Saturday 17 August 2013

The Fall of Arthur – a collection of reviews

This post is the third of my Fall of Arthur. As indicated in my earlier posts, this is just a collection of reviews and other writings on the new Tolkien book that are available on the internet. I think that I have included all, or at least nearly all, of these in my Tolkien Transactions over the past few months, but I thought it might be convenient to have them all collected here.

I will start with a couple of pre-publication comments that speculate on what the poem might be:

Ruth Lacon, 2013-03-20, ‘On The Fall of Arthur: Pre-Publication Speculation By a Longtime Student
Ruth Lacon here gives her speculations on the poem, presumably with some collaboration with Alex Lewis. I haven't had the time to go through the predictions myself and compare to reality, but Renée Vink has commented on a few of the points.

Sørina Higgins, 2013-04-26, ‘Arthur, Adapted
Sørina Higgins is, I think, best known for her work on Charles Williams, and the possibilities with the two Inklings with each their take on the Arthurian world must have been very tempting.

If you read only ten reviews (besides mine, of course ;-)  – ‘The Fall of Arthur — A Review’ and ‘Philosophizing on Fall of Arthur’), I recommend that you choose the ten listed below with a few comments.

John Garth, The Daily Beast, 2013-05-23, ‘Tolkien’s Unfinished Epic: ‘The Fall of Arthur’
John Garth has carefully studied the early evolution of Tolkien's Silmarillion mythology and he has an unerring sense for the parallels between the poem and Tolkien's mythology at the time Tolkien was composing it. Garth's review is very perceptive and highly recommended.

John D. Rateliff, 2013-05-23, ‘The Fall of Arthur
A rather short review posted on the day of release – possibly a result of having hurried through the book to be able to post his immediate thoughts.

David Bratman, Tuesday, 2013-05-28, ‘it's just a flesh wound
I admit that I have a weakness for David Bratman's reviews. His dry humour and his lack of patience with people who ought to know better are a relief. Read Bratman's review after you have read the reviews that precede it on this list ...

Renée Vink, 2013-06-04, ‘Lancelot's death in battle in The Fall of Arthur
Renée Vink is the translator of The Fall of Arthur to Dutch, and of course a Tolkien capacity in her own right. While translating the book she noted a confusing reference, which Carl Hostetter has kindly helped clear up (which may also help others, who might become confused at the phrasing of the reference). Renée's further comments on The Fall of Arthur of course also deserve attention (though I do think she goes a bit too far when saying that Tolkien's ‘picture of Guinevere could hardly have been more misogynist’).

Bruce Charlton, 2013-06-07, ‘Review of The Fall of Arthur by JRR Tolkien
Bruce Charlton often comes up with some unusual angles on Tolkien's work that nonetheless has the ability to make you stop and think. His review of The Fall of Arthur is no exception. He does, for instance, describe Tolkien's Guinever as evil, which has the effect of making me go back to the text and check why I believe this to be wrong.

Anna Smol, 2013-06-21, ‘'Wild blow the winds of war': Tolkien's Fall of Arthur
Anna Smol writes intelligently about the poem itself, it's form and the way that Tolkien paints images with his words, both as actual descriptions and as metaphors.

Sørina Higgins, The Curator, 2013-06-21, ‘King Arthur was an Elf!
The suggestions that King Arthur was an Elf, or that Lancelot was Eärendil must be in jest (there is no basis whatsoever for such suggestions in the book). I cannot quite figure out where Higgins is ironic / sarcastic and where she is serious – I suspect that her comments on why poetry is ‘more difficult than prose’ are meant seriously, though I don't think the example works particularly well, but that may be due to my familiarity with the head-rhyming verse forms.

Andrew O'Hehir, The New York Times, 2013-06-21, ‘Legend Retold: ‘The Fall of Arthur,’ by J. R. R. Tolkien
O'Hehir's review shows a good understanding for the poem and its author. Among other things, he suggests that Tolkien was concerned / sensitive to the conflict inherent in writing the language and verse-mode of the very people that the British Arthur fought, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. I am not ultimately convinced by this argument, but I am sure that Tolkien would have been aware of this issue while writing the poem.

Tom Shippey, The Times Literary Supplement, 2013-06-26, ‘Tolkien's King Arthur
Shippey discusses Tolkien's use of his medieval sources to that particular particular part of the Arthur story that Tolkien deals with in the poem as well as Tolkien's possible motives for writing the poem. And of course reading Shippey about Tolkien is always a treat – really, there is no excuse to skip Shippey's review.

Kathy Cawsey, Open Letters Monthly, 2013-08-01, ‘The Lord of the Round Table
Kathy Cawsey's review was one of these happy discoveries (thanks to Anna Smol) that one occasionally comes across. A section on Tolkien as a poet of alliterative verse is particularly interesting, and Cawsey's comments as a professional medievalist on Tolkien's Arthuriana are definitely also worth reading. I warmly recommend Cawey's review.

Finally some reviews that are here listed without further comment (many of these are from various web-sites or from people's personal blogs). These are, of course, merely a very small sampling – doing a search on-line for “"The Fall of Arthur" Tolkien Review” will yield thousands of hits

Tish Wells, McClatchy, 2013-05-23, ‘At last, we get Tolkien's take on King Arthur

Elizabeth Hand, Los Angeles Times, 2013-05-23, ‘J.R.R. Tolkien's ‘Fall of Arthur’ and the path to Middle-Earth

Felicity Capon, The Telegraph, 2013-05-24, ‘Tolkien's epic about the legend of King Arthur published for the first time

Ethan Gilsdorf, Geekdad, 2013-05-24, ‘Unpublished Tolkien Epic The Fall of Arthur Is Released

Ray Palen, Bookreporter, 2013-05-24, ‘The Fall of Arthur

Fr. Daren J. Zehnle, 2013-05-24, ‘The Fall of Arthur: A Review

A.J. Connell, Geek Eccentric, 2013-06-04, ‘Review: J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Fall of Arthur”

Marama Whyte, Hypable, 2013-06-06, ‘Hypable Book Review: ‘The Fall of Arthur’ by J.R.R. Tolkien

Noah Cruickshank, A.V. Club, 2013-07-01, ‘When do posthumous releases go too far?

Steff Humm, Fantasy Faction, 2013-07-08, ‘The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien

Lee Duigon, 2013-08-07, ‘Review of Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur

And here at the end, for those who would like to see something that has a character of conversation, here are a few discussion threads from the on-line fora that I frequent:

rec.arts.books.tolkien: ‘The Fall of Arthur
LotR Plaza: ‘Arthur: Mythology and History
LotR Plaza: ‘'The Fall of Arthur' — connections to the Quenta
LotR Plaza: ‘The Fall of Guinever
The Barrow-downs: ‘The Fall of Arthur
Reddit/tolkienfans: ‘Thoughts on The Fall of Arthur

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