The Guardian reports that JRR Tolkien’s apparently unfinished Arthurian epic, The Fall of Arthur, is to be released soon. The story is a poem in old-English alliterative style, with passages like these:

His bed was barren; there black phantoms

Of desire unsated and savage fury

In his brain brooded till bleak morning

I’m a fan of alliterative poetry and Tolkien was apparently a master of reading it in its original language, so I’m intrigued that he could have written a modern-day Arthurian poem based on this style. A lot of people can get this sort of thing wrong but when it’s done well it can be very evocative, and I see every possibility that Tolkien could pull it off. Of course, it’s not always the case that specialists in a field make good practitioners, as shown by the long-standing rule that one should never let a film studies student choose your Saturday night movie, but Tolkien is a published writer and some of his other more stylized writing, though hard going, is quite rewarding (see e.g. The Silmarillion). I don’t like every aspect of the passage I cited above, but it seems like a nice first pass, and I will certainly be checking out the full poem. It could be that while Tolkien can often be mediocre in his standard prose, he will be consistently good in this style, so it will be fun to give it a go – plus, it looks like a dark reinterpretation of the Arthurian legend, but will no doubt lack much of the rape!rape!grimdark! of more modern writers who attempt to “subvert” the classic fantasy style through dark reinterpretations. If it’s grimdark without the salacious shock value, I think it could be an excellent addition to the Arthurian canon…

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