A previously unseen epic poem written by The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit writer JRR Tolkien is to be published by HarperCollins next May. But forget Middle-earth: the 200-page poem, whose rights have been acquired by the publisher, is inspired by the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth and Thomas Malory on King Arthur and ancient Britain.
Following the old king at the end of his legendary reign, the plot of the epic poem opens with Arthur and Gawain (a Knight of the Round Table) as they’re poised to head into battle against their enemy, Mordred the usurper.
Tolkien began writing the epic verse a few years before he wrote The Hobbit, whose big-screen adaptation directed by The Lord of the Rings helmer Peter Jackson and starring Sherlock’s Martin Freeman (pictured left) is set for release this December.
The latest publication follows a series of “new” releases from the author, who passed away in 1973, including The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún in 2009 and unfinished story The Children of Húrin – set in Middle Earth – in 2007.
The most recent publication has been edited by Tolkien’s son, Christopher, who has also provided commentary for readers. “It is well known that a prominent strain in my father’s poetry was his abiding love for the old ‘Northern’ alliterative verse,” he 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 To these is now added his unfinished and unpublished poem The Fall of Arthur.”
The book’s editor at HarperCollins, Chris Smith, said: “Though its title had been known from Humphrey Carpenter’s Biography and JRR Tolkien’s own letters, we never supposed that it would see the light of day.”
He added that the poem, “breathes new life into one of our greatest heroes, liberating him from the clutches of Malory’s romantic treatment, and revealing Arthur as a complex, all-too human individual who must rise above the greatest of betrayals to liberate his beloved kingdom
“In The Fall of Arthur we find themes of lost identity, betrayal, and sacrifice for greater glory, which have their echoes in other works, such as The Lord of the Rings, but anyone looking for closer connections will find no wizards or magic swords.”
And for any excited readers keen for a preview of this unseen work, here are the poem’s opening lines:
“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.”