Thoughts: The Fall of Gondolin, by JRR Tolkien

So. Been a while. Moving on.

After frying my brain with Nnedi Okorafor in German, I tret myself to some pure comfort reading, going back to the start of my love affair with the speculative literary genres. When I was seven my dad gave me his copy of The Hobbit and that was that. When I was eleven I borrowed his satisfyingly fat copy of The Lord of the Rings and my mind was blown. That was it. I taught myself (incompetently) the elvish script in which to write all my secrets, and discovered The Silmarillion and invented fanfiction. I wrote terrible epic poetry and filled in gaps and spent altogether too much time thinking about Feanor’s sons (Maedhros 4 lyf, don’t @ me).

It’s probably important to point out that I’m the worst kind of reader – I loved every song in The Lord of the Rings. I would sit and memorise whole stretches from the Lays of Beleriand, which I found in our local library, now sadly gone. I could genuinely recite the whole bit where Sauron and Finrod have their rap battle, right up to And Finrod fell before the throne, which still gives me chills, and about which I could probably talk for hours.

I’m not much of a nerd compared to some, but I am exactly the kind of fantasy reader other fantasy readers think gives them a bad name. Sorry guys. It’s just who I am.

The Fall of Gondolin is a gorgeous illustrated hardback dealing with the end of the city of Gondolin throughout Tolkien’s work. It gathers the different versions of the event in various unfinished poems, putting together the fragments of a full story that was never quite told. The whole history of the writing down of these stories is almost as interesting as the stories themselves, how they were picked up and put down and fought for, and how Tolkien needed to fight against the world as well, the paper shortages after the war that remind us that stories and art aren’t only abstract things. They exist in the world, and to an extent have to abide by its rules.

It’s a book for people who are interested in the deep dive, in nosing around all the nuts and bolts and reading different versions of the same story, in which the most detailed and polished one is frustratingly incomplete. As an amateur writer I love reading drafts anyway, and seeing how someone’s ideas change with time, so if this is you, you might enjoy it. Some knowledge of Middle Earth is necessary, though Christopher Tolkien does a pretty excellent job of keeping it all straight and explaining name changes etc.

All in all I loved The Fall of Gondolin (sorry Gondolin), and I was aware all the time I was reading it that I was enjoying it. There were worthier and more challenging books I could have been reading, but I was too busy indulging that young me, feeding her love of fantasy and worldbuilding, inspiring her to keep fighting that long defeat because it’s all we can do. And maybe teaching my present self a thing or two about striving for excellence in my own writing and stories.

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