Tolkien's never-before-published King Arthur epic headed our way

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Dec 17, 2012, 4:24 PM EST

Nearly 40 years after his death, we're still finding new stories from fantasy master J.R.R. Tolkien. Now a new epic from the creator of Middle-earth is heading our way, and this time it's Tolkien's take on King Arthur.

The Fall of Arthur, a 200-page narrative verse piece examining the final days of King Arthur, actually predates The Hobbit. The story begins with an aging Arthur riding off to war with his noble knight Gawain, and follows the final days of the legendary king's life. Tolkien scholars have known for some time that the story existed in some form, but they only recently discovered that a finished version was available.

"Though its title had been known from Humphrey Carpenter's biography and J.R.R. Tolkien's own letters, we never supposed that it would see the light of day," said Chris Smith, the book's editor at HarperCollins UK, which will publish The Fall of Arthur in May of next year.

As with most of Tolkien's posthumous works, The Fall of Arthur is edited by Tolkien's son Christopher, who also provides commentary through essays included in the book.

"It is well known that a prominent strain in my father's poetry was his abiding love for the old 'Northern' alliterative verse," Christopher Tolkien said. "In Sir Gawain and the Green Knight he displayed his skill in his rendering of the alliterative verse of the 14th century into the same metre in modern English. To these is now added his unfinished and unpublished poem The Fall of Arthur."

And while it may be a poem, Smith said he believes this "extraordinary" Tolkien work will have a broad appeal to both Arthurian fans and Lord of the Rings readers.

"Though Tolkien's use of alliterative verse will mean the poem is of more specialized interest than his other work, we would like to think that the subject of King Arthur is one that will resonate with readers of his more celebrated works," Smith said.

And though you'll have to wait until next spring for the whole book, you can read The Fall of Arthur's opening lines right here.

"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."

(The Guardian via GalleyCat)