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The Fall of Gondolin

J. R. R. Tolkien

  First U.S. edition

  All texts and materials by J.R.R. Tolkien © The Tolkien Estate Limited 2018

  Preface, Notes and all other materials © C.R. Tolkien 2018

  Illustrations © Alan Lee 2018

  All rights reserved

  For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to [email protected] or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.

  ® and “Tolkien”®, “Fall of Gondolin”® are registered trade marks of The Tolkien Estate Limited

  First published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2018

  Library of Congress Catologing-in-Publication Data is available.

  ISBN 978-1-328-61304-2

  eISBN: 9781328612991


  To my family



  Title Page



  List of Plates


  List of Illustrations



  The Original Tale

  The Earliest Text

  Turlin and the Exiles of Gondolin

  The Story Told in the Sketch of the Mythology

  The Story Told in the Quenta Noldorinwa

  The Last Version

  The Evolution of the Story


  The Conclusion of the Sketch of the Mythology

  The Conclusion of the Quenta Noldorinwa


  List of Names

  Additional Notes


  The House of Bëor

  The Princes of the Noldor

  Map of Beleriand

  Works by J.R.R. Tolkien

  Read More from J.R.R. Tolkien



  ‘They attempt to seize the swan-ships in Swanhaven, and a fight ensues’ (p.32)

  Turgon Strengthens the Watch

  ‘he caused the watch and ward to be thrice strengthened at all points’ (p.64)

  The King’s Tower Falls

  ‘the tower leapt into a flame and in a stab of fire it fell’ (p.96)

  Glorfindel and the Balrog

  ‘that Balrog that was with the rearward foe leapt with great might on certain lofty rocks’ (p.107)

  The Rainbow Cleft

  ‘he should be led to a river-course that flowed underground through which a turbulent water ran at last into the western sea’ (p.135)

  Mount Taras

  ‘he saw a line of great hills that barred his way, marching westward until they ended in a tall mountain’ (p.160)

  Ulmo Appears Before Tuor

  ‘Then there was a noise of thunder, and lightning flared over the sea’ (p.167)

  Orfalch Echor

  ‘Tuor saw that the way was barred by a great wall built across the ravine’ (p.195)


  In my preface to Beren and Lúthien I remarked that ‘in my ninety-third year this is (presumptively) the last book in the long series of editions of my father’s writings’. I used the word ‘presumptively’ because at that time I thought hazily of treating in the same way as Beren and Lúthien the third of my father’s ‘Great Tales’, The Fall of Gondolin. But I thought this very improbable, and I ‘presumed’ therefore that Beren and Lúthien would be my last. The presumption proved wrong, however, and I must now say that ‘in my ninety-fourth year The Fall of Gondolin is (indubitably) the last’.

  In this book one sees, from the complex narrative of many strands in various texts, how Middle-earth moved towards the end of the First Age, and how my father’s perception of this history that he had conceived unfolded through long years until at last, in what was to be its finest form, it foundered.

  The story of Middle-earth in the Elder Days was always a shifting structure. My History of that age, so long and complex as it is, owes its length and complexity to this endless welling up: a new portrayal, a new motive, a new name, above all new associations. My father, as the Maker, ponders the large history, and as he writes he becomes aware of a new element that has entered the story. I will illustrate this by a very brief but notable example, which may stand for many. An essential feature of the story of the Fall of Gondolin was the journey that the Man, Tuor, undertook with his companion Voronwë to find the Hidden Elvish City of Gondolin. My father told of this very briefly in the original Tale, without any noteworthy event, indeed no event at all; but in the final version, in which the journey was much elaborated, one morning out in the wilderness they heard a cry in the woods. We might almost say, ‘he’ heard a cry in the woods, sudden and unexpected.1 A tall man clothed in black and holding a long black sword then appeared and came towards them, calling out a name as if he were searching for one who was lost. But without any speech he passed them by.

  Tuor and Voronwë knew nothing to explain this extraordinary sight; but the Maker of the history knows very well who he was. He was none other than the far-famed Túrin Turambar, who was the first cousin of Tuor, and he was fleeing from the ruin – unknown to Tuor and Voronwë – of the city of Nargothrond. Here is a breath of one of the great stories of Middle-earth. Túrin’s flight from Nargothrond is told in The Children of Húrin (my edition, pp.180–1), but with no mention of this meeting, unknown to either of those kinsmen, and never repeated.

  To illustrate the transformations that took place as time passed nothing is more striking than the portrayal of the god Ulmo as originally seen, sitting among the reeds and making music at twilight by the river Sirion, but many years later the lord of all the waters of the world rises out of the great storm of the sea at Vinyamar. Ulmo does indeed stand at the centre of the great myth. With Valinor largely opposed to him, the great God nonetheless mysteriously achieves his end.

  Looking back over my work, now concluded after some forty years, I believe that my underlying purpose was at least in part to try to give more prominence to the nature of ‘The Silmarillion’ and its vital existence in relation to The Lord of the Rings – thinking of it rather as the First Age of my father’s world of Middle-earth and Valinor.

  There was indeed The Silmarillion that I published in 1977, but this was composed, one might even say ‘contrived’ to produce narrative coherence, many years after The Lord of the Rings. It could seem ‘isolated’, as it were, this large work in a lofty style, supposedly descending from a very remote past, with little of the power and immediacy of The Lord of the Rings. This was no doubt inescapable, in the form in which I undertook it, for the narrative of the First Age was of a radically different literary and imaginative nature. Nevertheless, I knew that long before, when The Lord of the Rings was finished but well before its publication, my father had expressed a deep wish and conviction that the First Age and the Third Age (the world of The Lord of the Rings) should be treated, and published, as elements, or parts, of the same work.

  In the chapter of this book, The Evolution of the Story, I have printed parts of a long and very revealing letter that he wrote to his publisher, Sir Stanley Unwin, in February 1950, very soon after the actual writing of The Lord of the Rings had reached its end, in which he unburdened his mind on this matter. At that time he portrayed himself self-mockingly as horrified when he contemplated ‘this impracticable monster of some six hundred thousand words’ – the more especially when the publishers were expecting what they had demanded, a sequel to The Hobbit, while this new book (he said) was ‘really a sequel to The Silmarillion’.

  He never modified his opinion. He even wrote of The Silmarillion and The Lord of the Rings as ‘one long Saga of the Jewels and
the Rings’. He held out against the separate publication of either work on those grounds. But in the end he was defeated, as will be seen in The Evolution of the Story, recognizing that there was no hope that his wish would be granted: and he consented to the publication of The Lord of the Rings alone.

  After the publication of The Silmarillion I turned to an investigation, lasting many years, of the entire collection of manuscripts that he had left to me. In The History of Middle-earth I restricted myself as a general principle to ‘drive the horses abreast’, so to speak: not story by story through the years in their own paths, but rather the whole narrative movement as it evolved through the years. As I observed in the foreword to the first volume of the History,

  the author’s vision of his own vision underwent a continual slow shifting, shedding and enlarging: only in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings did parts of it emerge to become fixed in print, in his own lifetime. The study of Middle-earth and Valinor is thus complex; for the object of the study was not stable, but existed, as it were, ‘longitudinally’ in time (the author’s lifetime), and not only ‘transversely’ in time, as a printed book that undergoes no essential further change.

  Thus it comes about that from the nature of the work the History is often difficult to follow. When the time had come, as I supposed, to end at last this long series of editions it occurred to me to try out, as best as I could, a different mode: to follow, using previously published texts, one single particular narrative from its earliest existing form and throughout its later development: hence Beren and Lúthien. In my edition of The Children of Húrin (2007) I did indeed describe in an appendix the chief alterations to the narrative in successive versions; but in Beren and Lúthien I actually cited earlier texts in full, beginning with the earliest form in the Lost Tales. Now that it is certain that the present book is the last, I have adopted the same curious form in The Fall of Gondolin.

  In this mode there come to light passages, or even full-fledged conceptions, that were later abandoned; thus in Beren and Lúthien the commanding if brief entrance of Tevildo, Prince of Cats. The Fall of Gondolin is unique in this respect. In the original version of the Tale the overwhelming attack on Gondolin with its unimagined new weapons is seen with such clarity and in such detail that the very names are given of the places in the city where the buildings were burnt down or where celebrated warriors died. In the later versions the destruction and fighting is reduced to a paragraph.

  That the Ages of Middle-earth are conjoint can be brought home most immediately by the reappearance – in their persons, and not merely as memories – of the figures of the Elder Days in The Lord of the Rings. Very old indeed was the Ent, Treebeard; the Ents were the most ancient people surviving in the Third Age. As he carried Meriadoc and Peregrin through the forest of Fangorn he chanted to them:

  In the willow-meads of Tasarinan I walked in the Spring.

  Ah! the sight and the smell of the Spring in Nan-tasarion!

  It was very long indeed before Treebeard sang to the hobbits in Fangorn that Ulmo Lord of Waters came to Middle-earth to speak to Tuor in Tasarinan, the Land of Willows. Or again, at the end of the story we read of Elrond and Elros, sons of Eärendel, in a later age the master of Rivendell and the first king of Númenor: here they are very young, taken into protection by a son of Fëanor.


  But here I will introduce, as an emblem of the Ages, the figure of Círdan, the Shipwright. He was the bearer of Narya, the Ring of Fire, one of the Three Rings of the Elves, until he surrendered it to Gandalf; of him it was said that ‘he saw further and deeper than any other in Middle-earth’. In the First Age he was the lord of the havens of Brithombar and Eglarest on the coasts of Beleriand, and when they were destroyed by Morgoth after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears he escaped with a remnant of his people to the Isle of Balar. There and at the mouths of Sirion he turned again to the building of ships, and at the request of King Turgon of Gondolin he built seven. These ships sailed into the West, but no message from any one of them ever came back until the last. In that ship was Voronwë, sent out from Gondolin, who survived shipwreck and became the guide and companion of Tuor on their great journey to the Hidden City.

  To Gandalf Círdan declared long after, when he gave him the Ring of Fire: ‘But as for me, my heart is with the Sea, and I will dwell by the grey shores, guarding the Havens until the last ship sails.’ So Círdan appears for the last time on the last day of the Third Age. When Elrond and Galadriel, with Bilbo and Frodo, rode up to the gates of the Grey Havens, where Gandalf was awaiting them,

  Círdan the Shipwright came forth to greet them. Very tall he was, and his beard was long, and he was grey and old, save that his eyes were keen as stars; and he looked at them and bowed, and said: ‘All is now ready.’ Then Círdan led them to the Havens, and there was a white ship lying …

  After farewells were spoken those who were departing went aboard:

  and the sails were drawn up, and the wind blew, and slowly the ship slipped away down the long grey firth; and the light of the glass of Galadriel that Frodo bore glimmered and was lost. And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed on into the West …

  thus following the path of Tuor and Idril as the end of the First Age approached, who ‘set sail into the sunset and the West, and came no more into any tale or song.’


  The tale of The Fall of Gondolin gathers as it proceeds many glancing references to other stories, other places, and other times: to events in the past that govern actions and presumptions in the present time of the tale. The impulse, in such cases, to offer explanation, or at least some enlightenment, is strong; but keeping in mind the purpose of the book I have not peppered the texts with small superimposed numbers leading to notes. What I have aimed at is to provide some assistance of this nature in forms that can be readily neglected if desired.

  In the first place, I have in the ‘Prologue’ introduced a citation from my father’s Sketch of the Mythology of 1926, in order to provide a picture, in his words, of the World from its beginning to the events leading finally to the foundation of Gondolin. Further, I have used the List of Names in many cases for statements a good deal fuller than the name implies; and I have also introduced, after the List of Names, a number of separate notes on very varied topics, ranging from the creation of the World to the significance of the name Eärendel and the Prophecy of Mandos.

  Very intractable of course is the treatment of the changing of names, or of the forms of names. This is the more complex since a particular form is by no means necessarily an indication of the relative date of the composition in which it occurs. My father would make the same change in a text at quite different times, when he noticed the need for it. I have not aimed at consistency throughout the book: that is to say, neither settling for one form throughout, nor in every case following that in the manuscript, but allowing such variation as seems best. Thus I retain Ylmir when it occurs for Ulmo, since it is a regular occurrence of a linguistic nature, but give always Thorondor for Thorndor, ‘King of Eagles’, since my father was clearly intending to change it throughout.

  Lastly, I have arranged the content of the book in a manner distinct from that in Beren and Lúthien. The texts of the Tale appear first, in succession and with little or no commentary. An account of the evolution of the story then follows, with a discussion of my father’s profoundly saddening abandonment of the last version of the Tale at the moment when Tuor passed through the Last Gate of Gondolin.

  I will end by repeating what I wrote nearly forty years ago.

  It is the remarkable fact that the only full account that my father ever wrote of the story of Tuor’s sojourn in Gondolin, his union with Idril Celebrindal, the birth of Eärendel, the treachery of Maeglin, the sack of the city, and the escape of the fugitives – a story that was a central element in his imagination of the First Age – was the narrative composed in his youth.

  Gondolin and Nargothrond were each made once, and not remade. T
hey remained powerful sources and images – the more powerful, perhaps, because never remade, and never remade, perhaps, because so powerful.

  Though he set out to remake Gondolin he never reached the city again: after climbing the endless slope of the Orfalch Echor and passing through the long line of heraldic gates he paused with Tuor at the vision of Gondolin amid the plain, and never recrossed Tumladen.

  The publication ‘in its own history’ of the third and last of the Great Tales is the occasion for me to write a few words in honour of the work of Alan Lee, who has illustrated each Tale in turn. He has brought to this task a deep perception of the inner nature of scene and event that he has chosen from the great range of the Elder Days.

  Thus, he has seen, and shown, in The Children of Húrin, the captive Húrin, chained to a stone chair on Thangorodrim, listening to Morgoth’s terrible curse. He has seen, and shown, in Beren and Lúthien, the last of Fëanor’s sons seated motionless on their horses and gazing at the new star in the western sky, which is the Silmaril, for which so many lives had been taken. And in The Fall of Gondolin he has stood beside Tuor and with him marvelled at the sight of the Hidden City, for which he has journeyed so far.

  Finally, I am very grateful to Chris Smith of HarperCollins for the exceptional help that he has given to me in the preparation of the detail of the book, especially in his assiduous accuracy, drawing on his knowledge both of the demands of publication and the nature of the book. To my wife Baillie also: without her unwavering support during the long time the book has been in the making it would never have been made. I would also thank all those who generously wrote to me when it appeared that Beren and Lúthien was to be my last book.


  Tuor strikes a note on his harp

  Tuor descends into the hidden river

  Isfin and Eöl

  Lake Mithrim

  The mountains and the sea