Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin

My father said more than once that "The Fall of Gondolin" was the first of the tales of the First Age to be composed, and there is no evidence to set against his recollection. In a letter of 1964 he declared that he wrote it "'out of my head' during sick-leave from the army in 1917," and at other times he gave the date as 1916 or 1916-17. In a letter to me written in 1944 he said: "I first began to write [The Silmarillion] in army huts, crowded, filled with the noise of gramophones": and indeed some lines of verse in which appear the Seven Names of Gondolin are scribbled on the back of a piece of paper setting out "the chain of responsibility in a battalion." The earliest manuscript is still in existence, filling two small school exercise-books; it was written rapidly in pencil, and then, for much of its course, overlaid with writing in ink, and heavily emended. On the basis of this text my mother, apparently in 1917, wrote out a fair copy; but this in turn was further substantially emended, at some time that I cannot determine, but probably in 1919-20, when my father was in Oxford on the staff of the then still uncompleted Dictionary. In the spring of 1920 he was invited to read a paper to the Essay Club of his college (Exeter); and he read "The Fall of Gondolin." The notes of what he intended to say by way of introduction of his "essay" still survive. In these he apologised for not having been able to produce a critical paper, and went on: "Therefore I must read something already written, and in desperation I have fallen back on this Tale. It has of course never seen the light before... . A complete cycle of events in an Elfinesse of my own imagining has for some time past grown up (rather, has been constructed) in my mind. Some of the episodes have been scribbled down... . This tale is not the best of them, but it is the only one that has so far been revised at all and that, insufficient as that revision has been, I dare read aloud."

The tale of Tuor and the Exiles of Gondolin (as "The Fall of Gondolin" is entitled in the early MSS) remained untouched for many years, though my father at some stage, probably between 1926 and 1930, wrote a brief, compressed version of the story to stand as part of The Silmarillion (a title which, incidentally, first appeared in his letter to The Observer of 20 February 1938); and this was changed subsequently to bring it into harmony with altered conceptions in other parts of the book. Much later he began work on an entirely refashioned account, entitled "Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin." It seems very likely that this was written in 1951, when The Lord of the Rings was finished but its publication doubtful. Deeply changed in style and bearings, yet retaining many of the essentials of the story written in his youth, "Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin" would have given in fine detail the which legend that constitutes the brief 23rd chapter of the published Silmarillion, but, grievously, he went no further than the coming of Tuor and Voronwë to the last gate and Tuor's sight of Gondolin across the plain of Tumladen. To his reasons for abandoning it there is no clue.

It is thus the remarkable fact that the only full account that my father ever wrote of the story of Tuor's sojourn in Gondolin, his union with Idril Celebrindal, the birth of Eärendil, the treachery of Maeglin, the sack of the city, and the escape of the fugitives - a story that was a central element in his imagination of the First Age - was the narrative composed in his youth.

Christopher Tolkien (1961) Preface to The Book of Lost Tales 2
Harper Collins

1 comment:

Bilbo Baggins said...

Another great post! Thanks!
Bob+ (BB)