17 June 2013

King Arthur was an Elf

The Fall of Arthur is AMAZING! It has rocked my world. I hope it rocks your world. It contains information that should make us re-evaluate all of Tolkien's works, plus some of Lewis' and Williams', as well.

But I won't give away the secret here. You have to read it. And then you have to read my review on Curator in a few weeks.

Meanwhile... Did you get to read my "illegal" article on Curator a few weeks ago? Well, here it is, a pre-review of The Fall of Arthur by J.R.R. Tolkien. In it, I made a bunch of predictions about the poem before reading it.

Now I get to rate myself as a prophet.

I'm writing a proper review for Curator, which will appear in due course. Meanwhile, how did I do? Am I oracular? Here are the predictions I made, and my evaluation of them now that I've read the book.

1. I said that The Fall of Arthur will be a thoroughly twentieth-century work. I got this one wrong. It is thoroughly imitative of two sources: the Norse/Old English poetry from which it takes its form, and the later Frenchified romances on King Arthur. 

2. I predicted that there would be echoes of the First World War in the battle scenes. I got this one wrong. There was only a sea battle, and it was quite Viking in its atmosphere.

3. I said there would be a feeling of hopelessness in the Battle of Camlann, counteracted by the individual heroism of ordinary people. Wrong on both counts; the fragment doesn't get as far as that battle, and there are no ordinary people; only big characters. There is a Frisian sea captain who does something heroic, but it's for the wrong reasons, and he goes to hell for it (!). 

4. I said that the little knight whose name has been forgotten will do deeds to rival those of Gawain, Lancelot and Arthur himself. Wrong. See #3 above. 

5. I thought that if The Fall of Arthur contains a description of what T.S. Eliot called “The Wasteland,” it would be seen through Tolkien’s radical environmental vision. Well, there is no such description. So, wrong

6. I said that there would be “Victorian” depictions of stylized women. Right, but Guinevere is a very strong, powerful, active, complex character, even though she has an elvish beauty. 

7. I talked about his concept of absolutism in language. Well, this one is hard to judge. I can't point to any specific moments that go either way.

8. I predicted that it would be a good poem, with a lively meter, vivid imagery and beautiful sounds, but not a great poem. Right. Excellent, masterful meter, but awkward inverted syntax, some amazing descriptions, and a surprisingly lively plot.

9. I said that this poem would show off Tolkien's mythopoeic genius. Right, right, right again. Just wait until you see how right! Whew. 

10. And finally, I said that Tolkien gave up this poem because wanted to refigure the mythic power of the Christian religion, to rewrite it in an entirely new universe of his own creation. Well, perhaps, but I think I have to count this one wrong -- because he found a way to do both! Or perhaps, although he found the way, it was not satisfactory in the end, since he didn't end up using this method in the poem itself, only in his notes. So I'm going to say I'm right on this one. 

That's still not a very good score: 4 out of 10?  
I fail as a prophet. 
I guess I'll stick to literary analysis. 


fred putnam said...

[No plot spoilers here.] I quite agree--a(nother) brilliant work by the Author of the Century. I found that the poem is better read aloud; this seemed to make better sense of the syntactical inversions.

As for predicting the nature and content of yet-unreleased books, you are in good company. Borges reviewed "books" that he wished had been written so that he could review them. Of course, his score was 100% right.

Anonymous said...

That's my advice too -- read the poem aloud. I know that many readers will find the inverted syntax tough going, but that is one of the features of the alliterative style that Tolkien was inspired by. I did find the poem much more lively and descriptive than I expected.