Following the same editorial structure employed in Beren and Lúthien, Christopher Tolkien’s new publication offers readers a detailed look at the evolution of the writing that was to become the main narrative behind the story of Gondolin.
The book presents several iterations of Tuor’s story — the lone man in search of the Hidden City, and his adventures before and during its fall. As with the preceding publication, there is no new material to adorn this book, although The Fall of Gondolin does present the various scattered stories found in The Book of Lost Tales and Unfinished Tales within one collection.
Having said that, as someone who has yet to tackle The History of Middle-earth series, I found the section on the “Earliest Text” to be a truly fantastic read. Having been used to reading the story of Tuor and Gondolin in The Silmarillion — where details about the City’s organisation and the conflict itself are left to the imagination, I was not expecting to read such a dense and telling account. The battle is presented as an almost blow-by-blow narrative of the assault on Gondolin, as page after page we follow the protagonists battling the legions of Orcs, dragons and balrogs laying siege to the City.
This section is followed by other drafts of the story that show the evolution of the tale, and how the battle itself became less and less the centrepiece of the narrative, while Tuor’s own journey becomes more prominent. Christopher Tolkien’s notes and essays have become an essential feature in these posthumous publications — and whilst the editor’s presence is not as evident in The Fall of Gondolin, the section on “The Evolution of the Story” provides for an intriguing look into the shaping of the writing.
New readers not yet acquainted with the history found in The Silmarillion, need not fear. A “Prologue” is presented at the start of the book, which delves into the nature of Tolkien’s First Age, with the necessary background information on the Valar, Beleriand, etc to provide a general understanding of the motivations and characters behind the events that lead to the Fall of Gondolin.
I personally found the “List of Names” to be especially useful and eye-opening. A lot of the characters and place-names are familiar to anyone who has read The Silmarillion, but there were other lesser-known entries that offer further insight into Tolkien’s own thoughts and ideas, as he was developing the story over decades.
Needless to say, it is tradition with each of these publications to feature the exquisite art by Alan Lee. His work has never disappointed, and while I thought Beren and Lúthien‘s artwork was superb, Lee seems to have done the impossible and given us some truly inspiring and breathtaking images.
This might sound like useless advice, but this is a must for any Tolkien reader (considering also that this will be Christopher Tolkien’s last editorial publication). Yet, if you are new to this world and still daunted by the prospect of tackling The Silmarillion, this might be your next step in delving into that ancient and high lore of the First Age (but perhaps best to read this after The Children of Húrin).