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Thursday Quotables – The Fall of Gondolin

Cover of the novel "The Fall of Gondolin by JRR Tolkien". The cover is an illustration by Alan Lee showing a warrior standing in front of the white secret city of Gondoling, the last citadel of the Elves.

For a moment they were held thus in the eye of the light, and then the voice spoke again, saying: ‘Show your faces!’ And Voronwë cast back his hood, and his face shone in the ray, hard and clear, as if graven in stone; and Tuor marvelled to see its beauty. Then he spoke proudly, saying: ’Know you not whom you see? I am Voronwë son of Aranwë of the House of Fingolfin. Or am I forgotten in my own land after a few years? Far beyond the thought of Middle-earth I have wandered, yet I remember your voice, Elemmakil.’
‘Then Voronwë will remember also the laws of his land,’ said the voice.

‘Since by command he went forth, he has the right to return. But not to lead hither any stranger. By that deed his right is void, and he must be led as a prisoner to the king’s judgement. As for the stranger, he shall be slain or held captive at the judgement of the Guard. Lead him hither that I may judge.’

Then Voronwë led Tuor towards the light, and as they drew near many Noldor, mail-clad and armed, stepped forward out of the darkness and surrounded them with drown swards. And Elemmakil, captain of the Guard, who bore the bright lamp, looked long and closely at them.

‘This is strange in you, Voronwë,’ he said. ‘We were long friends. Why then would you set me thus cruelly between the law and my friendship? If you had led hither unbidden one of the other houses of the Noldor, that were enough. But you have brought to knowledge of the Way a mortal Man – for by his eyes I perceive his kin. Yet free can he never again go, knowing the secret; and as one of alien kin that has dared to enter, I should slain him – even though he be your friend and dear to you.’

‘In the wild lands without, Elemmakil, many strange things may befall one, and tasks unlooked for be laid on one,’ Voronwë answered. ‘Other shall the wanderer return than as he set for. What I have done, I have done under command greater than the law of the Guard. The King alone should judge me, and him that comes with me.’

quotation marks4

I don’t know how Tolkien did it. I love his dialogues, though they aren’t the natural dialogue I normally prefer. People don’t talk like Tolkien’s characters do. I suspect people never did, yet Tolkien’s dialogues have such a power in them, such emotions, even when they don’t show it.
You would say the exchange above is very tame and even calm. There is little other than words. There’s minimal action, there is no body language, there is no exposition at all. And still in the words that are used and the way the characters address each other, you can read a completely different story. You can guess backgrounds and past events, and you can sure feel unspoken emotions and feelings, even stronger than if Tolkien had shown them. This narrator and these characters don’t do anything of what storytelling advices us to do today, and still you know these are not just characters but real people you care about.
I really don’t know how he did it.

The first and last of the Great Stories of The Silmarillion

Today The Fall of Gondolin comes out, the last of the three Great Stories of the Silmarillion (the other two being Beren and Lúthien and The Children of Húrin). I haven’t read the book yet, of course (the excerpt above is from the Unfinished Tales) and I can’t wait to have it in my hands! I’m quite curious to see how it is organised and what kind of material will be in there.

THE SILMARILLION JRR Tolkien 23 Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin 1

The manuscript of The Fall of Gondolin doesn’t bear a date (Tolkien’s writings seldom do), so we don’t know when exactly Tolkien wrote it. But it is generally accepted that this was the first story Tolkien wrote among those that would later become the Silmarillion. Still, Tolkien never worked at it nearly as much as to the other two Great Stories. There is precious little material about it. I’m halfway through the History of Middle-earth. I’ve just finished book 5, which brings the reader right before the starting of The Lord of the Rings. I’ve read quite a few drafts of both the other two stories, as well as notes and synopsis, breakdowns and timelines of all of them. And yet, I’ve only read the one complete account of the Fall of Gondolin from the 1920s and the reworking of the beginning of the story which dates years later the completion of The Lord of the Ring. That’s why I’m so excited about the new book.

The Fall of Gondolin is still today the last part of the Chronicle of the Elder Days. When Tolkien first wrote the Silmarillion, it used to be located at the end of all his stories (not so today, after the creation of the Second and Third Ages).
The first and only complete version appears in The Book of Lost Tales, which Tolkien wrote in the 1920s, right after he came back from the war. So it is maybe no surprise that it hinges on a great battle and that the story focuses on many acts of courage and valour disseminated through its pages. It has a powerful sense of place and movement. I remember thinking that it was quite apparent Tolkien knew what he was talking about when writing about battles. And still, the focus is always on the characters. On their motives and their desires, on the valour that shines even in death. I thought that was the work of a young man who was trying to make sense of what he had seen and experiences in the war.
The fragment from after The Lord of the Rings is included in Unfinished Tales and has a very different flavour to it. It’s more mature, more reflexive, there’s a stronger sense of purpose that goes ‘deep’ rather than ‘out’. But it never went as far as the scene of the battle.

Of the Gift of Ilúvatar and the power of the union of the races

The Three Great stories are part of the Silmarillion, which chiefly concerns the history of the Noldor and their war upon Morgoth to retrieve the Silmarils. It is a story of Elves for the most part. But what the Three Great Stories have in common is that they rather focus on the relationship between Elves and Men. Two of these stories concern interracial love relationships.

Although the Silmarillion is packed full of fantastic stories which only concerns Elves, I find that it is in the Three Great Stories and in the theme of collaboration between the races that a deeper sense of the meaning of life comes forth.

Elves are the Firstborn and it is often stated that they are more like angels (more like the Valar) than Men ever were. They are wiser, stronger, more powerful then Men and they are immortal. They are also bound to the fate of the world. This is why they have a great communion with the environment and the earth. As long as the earth exists, they exist. When the earth thrives, they thrive, and when the earth withers, they wither. It is therefore easy to think at them as an incarnation of the environment and to see their life as more wholesome and maybe even more meaningful than that of Men.
But there’s an aspect of the Elves that I think we often overlook and it’s one of Tolkien’s great, most unique intuitions: Elves not only are bound to the earth, they are almost imprisoned in it. They are immortal, and even if they can die of melancholy or because they’re killed, they never leave the world. They wait the end of time in the Halls of Mandos, and they can even be reborn. There is no way for them to escape their bond or to act independently from the faith of the world.

THE SILMARILLION JRR Tolkien 23 Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin 2

Men, the Second Born, on the other hand, are mortal and they live a very short time in the world. Where they go afterwards, only Ilúvatar (the Creator) knows. Death is the special Gift of Ilúvatar to Men and honestly, I had always had a hard time understanding how Death could be considered a gift since it looks very obviously as a limitation. Tolkien does state that it was Morgoth who twisted that gift into a curse, infusing it with the fear of the unknown, so I suppose I’ve always considered it a kind of mystery.
But the discussion on the Green Door Podcast recently made me realise one thing: Death is a gift because it means freedom. Because Men soon die, they don’t have time to become too much attached to the world, and because they know they will soon leave, they are not bound to the fate of the world (though they know they will leave that world to their children). This means on the one hand that Men can disregard the world and the environment as they often do, but it also means that they are free to take decisions the Elves would never take. Men are free to go beyond, they are free to imagine a world they will never see, but they may hope their children will enjoy. And because they are less bound to the past than the Elves (because Men receive it from stories, they don’t remember it, as Elves do), they are free to look especially to the future.

"In the place where mortality and immortality meet – and all that they imply –  that’s were the creativity and willingness to change lie #JRRTolkie Click To Tweet

In this context, the friendship between the two races takes up a very unique meaning.

Men who are fostered by Elves (like Túrin) or that love an Elf (like Beren and Tuor), create a new consciousness that merges the wisdom and care of the Elves with the boldness and freedom of the Men. And this is where the true power of changing the world lies. In the place where mortality and immortality meet – and all that they imply. That’s were the creativity and willingness to change lie.

I also find it quite interesting that in all these relationships the woman (with all the symbolism of life and growth traditionally given to her) is always an Elf and the man (with his traditional symbolism of death and fighting prowess) is always a mortal.
The idea here circles back to the power of community I explored in my post about Beren and Lúthien since when a man and a woman bound to each other and have children, they are creating a community.

In The Fall of Gondolin, where the focus is not on the lovers but on their children, this message is maybe stronger than in any other story of the Silmarillion.

The Book of Lost Tales

Racconti Perduti 3 La caduta di Gondolin 1

The Fall of Gondolin

Racconti Perduti 3 La caduta di Gondolin 2

The Fall of Gondolin

Racconti Perduti 3 La caduta di Gondolin 3

The Fall of Gondolin

Unfinished Tales

Racconti Incompiuti 1 Tuor e il suo arrivo a Gondolin

Tuor and His Coming to Gondoling

Racconti Incompiuti 2 Tuor e il suo arrivo a Gondolin

Tuor and His Coming to Gondoling

Pinteret pin. The text reads, "The Fall of Gondolin (JRR Tolkien)". The picture shows a harsh and rocky mountainside.


J.R.R. Tolkien Discovering Middle earth

The Gardian – The Fall of Gondolin, ‘new’ JRR Tolkien book, to be published in 2018
The Tolkien Society – The Fall of Gondolin to be published – When Tuor Met Ulmo, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let Gondolin Fall by Jeff LaSala


In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme. If you want to discover more about this meme and maybe take part in it, head over to Bookshelf Fantasies

DISCLAMER:  Of course, none of these images belongs to me. I’ve only collected them in order to share my feelings about the story, but every image belongs to its own creator.


  • Hilary
    Posted August 30, 2018 at 21:32

    Hi Sarah – one day I hope I’ll have time to come here and read all your posts on Tolkien … I have lots to learn about him … you are so thorough with your posts. Take care and it’s a delight to see a new article – cheers Hilary

    • Post Author
      Posted September 15, 2018 at 19:08

      I hope you will, Hilary. and then we’ll have a fantastic conversation about him 🙂

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