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04 October, 2013

Tolkien's Fall of Arthur Reviewed in Medievally Speaking

Alex Mueller reviews:  J.R.R. Tolkien. The Fall of Arthur. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Imagine Sir Thomas Malory pouring over the alliterative poem before him, reveling in its contagious rhythms, until the cataclysmic fall of Arthur causes him to stop short. Arthur has just ravaged the Italian countryside, led his glorious knights to their deaths, and even ordered his enemy’s children to be tossed into the sea. What might happen, Malory wonders, if he were to replace these undesirable episodes of violence and tyranny with investigations of the psyches of his beloved Guinevere, her lover Lancelot, and the lecherous Mordred, all the while retaining the sonorous sounds of war through alliterative verse? For those of us who know Malory’s treatment of the Roman campaign, this speculation is easy to imagine, especially since he drew his material for this section directly from the alliterative Morte Arthure. If this is the first tale Malory composed, as Eugène Vinaver suggests, this challenge is answered with a compromise between prose and poetry, which embraces the psychological plotlines from his “French books” and jettisons the strict cadences of alliterative long lines. Almost five hundred years later, J.R.R. Tolkien must have been grappling with the same question. READ THE FULL REVIEW HERE