J.R.R. Tolkien gifted us many sage words in his long and prolific writing life, but many of them would have never seen the light of day were it not for his third son, Christopher Tolkien, who has spent similar solitary hours parsing over his late father’s scribblings, expanding the deep mythology of Middle-earth. With additions like The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The History of Middle-earth, The Children of Hurin, and last year’s Beren and Lúthien, all edited by Christopher, we’ve learned evermore about the seemingly endless mythology that sprang from Tolkien’s mind. Now, with The Fall of Gondolin, likely to be 93-year-old Christopher’s last such effort, we’ll finally get to read about the gods that created Middle-earth in the first place.
The story, the completion of the “Lost Tales” of Middle-earth and an early and clear precursor to Tolkien's most famous works, follows Tuor, a man contacted Burning-Bush style by the sea god Ulmo, part of the divine pantheon Valar, which has been ruling over Middle-earth since the supreme god Eru Ilúvatar apparently lost interest.
In the present of this latest story, with former pantheon member and Sauron’s mentor, Morgoth, Dark Lording over all of Middle-earth, save for the hidden Elvish city of Gondolin, Ulmo, the last good god interested in helping out the exiled Elves, appears from the depths of the ocean to task Tuor with the dangerous and epic quest of finding Gondolin. As the title of the book suggests, this may not end particularly well. Although somehow Tuor does end up becoming the grandfather to Elrond Half-elven (brought to life by Hugo Weaving) who eventually gets the Fellowship gang together.
As Entertainment Weekly notes, though “other forces” are alluded to in Tolkien’s work, and Ringwraiths and Balrogs certainly play their part, this is the first time a god has intervened in such a Biblical fashion. And speaking of Balrogs, you can expect to see another such demon facing off against the Elf warrior Glorfindel, although it's unclear at this point if he'll dramatically exclaim, "You shall not pass!" when that happens.
Christopher, who drew the original maps for The Lord of the Rings, has not been alone in this latest expansion of his father’s work. Illustrating The Fall of Gondolin will be illustrator Alan Lee, a seasoned veteran of Tolkien’s world, who has worked for years with Christopher and with Peter Jackson on his film adaptations.
“What makes The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings work as well as they do is that they are set into this cultural background with its own history and languages. You get so much more from those particular stories if you actually delve back and enjoy the mythology of Middle-earth,” Lee tells EW. “In that process of the myths changing and developing, you get all these echoes of the earlier stories running through the later ones. It makes the whole thing richer and more satisfying and more dense.”
So though Christopher notes that “The Fall of Gondolin is indubitably the last” of his father's works he'll be editing, the mythology is still ripe for expansion. It's just a matter of seeing who will take up the quest.
The Fall of Gondolin falls this week, Aug. 30, from HarperCollins and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.