'Gondolin' Marks the End of Tolkien's Reign

Millions of readers followed along with the triumphs and losses of Middle-earth as if they were there. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

If you've ever had an epic work of literature become a part of your life, then you understand what it's like when the last book of a series is published. There will be no new tales about the characters' adventures and no new details about the history of their world. You've been a part a shared experience — maybe with friends, maybe with people you've never met — and now, that experience has become finite. It has boundaries that weren't there before.

Fall of Gondolin, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Fall of Gondolin, by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Today, the boundaries of J.R.R. Tolkien's mythic Middle-earth have been set. With the posthumous publication of "The Fall of Gondolin," Tolkien's son, 93-year-old Christopher Tolkien, says this is it. As the literary executor of his father's works, the younger Tolkien has edited and published many stories his father wrote and rewrote that were not published before his death.

Anyone familiar with Tolkien's world of Middle-earth through only "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" (either from the books or the movies) may not realize that the world of Middle-earth goes beyond those stories. Tolkien wrote prolifically about a world that once existed only in his imagination, creating a language and an entire history for it, but not many of those writings were published during his lifetime. "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" were published during that time, but everything else the public has read about Middle-earth was edited, sometimes added to, and published by his son.

"The Fall of Gondolin," according to BBC News, chronicles the ancient history of Middle-earth before the events of "The Lord of the Rings." It debuted on the New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list at number one. It was written before the famous trilogy, presumably while Tolkien was recovering from his time in the military during World War I. The new book can be considered part of its own trilogy. Together with "The Children of Hùrin" and "Beren and Lúthien," published in 2012 and 2017 respectively, it is part of pre-"Lord of the Rings" Middle-earth history that Christopher Tolkien has pieced together from his father's extensive unpublished writings.

Words to live by

I haven't read these three yet, but I'm still feeling contemplative today over the boundary that has suddenly appeared around Tolkien's Middle-earth. I didn't discover Middle-earth until I was in college, but when I finally did, I was in awe. I read "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy on summer break between my junior and senior year. I got very little sleep that summer because I was up reading to all hours of the night. When I did sleep, the books entered my dreams. I dreamed mostly of being cocooned in the webs of large spiders and fighting my way out.

Tolkien's epic tales awakened in me a sense of honor and chivalry — a characteristic I thought only men could possess before reading these books — and even bravery. I didn't know I had those qualities in me. As a young adult, I thought frequently about soldiers in war who would run into battle, knowing pain and death were real possibilities. I wondered if I would ever have the courage to do that or if I would freeze and not be able to force my legs to move me forward. Or worse, I wondered if I would turn and run the other way.

Something about entering Tolkien's world that summer put an end to that wonderment. I found myself realizing that if it was a cause I believed in, I would fight. That may sound odd, but that's the power of literature. When you become a character in your imagination as you're reading, somehow you are changed. (I should share that before I tackled Tolkien that summer, I read through C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia." How could I not have come out a that literary immersion a braver woman?)

That's what I'm contemplating today as Middle-earth becomes finite. The stories and characters may now be contained within the boundaries of a beginning and an end. But there can never be boundaries placed on how they have inspired and will inspire those who choose to live in Middle-earth by opening the pages of Tolkien's books.