Even nearly five decades after his death, J.R.R. Tolkien continues to give us gifts. HarperCollins announced Tuesday, per The Tolkien Society, that it will publish a new Tolkien novel, The Fall of Gondolin, on Aug. 30.
The 304-page book, edited by the author’s son Christopher Tolkien and illustrated by Alan Lee, was one of the elder Tolkien’s first-ever stories of Middle-earth. This is the first time its story will be published as a standalone, collecting its different versions together and following the same format as last year’s Beren and Lúthien. The story had already been told in a form via Tolkien’s classic compendium of the early history of Middle Earth, The Silmarillion.
“We never dared to dream that we would see this published. The Fall of Gondolin is, to many in the Tolkien community, the Holy Grail of Tolkien texts as one of Tolkien’s three Great Tales alongside The Children of Húrin and Beren and Lúthien,” said Tolkien Society chair Shaun Gunner in a statement. “This beautiful story captures the rise and fall of a great Elven kingdom, taking place millennia before the events of The Lord of the Rings. This book brings all the existing work together in one place to present the story in full.”
The Fall of Gondolin was one of the first stories of Tolkien’s First Age ever written, likely composed in 1917 while the author was recovering in Great Haywood, Staffordshire, after fighting in the Battle of the Somme. Tolkien worked on various versions of the story over many years, only to abandon the text in 1951, which Christopher Tolkien called “one of the saddest facts in the whole history of incompletion.”
“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 and the Great War author John Garth told 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.” It also has plenty of connections to The Lord of the Rings—for instance, the sword Glamdring, wielded by Gandalf throughout LOTR and used to slay the Balrog in Moria, once belonged to Turgon, who was himself the king of Gondolin during the city’s fall.
The Fall of Gondolin will be published in hardback, deluxe hardback, large print and e-book by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in the U.S., and in other languages by various Tolkien publishers worldwide. Read the publisher’s plot synopsis below.
In the Tale of The Fall of Gondolin are two of the greatest powers in the world. There is Morgoth of the uttermost evil, unseen in this story but ruling over a vast military power from his fortress of Angband. Deeply opposed to Morgoth is Ulmo, second in might only to Manwë, chief of the Valar: he is called the Lord of Waters, of all seas, lakes, and rivers under the sky. But he works in secret in Middle-earth to support the Noldor, the kindred of the Elves among whom were numbered Húrin and Túrin Turambar.
Central to this enmity of the gods is the city of Gondolin, beautiful but undiscoverable. It was built and peopled by Noldorin Elves who, when they dwelt in Valinor, the land of the gods, rebelled against their rule and fled to Middle-earth. Turgon King of Gondolin is hated and feared above all his enemies by Morgoth, who seeks in vain to discover the marvellously hidden city, while the gods in Valinor in heated debate largely refuse to intervene in support of Ulmo’s desires and designs.
Into this world comes Tuor, cousin of Túrin, the instrument of Ulmo’s designs. Guided unseen by him Tuor sets out from the land of his birth on the fearful journey to Gondolin, and in one of the most arresting moments in the history of Middle-earth the sea-god himself appears to him, rising out of the ocean in the midst of a storm. In Gondolin he becomes great; he is wedded to Idril, Turgon’s daughter, and their son is Eärendel, whose birth and profound importance in days to come is foreseen by Ulmo.
At last comes the terrible ending. Morgoth learns through an act of supreme treachery all that he needs to mount a devastating attack on the city, with Balrogs and dragons and numberless Orcs. After a minutely observed account of the fall of Gondolin, the tale ends with the escape of Tuor and Idril, with the child Eärendel, looking back from a cleft in the mountains as they flee southward, at the blazing wreckage of their city. They were journeying into a new story, the Tale of Eärendel, which Tolkien never wrote, but which is sketched out in this book from other sources.
Following his presentation of Beren and Lúthien Christopher Tolkien has used the same ‘history in sequence’ mode in the writing of this edition of The Fall of Gondolin. In the words of J.R.R. Tolkien, it was ‘the first real story of this imaginary world’ and, together with Beren and Lúthien and The Children of Húrin, he regarded it as one of the three ‘Great Tales’ of the Elder Days.