British readers are reminded by Tolkien Society chairman Shaun Gunner that a brand new J.R.R. Tolkien epic, The Fall of Arthur, will be released in that country on May 23. (The book was released in the U.S. yesterday.)
We are all used to seeing Tolkien’s stories set in Middle-earth, but this is the first time we’ve ever seen Tolkien write about legendary Britain. We know Tolkien loved the powerful alliterative verse of Anglo-Saxon epics so Tolkien’s own re-imagining of Arthur’s downfall in this format will make for an interesting read. This is fundamentally important in terms of considering Tolkien’s academic career and his wider creative process, but it will also be fascinating to see how The Fall of Arthur – written before The Hobbit – may have parallels in Tolkien’s other stories.
It is always important when a new book is published by such a well-known and much-loved author, but this is particularly special due to the poetic format and subject matter. I am in no doubt that we will see the same skill and creativity on display in The Fall of Arthur as in Tolkien’s other works – this book will be a permanent feature of the Arthurian canon for centuries to come and will add to Tolkien’s own reputation as one of the most brilliant writers this country has ever produced.
HarperCollins says Tolkien set aside this work to write The Hobbit. It was left untouched for 80 years:
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.
Christopher Tolkien edited the manuscript and wrote three essays for the book, (1) about the literary world of King Arthur, (2) the deeper meaning of the verses, and (3) his father’s work to bring it to a finished form.