The Fall of Gondolin and those 304 pages
So HarperCollins are putting out a Fall of Gondolin volume in August. Part of me is excited, part of me is shrugging, and part of me is profoundly curious.
You see, The Fall of Gondolin is rather like the Holy Grail of Tolkien geekdom – it was his first mythos story, conceived and written during the First World War, but despite it being the dawn of his invented mythology, Tolkien never actually completed a rewrite of it (though he attempted one in the 1950s). Meanwhile, the 1917 version, while epic in scope and conception, fits badly with the material that was later rewritten – it’s a tale famously featuring mechanical dragons, while early Balrogs are utterly expendable. If this volume actually contains something genuinely new, like, say, an unfinished continuation of the 1950s rewrite, then this is monumentally exciting. It’d be like the Tolkien equivalent of a recovery of 1960s Doctor Who episodes.
On the other hand, this might well be another Beren and Lúthien: a useful compendium of rewrites and commentary within the covers of one book. If so, that’s excellent for those who have not read beyond the 1977 Silmarillion – it makes some difficult material accessible – but for those who have read the History of Middle-earth series, it would just be a presentation of previously released material.
I think everyone is hoping for something new, but expecting the compendium of rewrites. This is where things get curious.
You see, the book is listed as having 304 pages. If this is merely another Beren and Lúthien, there are four candidates for inclusion:
- The 1917 original, in all its mechanical dragon glory.
- The 1950s rewrite.
- Silmarillion chapter 23 summary.
- The unpublished (but apparently short) Lay of the Fall of Gondolin.
The original, including commentary, takes up pages 144 to 220 of The Book of Lost Tales Volume II. So 77 pages inclusive.
The rewrite, including commentary, takes up pages 23 to 74 of Unfinished Tales. So 52 pages inclusive.
The Silmarillion chapter is page 287 to 295. 9 pages inclusive.
The aforementioned and unfinished Lay of the Fall of Gondolin is short.
Now that total of 138 pages – which includes Christopher Tolkien’s commentary – plus a short poem, leaves lots of empty pages to get to 304. Short of the book being published in massive font, with the mother of all new introductions from Christopher… the page count issue suggests that there might well be some new material coming down the pipeline.
Fingers crossed for August…