continue at The Daily Beast
Early in The Fall of Arthur, long awaited by fans of J.R.R. Tolkien and now edited for publication by his son Christopher, an army rides to Mirkwood where they see in a storm above it, Ringwraith-like:
wan horsemen wild in windy clouds
grey and monstrous grimly riding
shadow-helmed to war, shapes disastrous.
But this isn’t Middle-earth: it is Europe on the brink of the Dark Ages, and the army is led by Arthur and Gawain. Mirkwood is simply the old name for Germany’s eastern forests, which Tolkien borrowed for the children’s story he was writing in the same period in the early 1930s, The Hobbit.
Tolkien was a writer of endless stories. And as with most of them, The Fall of Arthur is literally endless: unfinished. It’s been lying among his vast legacy of papers, almost unknown but for a paragraph in Humphrey Carpenter’s 1976 biography and a single reference in Tolkien’s published letters. Publication follows that of the more difficult The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún in 2009, which Christopher Tolkien probably elected to publish first because it was complete. Like Sigurd and Gudrún, The Fall of Arthur is in alliterative verse, a mode last fashionable in the 14th century. It amounts to a mere 40 pages, and was perhaps abandoned because of professional and family pressures, or in order to complete The Hobbit. But if you can abide the frustration of knowing it is a fragment, it is well worth reading. No one has done more than Tolkien to rekindle the medieval flame for the modern era; and this is his only creative contribution to the key Arthurian tradition. Compelling in pace, haunted by loss, it lives up to expectations.
Ordered. Haven't finished the Silmarillion yet though...