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« The Fall of Arthur » (cont'd)

Whatever may be thought of these speculations, The Fall of Arthur necessarily entailed problems of presentation to the editor. It may be that some who take up this book would have been content with no more than the text of the poem as printed here, and perhaps a brief statement of the stages of its development, as attested by the abundant draft manuscripts. On the other hand, there may well be many others who, drawn to the poem by the attraction of its author but with little knowledge of 'the Arthurian legend', would wish, and expect, to find some indications of how this 'version' stands in relation to the mediaeval tradition from which it arose.

As I have said, my father left no indication even of the briefest kind, as he did of the 'Norse' poems published as The Legend of Sigurd and GudrĂșn, of his thought or intention that lay behind his very original treatment of 'The Legend of Lancelot and Guinevere'. But in the present case there is clearly no reason to enter the labyrinth in an editorial attempt to write a wide-ranging account of 'Arthurian' legend, which would very likely appear a forbidding rampart raised up as if it were a necessary preliminary to the reading of The Fall of Arthur.

I have therefore dispensed with any 'Introduction' properly so-called, but following the text of the poem I have contributed several commentaries. Each of these, for those who want such explorations, is concerned with a fairly distinct aspect of The Fall of Arthur and its special interest:

The first of these, 'The Poem in Arthurian Tradition', simple in intent, avoiding speculative interpretation, and very limited in range, if somewhat lengthy, is an account of the derivation of my father's poem from particular narrative traditions and its divergences from them. For this purpose I have chiefly drawn upon two works in English, the mediaeval poem known as 'The Alliterative Morte Arthure', and the relevant tales of Sir Thomas Malory, with some reference to his sources. Not wishing to provide a mere dry précis, I have cited verbatim a number of passages from these works, as exemplifying those traditions in manner and mode that differ profoundly from this 'Alliterative Fall of Arthur' of another day.

I have seen no need to enter into the shadowy origins of the Arthurian legend and the early centuries of its history, and I will only say here that it is essential to the understanding of The Fall of Arthur to recognize that the roots of the legend derive from the fifth century, after the final end of the Roman rule in Britain with the withdrawal of the legions in 410, and from memories of battles fought by Britons in resistance to the ruinous raids and encroachments of the barbarian invaders, Angles and Saxons, spreading from the eastern regions of their land. It is to be borne in mind that throughout this book the names Britons and British refer specifically and exclusively to the Celtic inhabitants and their language.

Following 'The Poem in Arthurian Tradition' is a discussion of 'The Unwritten Poem and its Relation to The Silmarillion', an account of the various writings that give some indication of my father's thoughts for the continuation of the poem; and then an account of 'The Evolution of the Poem', primarily an attempt to show as clearly as I could, granting the extremely complex textual history, the major changes of structure that I have referred to, together with much exemplification of his mode of composition.

Finally, a short 'Appendix' explains, in the author's own words, something of the essential nature of his use of Old English 'alliterative verse' for this poem in particular, his sole 'Arthurian' poem.

Christopher Tolkien - 2012

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