant. I loved every page of it. Really cannot give it enough praise. The characters are instantly given an incredible depth that made me fall in love with the characters, despite the short time spent with them.

This is a tale of heroism and tragedy, not made boring by the context of former tales. Tokien adds his own spin and image to the tale, making it different, while containing all that is brilliant and wonderful within the stories.

To any lovers of Arthurian tales, which I imagine is most, I would recommend this poem. It is easy to comprehend, and is only short. Please read it!

Profile Image for Nicky.
4,138 reviews1,009 followers
December 4, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Alejandro.
1,129 reviews3,553 followers
April 22, 2016
It wasn't a book that I really enjoyed much.


I was really eager to read it since I found so awesome the idea of reading a "new" book by JRR Tolkien.

Something that I'd never think that it could be possible.

Of course, I know that it was thanks to the editing of his son, Christopher Tolkien.

But still, it was a "new" book by Tolkien.


I found interesting some information of the legend of King Arthur in the further notes by Tolkien's son, however the verses themselves by JRR Tolkien were written in an English so old that I hardly could make some sense out of was happening in the narrative. In all cases, they were the afternotes by Tolkien's son were I understood what supposed to happening on the verses.

Also, a key factor of reading this book was the mention that there was a connection between the events here and the epic saga of The Lord of the Rings.

However, I was expecting something more insightful about the connection of Arthur's legend and the Middle-Earth's stories, but the connection mentioned here was something that I already figured it out before and I heard it in some other TV documentary about it.

Nevertheless, it's great to add of some Tolkien's work in my list of already read books.

Profile Image for Florencia.
649 reviews1,912 followers
January 27, 2018
This is the first time I read Tolkien. I'm one of those heartless people that haven't read The Lord of the Rings yet. This book caught my attention because I love the legend of King Arthur. I became a bit obsessed with it during my early years (actually, anything Middle Ages related; again, yes, I was a very popular kid at school, you can imagine...; I sang BSB songs to seem more normal—yes, that was normal back then!). I even created a website and wrote a couple of short stories that never saw the light of day (and never will). So, I thought this book was going to be an amazing ride. However, it was more like those little walks you take after eating an enormous amount of food and you can hardly move a toe.

There are few pages written by Tolkien and the rest is all about notes, and footnotes and handnotes and necknotes written by his son, Christopher. I must admit I skipped some of those fascinating notes, but others were quite helpful. This was written in Old English and three verses contained a lot of words I've never heard of. So you can imagine how I suffered, considering that I can barely write a couple of coherent sentences in this language (or my language, for that matter). After reading those notes, I understood more.

There are several aspects of the Arthurian legends that are not in the poem. Here we have Arthur, Gawain, his nephew and other knights that went to fight the Saxons but had to come back thanks to good old pal Mordred. Aww, family. Sweet Guinevere made an appearance also, like a beautiful woman "world walking for the woe of men" without shedding any tear. Something that interested Mordred, quite a bit.
His bed was barren; there black phantoms of desire unsated and savage fury in his brain had brooded till bleak morning.

The Fifty Shades of Grey of those days, apparently.

All in all, the poem is beautiful, powerful and evocative.
"Cold blew the wind, keen and wintry, in rising wrath from the rolling forest among roaring leaves. Rain came darkly, and the sun was swallowed in sudden tempest."

It's like we're privileged witnesses of those detailed descriptions, those vivid images that Tolkien is narrating. I imagined every verse. I loved it; it's a shame he couldn't finish it. And, well... I kind of forgot about the rest of the book.

I just can't help the feeling of being tricked.

Jan 09, 14

* Also on my blog.
Profile Image for Nikola Pavlovic.
276 reviews40 followers
April 9, 2021
Bas sam uzivao u ovoj knjizi.
Tolkinovi nedovrseni "stihovi" (verses) o Arturovom posednjem pohodu, Mordredovom izdajstvu, Sir Gawain-ovom junastvu, Lanselotovoj i Gvinervinoj kratkoj ljubavi su zaista ocekivano dobri. Oni jesu okosnica ove knjige i razlog njenog nastanka ali podjednako zadovoljstvo mi je pricinilo i sve ono sto je sledilo iza njih. Konacno sam na jedan dobar, mogao bih reci ispravan nacin upoznao mit o Arturu i Avalonu, njegovu radnju i mesto u mitologiji. Hvala Kristoferu Tolkinu na tome.
Profile Image for Jessica.
Author 31 books5,634 followers
August 24, 2018
Not to make you jealous or anything, but I bought this at the Bodleian Library gift shop after going through the Tolkien art exhibit. I had no idea what it was, except that it was recently published, and was touted as the only time he "took on" the Arthurian legend. I am not at all disappointed in this purchase, just as I am not disappointed in the bookmark, bracelet, and print I also purchased . . . but that's another story!

The first sixty pages or so are the poem, written in Saxon alliterative style, of the last days of Arthur. After there, son Christopher takes over and talks about the different drafts, where the ending might have headed, what the sources were, and so forth. Fascinating stuff, whether you're into Tolkien, poetry, Old English, King Arthur . . . there's really a lot going on for all kinds of people. I thought the little moments of Christopher's frustration (with his father quitting the poem, with his father's handwriting) were quite great. But what I really liked was the appendix, largely taken from one of Tolkien Senior's own lectures about Anglo Saxon poetry. That was truly fascinating stuff, and I had no idea about any of it. (And I say this as someone who has read the Norse sagas in the original language.)
Profile Image for Stefan Yates.
220 reviews51 followers
March 25, 2023
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.
1 review
Want to read
January 4, 2013
Mirkwood is a forest in Saxon Germany NOT Middle-Earth contrary to popular belief. EVERYBODY NEEDS TO KNOW THIS, MIRKWOOD IN THIS BOOK IS IN GERMANY NOT IN MIDDLE-EARTH

Profile Image for Evripidis Gousiaris.
229 reviews95 followers
September 10, 2016
Αισθάνομαι άσχημα που βάζω 4 σε βιβλίο που φέρνει το όνομα του καθηγητή Tolkien. Δυστυχώς όμως το σύνολο του βιβλίου δεν ήταν για 5.

Οι πρώτες 57 σελίδες είναι το κανονικό ποίημα το οποίο αξίζει 5 αστέρια. Γραμμένο σε παρηχητικό μέτρο και με εξαίσιο (αν και αρκετά δύσκολο) λεξιλόγιο καταφέρνει να σε μαγέψει όπως κάθε άλλη δουλειά του Tolkien.

Το υπόλοιπο βιβλίο είναι σχόλια του Christopher Tolkien (γιος του συγγραφέα) ο οποίος αναλύει το έργο, μεταφέρει παραπάνω πληροφορίες και παρουσιάζει διάφορες επιπλέον σημειώσεις του πατέρα του για το ποίημα. Όχι ότι αυτές οι σελίδες είναι βαρετές, αλλά δυστυχώς φαίνεται ότι δεν είναι γραμμένες εξ ολοκλήρου από το χέρι του καθηγητή.

Ελπίζω το Beowulf να είναι καλύτερο σαν σύνολο βιβλίου :)
Profile Image for Marcos GM.
278 reviews100 followers
January 28, 2023

La Caída de Arturo, única incursión de J. R .R. Tolkien en las leyendas del rey Arturo de Bretaña, puede ser considerado su mayor logro en el uso del metro aliterado en inglés antiguo. Una obra en la que consiguió comunicar la sensación de inevitabilidad y de gravedad de los acontecimientos: de la expedición de Arturo a las lejanas tierras paganas, de la huida de la reina Ginebra de Camelot, de la gran batalla naval al regreso de Arturo a Bretaña.

Esto es lo que nos cuenta la sinopsis, y es lo que habría sido de haber sido un trabajo terminado. Pero, y aunque lo indica como tal en el propio libro, no deja de ser una obra inacabada, o más bien dicho, abandonada. Y es una pena, puesto que lo que podemos ver es muy bueno, una lástima que no siguiese con ello (o quizá no, si hubiese repercutido en tener otra versión de El señor de los anillos)

Este libro es un trabajo de Chistopher Tolkien en el que nos presenta parte del poema que sí estaba "finalizado", y luego nos va contando su evolución a raíz de otros textos iniciales, notas manuscritas que lo van corrigiendo, o comentarios sobre lo que pretendía hacer para el final. Es muy similar en formato a otras obras como Beren y Lúthien o La caída de Gondolin, aunque su mayor valor radica en la forma de escribirlo, que en este caso particular es, según se indica, usando el verso aliterativo del inglés antiguo. Mi conocimiento en poesía es nulo, por lo que no sé si es plenamente cierto, pero durante el análisis se hace mucha referencia a ello, incluso comparando el poema con otras obras. También decir que el poema viene en el libro tanto en su versión original como en la traducida, para poder ver ambas formas a la vez.

En otra de las partes de libro se compara este poema con posteriores obras de Tolkien, en las que toma ideas y formas, así como nombres y palabras que luego podemos reconocer en El Silmarillion o en Las Baladas de Beleriand. Cierra la obra un apéndice y una nota de los traductores explicando un poco el proceso, que fácil no ha debido ser, y de dónde vienen ciertas referencias que se usan durante toda la obra.

En el apartado negativo, tengo una queja particular, que no sé si es cosa mía o de la obra, y es que en las múltiples comparativas entre unas versiones y otras, se dan las referencias de las páginas para poderlo consultar, pero no coincide ni una, y no sé si lo miro yo mal o es cosa de la edición. Además, es una obra complicada por el escaso material de origen, por lo que solo es para gente muy interesada en el tema, o como se dice, café para muy cafeteros. No ha sido mala lectura para nada, pero no es para todo el mundo.

Para cerrar, una imágen de la que se toma el sello principal para la portada, que me ha gustado mucho:



The Fall of Arthur, the only venture by J.R.R. Tolkien into the legends of Arthur, king of Britain, may well be regarded as his finest and most skillful achievement in the use of Old English alliterative meter, in which he brought to his transforming perceptions of the old narratives a pervasive sense of the grave and fateful nature of all that is told: of Arthur’s expedition overseas into distant heathen lands, of Guinevere’s flight from Camelot, of the great sea battle on Arthur’s return to Britain, in the portrait of the traitor Mordred, in the tormented doubts of Lancelot in his French castle.

This is what the synopsis tells us, and it is what it would have been if it had been a finished work. But, and although it is indicated as such in the book itself, it is still an unfinished work, or rather, abandoned. And it is a pity, since what we can see it is very good, a pity that he did not continue with it (or maybe not, if it had an impact on having another version of The Lord of the Rings)

This book is a work by Christopher Tolkien in which he presents us with part of the poem that was "finished", and then tells us about its evolution as a result of other initial texts, handwritten notes that correct it, or comments on what J.R.R. Tolkien intended do to with the ending. It is very similar in format to other works such as Beren and Lúthien or The Fall of Gondolin, although its greatest value lies in the way of writing it, which in this particular case is, according to the book, using the Old English alliterative verse. My knowledge of poetry is nil, so I don't know if it's completely true, but during the analysis a lot of reference is made to it, even comparing the poem with other works. Also (in my edition, translated into spanish) the poem comes in the book both in its original version and in the translated one, to be able to see both forms at the same time.

In another part of the book, this poem is compared with later works by Tolkien, in which he takes on ideas and writing forms, as well as names and words that we can later recognize in The Silmarillion or in The Ballads of Beleriand for example. The book closes with an appendix and a note from the translators explaining a bit about the process, it shouldn't have been easy, and where certain references that are used throughout the work come from.

In the negative section, I have a particular complaint, which I don't know if it is mine or the book, and that is that in the multiple comparisons between some versions and others, the page references that are given so it can be consulted does not coincide, and I don't know if I'm looking at it wrong or it's a matter of editing. In addition, it is a complicated work due to the scarce source material, so it is only for people who are very interested in the subject, or as they say, coffee for very coffee lovers. It's not a bad read at all, but it's not for everyone.

As a closure, the cover detail is a part of a sarcophagus, which I really liked, so I leave here the full image:

1,148 reviews25 followers
August 13, 2016

Impassioned nuances and provocative profundity pierce you to the core, as you plunge within the Arthurian mythologies and legends!

Buried within these three highly illuminating essays, {which explore the literary world of King Arthur}, is the deeper meaning of each individual verse revealed with such sublime clarity.

JRR Tolkien’s unfinished work is a treasure trove of revelatory, fascinating delights akin to Sir Gwain and the Green Knight -- or even other published masterworks such as the Silmarillion or anglo saxon poetry Beowulf.. as it contains such intriguing links to his epic Lord of the Rings trilogy and entire mythology that he created, as a whole.

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As I assiduously study linguistics {and as a literature theoretician!}, I found Tolkien’s aspect on Middle-English and how our language has evolved over time, utterly intriguing to read.

“Our language now has become quick-moving..
The language of our forefathers was slow, very sonorous, and was intensely packed and concentrated”
- Quote

Hence, this comprehensive compendium of factual erudition and mythological references will delight the astute philosopher in equal measure to the regular reader!

What I revelled in most was JRR Tolkien’s representation of the Lady Guinevere; whose unwavering love and internal strength continues to embolden..

Dear she loved him
with love unyielding,

Lady ruthless/ for the woe of men

From war she shrank not, / might her will conquer,
Life both and love / with delight keeping
To wield as she wished / while the world lasted;

In storm of darkness / In pain they parted

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..If you play with Fire you get burnt! (proverb)

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Profile Image for Sørina.
Author 7 books152 followers
June 25, 2013
This is an AMAZING work that should change Tolkien and Inklings studies forever! Here are my three pieces on "The Fall of Arthur," all together in one place: http://theoddestinkling.wordpress.com.... There is a pre-review in which I predicted what I thought the book would be like, before reading it. There is a follow-up blog post in which I say how well I did in my predictions (not very well!). And then there's my official review. Enjoy!
Profile Image for Laura Jelenkovich.
Author 10 books31 followers
November 8, 2015
Leggerlo in inglese è stato decisamente interessante e difficile. Indubbiamente un bel lavoro, peccato sia rimasto incompleto. Ho trovato soprattutto molto importanti le note del figlio di Tolkien, sicuramente un aiuto alla lettura, ma un insight profondo su tutto l'universo tolkeniano. Voglio approfondire il discorso Avalon e cercare di trovare interconnessioni con gli altri aspetti mitologici
Profile Image for Terence.
1,160 reviews387 followers
December 14, 2013
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Fall of Arthur. I’ve never been a fan of Tolkien as poet and, as a rule, skim through the examples that crop up in his prose or that are reproduced in the History of Middle-earth volumes. But I was intrigued by the subject and by what Tolkien may have made of the Matter of Britain (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight doesn’t count since it’s a translation of an existing poem).

Unfortunately, The Fall of Arthur is incomplete. Tolkien only completed four cantos (in several versions which Christopher Tolkien exhaustively presents) but what’s there suggests an original retelling of the war between Arthur and his son Mordred. The first cantos opens with Arthur fighting in the unmapped east when he learns of Mordred’s treachery; the second introduces Arthur’s son, his motivations for rebellion, and the queen and her motivations; the third cantos takes us to Lancelot, who languishes in Benwick mourning his fate; the fourth cantos describes Arthur’s initial landing at Romney in Kent and the ensuing battle with the rebels (not Camlann, though; Tolkien never got that far).

I was especially interested in Tolkien’s portrayal of Guinever. As I read the poem, she’s a cold, grasping, shallow woman who even in the face of the ruin of the king’s dreams shows no remorse:

/ His heart returned
To its long thralldom / lust-tormented,
To Guinever the golden / with gleaming limbs,
As fair and fell / as fay-woman
In the world walking / for the woe of men
No tear shedding….

In her blissful bower / on bed of silver
Softly slept she / on silken pillows
With long hair loosened, / lightly breathing,
In fragrant dreams / fearless wandering,
Of pity and repentance / no pain feeling,
In the courts of Camelot / queen and peerless,
Queen unguarded….
(II.25-30, 32-38)

/ But cold silver
Or glowing gold / greedy-hearted
In her fingers taken / fairer thought she,
More lovely deeming / what she alone treasured
Darkly hoarded. / Dear she loved him
With love unyielding, / lady ruthless
Fair as fay-woman / and fell-minded
In the world walking / for the woe of men….

From war she shrank not, / might her will conquer,
Life both and love / with delight keeping
To wield as she wished / while the world lasted;
But little liked her / lonely exile,
Or for love to lose / her life’s splendour.
In sorrow they parted. / With searing words
His wound she probed / his will searching.
Grief bewrayed her / and greed thwarted;
The shining sun / was sudden shaded
In storm of darkness…. / In pain they parted….
(III.49-56, 97-106, 109)

I would recommend this for the Tolkien and/or Arthurian lit reader.
Profile Image for Michael F.
48 reviews
April 22, 2019
“In my view, one of the most grievous of his many abandonments.” Thus Christopher Tolkien concludes one of his commentaries on “The Fall of Arthur”, and I am inclined to agree with him.

I don’t know how to rate this, as it’s an odd sort of book, so I’ll just give a brief summation of its contents, along with my thoughts.

The main matter is Tolkien’s unfinished poem “The Fall of Arthur”, written in the Anglo-Saxon verse form, (but in modern English). It is 40 pages long, and is around a half or a third of the length it would have been if completed. It is magnificent and evocative poetry, and it’s fascinating to see Tolkien’s grand and melancholy style turned on the Arthur story.
To my admittedly inexpert ear, the poem also manages to capture much of the sound and feel of Anglo-Saxon verse, with none of the jingly quality that plagues lesser alliterative poetry.

The rest of the book consists of a series of commentaries on the poem by Christopher Tolkien. The first is a through and interesting look at Tolkien’s sources for the poem, and how it fits into the broader Arthurian tradition.
The second is a tantalizing glimpse at Tolkien’s intentions for the unfinished part of the poem.
Of interest to the Silmarillion buff, it also contains some examination of the connection between the Isle of Avalon in Arthurian legend and the Isle of Tol Eressëa in Tolkien’s mythos.
The third is an examination of the development of the poem, in the ‘leave no scrap unpublished’ style familiar to readers of the History of Middle-Earth series. As my case of Tolkien nerdery is not quite advanced enough to make me want to read every draft of everything he ever wrote, I merely skimmed this section. It would be of interest to someone studying Tolkien’s creative process.
Finally, there is a bit at the the end taken from a lecture by Tolkien on Anglo-Saxon poetry.

Overall, I would recommend this book to anyone obsessed with at least two of the following three things: Tolkien, Arthurian legend, or alliterative poetry. The poem itself in particular is worth reading; it’s just unfortunate that it was never completed.
Profile Image for Miles Cameron.
Author 18 books2,318 followers
August 9, 2013
This is a brilliant evocation of the Arthurian, with shadows that are dark, presages of Middle-earth, and a stunning indictment of those who say that Tolkien cannot write women. My favorite book this year.
Profile Image for Roxana Chirilă.
1,009 reviews127 followers
February 5, 2019
"Thus Arthur in arms eastward journeyed,
and war awoke in the wild regions.
Halls and temples of the heathen kings
his might assailed marching in conquest
from the mouths of the Rhine o'er many kingdoms.


Foes before them, flames behind them,
ever east and onward eager rode they,
and folk fled them as the face of God,
till earth was empty, and no eyes saw them,
and no ears heard them in the endless hills"

Like many other authors I've heard of, J.R.R. Tolkien had a lot of projects he never finished - "The Fall of Arthur" among them. An alliterative poem about king Arthur started before "The Lord of the Rings" and later abandoned, it's now been edited and published by his son, Christopher Tolkien, based on his father's notes and manuscripts.

"The Fall of Arthur" is nowhere near complete, and while the book itself is over 200 pages, the poem in itself only takes up 40 of them. 40 sonorous pages, with the ring of Anglo-Saxon saga to them, epic and a pleasure to read out loud (especially if you're in the sort of mood in which you'd want to read poetry out loud because it sounds cool).

Christopher Tolkien fills in the blanks: he devotes a fairly long essay to the early history of the Arthurian legend, starting from "Historia regum Britanniae", a pseudohistorical account of British kings written by Geoffrey of Monmouth in 1136, in which King Arthur defeats the Roman Emperor and does other very unlikely feats of might (Apparently, making up stuff and claiming it really happened in history is a very old hobby.), and going through various texts called "The Death of Arthur", both prose and verse (apparently, writing about Arthur's death is also a very old hobby).

It's quite interesting, if you don't know much about the literary development of Arthur and his knights (which indeed I didn't).

He also delves into the connection that "The Fall of Arthur" has with the rest of Tolkien's works - like it being related to the Silmarillion in an early phase. Then there are also a bunch of older variations of the text, and notes J.R.R. Tolkien made for continuing it, as well as a bit of an explanation about alliterative poetry and how it works, in J.R.R. Tolkien's own words.

The poem itself is rather a teaser for a greater work that will never happen, so that can be frustrating, but the book itself is interesting, both for the info about king Arthur's literary evolution, and for the process of creating a poem such as this, which is pieced together by Christopher Tolkien.
Profile Image for Mihai Zodian.
55 reviews44 followers
July 11, 2022
A well-known story, and yet it manages to impress. This review is, of course, about the work itself, which remained unfinished. But it is also about Christopher Tolkien`s impressive effort to interpret his father perspective.

First, the significance. There is a contemporary line of study which compares Tolkien`s major works with the Arthurian universe. See here The Inklings and King Arthur: J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain. The Fall of Arthur was important in this aspect.

Next, Christopher Tolkien`s contribution was twofold. He reconstituted the overall of his father poem. This required full knowledge of both manuscripts and Arthurian works.

The second contribution, an important, somehow famous chapter on the Round Table`s legendarium influence upon Middle-Earth, especially on Silmarillion. There are two kinds. One, direct, in some names and plots, and a mediated, in the outline.

Whether you enjoy myths, the fantasy genre, maybe the Fate anime and visual novels, The Fall of Arthur offers an interesting reading. It is an unfinished poem, based somehow on an older version of the legend, modified by J.R.R. Tolkien, and a modern reader may have an issue with the Old English alliterative verse. But it has beauty and vision.
Profile Image for Robert.
816 reviews44 followers
October 31, 2013
There are several sections comprising this book and my responses to them were varied.

Starting at the beginning there is the poem - or incomplete fragment there-of. It was never finished, like so many of Tolkien's projects. In my opinion, most of Tolkien's best work was left in an unfinished state at his death: The best stories are all in the Silmarillion, no complete version of which was extant at the time of Tolkien's demise. Instead a heap of fragments in prose and various verse forms co-exist, showing an enormous evolution over pretty much the whole of Tolkien's adult life.


See the complete review here:

Profile Image for Sarah Garner.
79 reviews18 followers
November 18, 2017
I only read the poem. I couldn't be bothered to read the stuff by Christopher Tolkien as it seemed pointless, the poem should have been published on its own.
Profile Image for Kailey (Luminous Libro).
2,916 reviews443 followers
May 20, 2023
In the 1930s, Tolkien began work on an epic alliterative poem about King Arthur's downfall. It was never finished, but Christopher Tolkien provides notes and explanations about the lines that we do have.

The actual poem only takes up about 45 pages in this book. It is beautiful and haunting and wild. The patterns in the alliteration are woven together in this tapestry of words that powerfully tell the story of Arthur and his knights, of Mordred and Lancelot and Guinevere, and the last days of the Round Table. I read most of it out loud to myself, because the words drip like honey, rich and resonant. It is meant to be read out loud!

The next chapter of the book explores old versions of the Arthur tale from Sir Thomas Malory and Geoffrey of Monmouth. We get to learn about the traditions of the legend of King Arthur and his knights, and how the legend changed throughout the centuries. There are some details from old poems that Tolkien chose to include in his own rendition of Arthur's story, but there were also a lot of plot points that he ignored in favor of focusing more on specific characters like Lancelot or Gawain. He also adds a more clear portrait of Guinevere than the older poems did, adding more of her perspective and her feelings.

The next chapter dives into Tolkien's imagination and how his work on the Silmarillion was connected with Arthur's last journey to Avalon. Avalon is mirrored in Tolkien's Lonely Isle of Tol Eressea at the edge of Valinor. There are a lot of parallels between Arthurian legends, legends about Atlantis, and Tolkien's islands of Numenor and Tol Eressea in the Silmarillion. We get to learn some of the little details in these stories that show the way Tolkien's imagination was connecting different threads of ideas.

There is a whole section devoted to explaining the various drafts of Tolkien's unfinished poem and small changes that were added in each draft. There are a few notes outlining the direction the story would have taken if Tolkien could have finished it, with Arthur sailing into the West to find healing in Avalon, and Lancelot following him in despair seeking forgiveness, with neither of them to ever return.

There is also a small appendix talking about the alliterative poetic style and how it developed in the early days of Britain around and before 1066. I found this very interesting, because he analyzes the patterns and meter of the style and gives some examples from ancient poems and then compares those patterns to Tolkien's epic poem here. It was really cool to dive into the poetic structure and realize just how brilliant Tolkien was to construct these complex and beautiful lines, and make it seem so effortless and natural because it flows along so gracefully.

I enjoyed reading this book! It's such a pity that the poem was never finished.
Profile Image for Sansael.
96 reviews9 followers
October 6, 2018
Неймовірна книга. Купуючи її, я бачила ім'я "Толкін" і для мене цього було достатньо. Та я не знала, що саме купую. Виявилось, незавершену сагу і "дипломну роботу" до неї. Та і в такому вигляді книга мене не розчарувала. Толкін і тут себе виправдав, і Крістофер просто молодець, виконавши цю дослідницьку роботу і опублікувавши її. Можу лише подякувати йому. Я багато дізналась про традицію Артуріанської саги і англійського вірша як такого.
Profile Image for Max.
750 reviews19 followers
December 12, 2021
Pretty unfinished draft of a poem Tolkien wrote. It's well researched by his son, Christopher, and he kind of writes it into a flowing story. However, for my liking, the poem is a little too unpolished. Entertaining, but I will not reread this.
Profile Image for Sara Saif.
543 reviews222 followers
August 29, 2016

Now that I’ve seen all five seasons of Merlin, it seemed like the perfect time to read this. Arthurian legend is fascinating and I knew absolutely nothing about it when I started watching the show. The creators of the show twisted all the legends into something completely different, that I realized after reading The Fall of Arthur. There is no mention whatsoever of Merlin. It concerns mainly Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Gawain and Mordred.

I didn’t know that it was in the form of poetry. It’s written by J.R.R Tolkien and like most of his posthumously published works, it has a commentary by Christopher Tolkien. If it hadn’t been for that, I would have understood very little. He not only describes, briefly but concisely, the Arthurian myths and legends, but also the relation between The Fall of Arthur and other Arthurian works and a brief introduction to Old English and Alliterative poetry, in which it is written. We’re also given a few pages worth of the account of the changes made to the verses by Tolkien overtime.

The poem itself is not that long because of the fact that it is unfinished. There are five Cantos about 200 verses each except for the last one that has only 60.

Canto I: How Arthur and Gawain went to war and rode into the East.
Canto II: How the Frisian ship brought news, and Mordred gathered his host and went to Camelot seeking the queen.
Canto III: Of Sir Lancelot, who abode in Benwick.
Canto IV: How Arthur returned at morn and by Sir Gawain’s hand won the passage of the sea.
Canto V: Of the setting of the sun at Romeril.

The added bits by Christopher Tolkien are what give the book its length. While reading it you get an idea of just how unimaginably MASSIVE J.R.R. Tolkien’s body of work really is.

So, yeah. I definitely enjoyed it and got to learn a bit more about the legend of Arthur but constant references to and comparisons with Tolkien’s other works confused me sometimes.

Profile Image for Ron.
Author 1 book140 followers
March 31, 2023
faith was refused him who had faith broken

Tolkien’s unfinished literary experiment in rendering the classic tale in alliterative verse, the style used by Old English author’s such as the writer of Beowulf.

Now in haste is hope! While hate lingers,
and uncertain counsel secret ponders,
as wroth as wind let us ride westward,
and sail over sea with sudden vengeance!’

The extra spaces midline indicate the division of the alliterative phrases. Not as hard to read as one might fear. Tolkien got a lot of meaning into a few words.

the ancient world to its end falling,
and the tides of time turned against him.
thou wilt find thy friends as foes meet thee.

Tolkien’s text constitutes one-third of the volume. The rest is footnotes and reflections. His book Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, together with Sellic Spell explains the mechanics of alliterative verse.

There was woe in Britain and the world faded;
bells were silent, blades were ringing
hell’s gate was wide and heaven distant.
Profile Image for Elisabetta.
437 reviews60 followers
November 7, 2019
Sicuramente nessuno può mettere in dubbio che Tolkien fosse un grande della letteratura, un genio si può dire, avendo creato una nuova lingua per i suoi libri...
La caduta di Artù è un ulteriore prova della sua bravura.

Tuttavia se ho apprezzato la prima parte dove c'è il poema, non sono riuscita ad apprezzare la seconda parte dove c'erano le spiegazioni.
È bello vedere cosa c'è dietro un opera, ma vederlo nei più piccoli particolari mi fa tornare alle superiori, quando si doveva trovare il senso della poesia e spiegare il perché avesse scritto ciò che ha scritto.. sicuramente è interessante per chi studia o ha studiato letteratura, ma per chi è un semplice appassionato e cerca l'avventura, una dilungazione sulle varie stesure del poema non aggiunge nulla alla bellezza del testo, anzi lo seppellisce sotto una miriade di parole.

Tolkien è indescrivibile. La sua mente andava velocissima e non c'era limite alla sua creatività. Questo lo so, lo conosco da tempo, ma i testi del genere, intendendo con questo le spiegazioni della creazione, non sono nelle mie corde.
Profile Image for Brian .
414 reviews5 followers
October 23, 2021
The end seems abrupt. I enjoyed the story in poetic flow. It inspired me to read more of the Arthurian Legend. It has a "feel" to it unique to those stories. I felt the entertainment level matches Tolkien's other translations (perhaps to a lesser degree) so it may be more an educational experience. Anything and everything by or about Tolkien works just fine for me.

I borrowed this from my library through Hoopla.
Profile Image for Sud666.
1,944 reviews158 followers
June 10, 2017
`Gawain loudly cried as a clarion. Clear went his voice
in the rocks ringing above roaring wind
and rolling thunder: 'Ride, forth to war,
ye hosts of ruin, hate proclaiming!
Foes we fear not, nor fell shadows
of the dark mountains demon-haunted!
Hear now ye hills and hoar forest,
ye awful thrones of olden gods
huge and hopeless, hear and tremble!
From the West comes war that no wind daunteth,
might and purpose that no mist stayeth;
lord of legions, light in darkness,
east rides Arthur!' Echoes were wakened.
The wind was stilled. The walls of rock
'Arthur' answered.

The Fall Of Arthur as done by J.R.R. Tolkein in Old English alliterative meter. To use Tolkein's own words : "...the ancient English measure which had descended from antiquity, that kind of verse which is now called 'alliterative'. It aimed at quite different effects from those achieved by the rhymed and syllable-counting meters derived from France and Italy..."

Thus are we treated to not only The Fall of Arthur, which remains unfinished and to Chris Tolkein's interesting notes on his father's work and the differences between this version and that one by Geoffry of Monmouth and other versions. Plus there are notes on the unwritten poem and the evolution of the poem.

This is not for everyone, but I truly enjoyed it. Tolkein's Fall of Arthur is grim and seems to lack the "too goodly" heroic version of Arthur. It is certainly worth a read for anyone who is interested in Tolkein's brilliance, outside of LOTR, or the Legend of Arthur. This version needs to be ranked up there with the best of Geoffry and Malory. It also has some very interesting notes and articles about the different versions and detailed end notes about the poem.
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