Updated: Jan 20, 2019
Thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for an advanced copy of this title for the purposes of review:
For a large portion of his adulthood, Christopher Tolkien, the son of the prestigious fantasy author of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien, has labored in crafting and editing his father’s unfinished drafts and releasing them to the literary community for both scholars and Tolkien advocates to explore. It’s simply a daunting feat, considering the sheer number of books that Christopher Tolkien has released under his father’s name. And with this year marking Christopher’s ninety-second year of life, he has officially confirmed that The Fall of Gondolin, his latest entry into the edited works of his father, will be his final book that he publishes. Fortunately, this impressive task has ended on a brilliant high note. The Fall of Gondolin is both imaginative and impressive in its storytelling, layout and respect for the original source material. It highlights the very best aspects of Christopher Tolkien’s editing works and ensures that his father’s legacy is forever expanding. It is a deep, moving, and powerful work of literacy that celebrates everything that Tolkien created in his expansive, imaginative world and creates a fitting legacy for the best fantasy author of all time.
Like his previous works, Christopher’s rendition on The Fall of Gondolin, the third of a series of stories that Tolkien originally titled “The Great Tales,” is not a complete and whole book. It certainly has resemblance of one, but due to the book having several gaps and serving more as a textbook than anything, it simply can’t rival other of Tolkien’s works such as The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit based on storytelling alone. However, it’s obvious from the very start that that was not what editor Christopher Tolkien had envisioned for The Fall of Gondolin. Any other editor, who was less mature than Christopher, would have flocked to create a whole story, filling in gaps from their imagination. However, he neither falls or even ventures into this trope. Annotations are filled throughout the book, creating a lavish experience that has angles from every visible view. In addition, he maintains the esteemed elements from other of his works, such as last year’s Beren and Luthien. At the very beginning of the work, he includes an in-depth prologue and preface that helps guide readers through the context of the story and the actual backstory of bringing the story to publication. It’s certainly a fascinating read for any Tolkien fan.
However, some of the fans of Middle-Earth often criticize these publications, stating that they are often overstated and too drab and mellow to justify a read. These are all valid points from a casual Tolkien fan’s view, a fan who has only read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and seen Peter Jackson’s franchise of film adaptations. For a casual fan, they may return the book before even finishing the preface. However, like many of his bold choices, there is still a massive reason that completely justifies this choice. The Fall of Gondolin and others of Christopher Tolkien’s works are not intended for mass appeal. They are targeted towards a select group of readers who pour over every detail, every phrase, and every word and are practically scholars of literature. To these readers, The Fall of Gondolin is a triumph of success.
That reasoning isn’t to suggest that the story of the book isn’t engaging or even gripping. It may have some pacing issues in the beginning, keeping the story in line with previous Tolkien works. It took several chapters for me to truly acclimate to the style of the book and familiarize myself with the characters. In other books, it can take a mere chapter for me to be fully acclimated to the style of the writing and characterization. But this aspect can often be in the favor of Tolkien and his esteemed father. It requires that readers respect and study each sentence and detail carefully. Any lost detail will create the impression of confusion on the reader as each detail is essential to the story, thanks to Christopher Tolkien’s masterful editing. The story, when it finally reaches its peak, is engaging and thoughtfully imaginative. It retains the similar stand-alone aspect of previous works, allowing for several connections to the larger story of Middle-Earth but never creating an experience that is incomplete without other installments. A reader who has never even touched a Tolkien book could experience The Fall of Gondolin and still find it engaging and masterfully emotional. The engrossing story may have deep context connections to The Silmarillion and Beren and Luthien, but it never alienates readers who haven’t read those works.
As a whole, The Fall of Gondolin is a fantastic read and is a monumental celebration of everything that J.R.R. Tolkien has created. It is refined in both its design and execution, resulting in a lavish read that doesn’t alienate new Tolkien readers. It boasts a powerful, emotional story that may require patience and dire focus to enjoy, but is still engaging and fascinating throughout. The title may not be for every Tolkien fan, much less every reader, but for who it appeals to, it is both masterful and beautiful. It easily takes the spot as the best book of the year so far and is a fitting tribute to the imaginative worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and the work his son has done to refine them.
Score: 9.6 out of 10