In 1916, J.R.R. Tolkien fell ill while fighting on the frontlines of World War I and was sent back to his native England to recover. During this period of convalescence, Tolkien reportedly began writing The Fall of Gondolin, an epic tale of power and betrayal that the author would later describe as his “first real story” set in Middle-earth.
Tolkien revisited The Fall of Gondolin in the 1950s and planned to turn the tale into a novel in the style of The Lord of the Rings—but he never finished the project. Now, some 45 years after the author’s death, his son Christopher has announced that The Fall of Gondolin will hit bookshelves as a standalone novel for the first time this August.
As Andrew Liptak reports for The Verge, when Tolkien died, he left behind a vast archive of unpublished stories and poems, which Christopher has been faithfully sorting through for decades. He's already edited many of his father’s works for posthumous publication, including The Book of Lost Tales, a collection of early Tolkien stories that includes the only complete version of The Fall of Gondolin, according to Daniel Helen of the Tolkien Society.
It's set in a period that Tolkien dubbed the First Age, a time long before the events of The Lord of the Rings took place. According to HarperCollins, which is publishing the upcoming novel, the story sees the evil power Morgoth try to find and destroy Gondolin, a hidden Elvish city. Ulmo, who is called the lord “of Waters, of all seas, lakes, and rivers under the sky,” is working in secret to support the Elves who built the city. To do so Ulmo helps Tuor, who is the cousin of Túrin Turambar (the Elvin-raised main character of the novel The Children of Húrin), find Gondolin and deliver a message to the king there—but a terrible act of treachery ultimately leads to a tragic ending.
“It’s a quest story with a reluctant hero who turns into a genuine hero – it’s a template for everything Tolkien wrote afterwards,” Tolkien scholar John Garth tells Alison Flood of the Guardian. “It has a dark lord, our first encounter with orcs and balrogs – it’s really Tolkien limbering up for what he would be doing later.”
Tolkien’s novelized version of The Fall of Gondolin cuts off abruptly once Tuor reaches Gondolin. Writing in The Book of Lost Tales, Christopher called the unfinished text “one of the saddest facts in the whole history of incompletion,” according to the Tolkien Society. But in the forthcoming novel, which will hit stores on August 30th of this year, The Fall of Gondolin will have an ending, which Christopher pieced together from various rough versions in his father’s archives.
Last year, when Christopher released a novelized version of the Tolkien story Beren and Lúthien, he wrote that it would be “[presumptively] my last book in the long series of editions of my father’s writings,” as Flood reports. So news of The Fall of Gondolin novel came as a very welcome surprise to Tolkien fans.
“We never dared to dream that we would see this published,” says Tolkien Society chair Shaun Gunner. “This book brings all the existing work together in one place to present the story in full.”