New Tolkien book on the way
A new Tolkien book is on its way. And by "new" I do of course mean "old" (Calcuttagutta is not in the habit of celebrating newfangled monstrosities; heaven help us when the new Hobbit
film comes out).
I came home from Edinburgh to find this delightful news hidden inside the Tolkien Society bulletin: The big news this time around was the announcement by HarperCollins of the release date (23 May 2013) of a new work by J.R.R. Tolkien. The Fall of Arthur is described as "a work of narrative verse begun by the author before he wrote The Hobbit" (The Bookseller 12/10/2012, p.13). Multiple translations are planned, though "film rights are not being sold". Further details from HarperCollins state that this work recounts the "last campaign of King Arthur", summoned back to Britain from the "threshold of Mirkwood". The new book includes commentary and essays by Christopher Tolkien, who edited the work for publication. The press release from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (the US publishers) includes a quote from Christopher Tolkien.
Some quick googling reveals that if I had done my job as a card-carrying geek (instead of marking essays at all hours of the day and night) I would have known about this some time last month. The Guardian
was on it already in the beginning of October. They even include a short excerpt, from the very beginning of the poem:
Arthur eastward in arms purposed
his war to wage on the wild marches,
over seas sailing to Saxon lands,
from the Roman realm ruin defending.
Thus the tides of time to turn backward
and the heathen to humble, his hope urged him,
that with harrying ships they should hunt no more
on the shining shores and shallow waters
of South Britain, booty seeking
Now, if this reminds you of the poems from the Rohan sections of The Lord of the Rings
, that is probably no coincidence. They employ the same alliterative style:
From dark Dunharrow in the dim morning
with thane and captain rode Thengel's son:
to Edoras he came, the ancient halls
of the Mark-wardens mist-enshrouded;
golden timbers were in gloom mantled.
Farewell he bade to his free people,
hearth and high-seat, and the hallowed places,
where long he had feasted ere the light faded.
Forth rode the king, fear behind him,
fate before him. Fealty kept he;
oaths he had taken, all fulfilled them.
Forth rode Théoden. Five nights and days
east and onward rode the Eorlingas
six thousand spears to Sunlending.
Mundburg the mighty under Mindolluin,
Sea-kings' city in the South-kingdom
Doom drove them on. Darkness took them,
horse and horseman; hoofbeats afar
sank into silence: so the song tells us. (The Return of the King, p.87)
article also observes that the Mirkwood in question is not the forest that is Legolas' home and the heart of The Hobbit
, but rather a conglomeration of trees in Germany somewhere (Saxon lands, you know; we are firmly in Arthuriana, here). This makes perfect sense, as Tolkien discusses the word in a letter to Michael George Tolkien (29 July 1966; letter 289):Mirkwood is not an invention of mine, but a very ancient name, weighted with legendary associations. It was probably the Primitive Germanic name for the great mountainous forest regions that anciently formed a barrier to the south of the lands of the Germanic expansion. In some traditions it became used specially for the boundary between Goths and Huns.
(The Letters of JRR Tolkien
, p. 369)
The quote from Christopher Tolkien in the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt press release, mentioned in the snippet from the Tolkien society, goes as follows:It is well known that a prominent strain in my father’s poetry was his abiding love for the old ‘Northern’ alliterative verse, which extended from the world of Middle-earth (notably in the long but unfinished Lay of the Children of Húrin) to the dramatic dialogue The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth (arising from the Old English poem The Battle of Maldon) and to his ‘Old Norse’ poems The New Lay of the Völsungs and The New Lay of Gudrún (to which he referred in a letter of 1967 as ‘a thing I did many years ago when trying to learn the art of writing alliterative poetry’). In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight he displayed his skill in his rendering of the alliterative verse of the fourteenth century into the same metre in modern English. To these is now added his unfinished and unpublished poem The Fall of Arthur.
I am giddy, naturally.
I just need to forget that HarperCollins is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Again.
Also, where is the Beowulf translation I was promised, dammit?
Tolkien, J.R.R..The Letters of JRR Tolkien
. Humphrey Carpenter and Christopher Tolkien (eds.). London: HarperCollins, 1995
Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Return of the King
. London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1979