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The Fall of Gondolin

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The name The Fall refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see The Fall (disambiguation).
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The Fall of Gondolin
Event
LocationGondolin
Datec. F.A. 510
ResultThe destruction of Gondolin and deaths of most of its people; survivors fled to Nan-tathren
Part ofMorgoth's destruction of the Noldor
ParticipantsTurgon, Tuor, Ecthelion of the Fountain, Gondolindrim, Gothmog, Orcs, Dragons
DescriptionA massive attack by Morgoth's forces upon Gondolin

The Fall of Gondolin is perhaps the earliest extant writing of J.R.R. Tolkien's legendarium. It was written during a leave of absence granted to Tolkien around the year 1916, while he was fighting in the World War I and was only published postumously in the second volume of The History of Middle-earth series by his son, Christopher Tolkien.

It is also striking as a text as it is the single complete account of the city of Gondolin's fall in existance. The only revision made was an incomplete narrative entitled Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin which cut off abruptly at the moment Tuor first witnesses the city and thus never dealt with the actual fall of the city. It was publised in Unfinished Tales under the title 'Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin' to more accurately state it's content. In the commentry to 'The Fall of Gondolin Christopher Tolkien calls the unfinished state of 'Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin' "...one of the saddest facts in the whole history of incompletion" which adequately expresses the complications that arise.

Contents

Canonicity

As the text is such an early writing, many conceptions in The Fall of Gondolin are in their infancy and thus difficult to judge in relation to the notion of canon. Within its narrative are many features that rub uneasily if not outright clash with later conceptions of their forms. The entire notion of Gondolin's secrecy is presented as far weaker than later versions. Morgoth's animal spies (another feature not expressed fully in later versions of the legendarium) surround the vale of Tumladen completely, having discovered by their own scoutings exactly where the city lies. When Maeglin is captured therefore, the price of his freedom is not telling Morgoth the location of the city (as in later texts) but rather for information regarding Turgon's preparations for the defence (since Morgoth's spies had been marked by the Gondothlim) and the layout of the city.

Many of the details found in The Fall of Gondolin feature only in that text with no other sources to confirm or deny their place in Middle-earth canon. Others, such as the Twelve Houses of the Gondothlim receive only fleeting and largely insubstantial glimpses in later writings: In the case of the Houses of the Gondothlim Ecthelion and Glorfindel are occassionally featured with their respective titles 'of the Fountain' and 'of the Golden Flower' refering to the Houses they commanded.

Synopsis

In the Beginning

Tuor lived by the shores of Lake Mithrim hunting in its woods and learning lore from the Ñoldor that wandered in the region. At some point however he is driven by some force of fate to enter a cave through which a river ran. Driven on he meets a couple of the Noldor (characters who would become Gelmir and Arminas) and comes through the cave into the Rainbow Cleft. Tuor spent a time dwelling on the shores of the region (presumably Nevrast) before three swans encouraged him to follow them, because he had a great liking of the birds and took them as his symbol. There-follows a long trek south into more pleasant lands where the trend of the coast was more west-east than north-south. Eventually he reaches a land where a river empties into the sea. There, during the night he is met by a group of the Ñoldor who guide him far inland, to Arlisgion from where he followed the course of the River Sirion north until he came to Nan-tathren, the beautiful valley of willows. In this region Tuor was content to live and fearing this, Ulmo lord of waters who had willed Tuor on this journey came before Tuor in person, bidding him to seek the hidden city of Gondolin. This Tuor does, but soon the Ñoldor guides desert him fearing the reach of Morgoth's power. Only Voronwë remains with him and together they find a way to the hidden city.

The above section of the tale was replaced in its entirety by [Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin] which retains many features and phrases but changes dramatically the narrative. In Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin Tuor is guided by the swans to Turgon's old city of Vinyamar where he finds arms and armour left for him by Turgon at the bidding of Ulmo. There the encounter with Ulmo takes place who sends him Voronwë, saved from a shipwreck to guide Tuor to Gondolin (the other Ñoldor do not appear). The journey is also considerably shorter, both in distance and the time it takes, as Tuor and Voronwë turn east beyond Mount Taras traveling the wilderness south of the line of the Ered Wethrin. However from the moment the travelers see Gondolin for the first time, The Fall of Gondolin is the only source.

Tuor in Gondolin

Tuor and Voronwë entered Gondolin, greeted with awe by its people and were taken before King Turgon. There Tuor, given the power and majesty of Ulmo's own voice tells Turgon to gather his forces and attack Morgoth as the time for his overthrow is ripe. Turgon refused this counsel and so Tuor warned him that both elves and men would suffer for a long whiles before the Valar could contrive another means of salvation. However Tuor voices Ulmo's other counsel which was to leave Gondolin, travel down the Sirion, build ships and sail back to Valinor. Again Turgon refuses, informing Tuor that he had every year sent messengers by boat over the sea but no word returned of their fate.

Tuor, none the less, is invited to remain in Gondolin and there he learned many things that would otherwise be kept secret from the race of men. Matters of music, lore, architecture and culture are all taught to him and he became beloved in the city. Turgon had a suit of armour made for him and an axe, Dramborleg. During this time he married Turgon's daughter Idril Celebrindal at Gar Ainion and Idril bore him a son, Eärendil.

Not all was blissful though because Morgoth had gathered an army of spies and these he sent out to discover the city. They had found the Way of Escape and with the aid of captive Ñoldor, bypassed the magic protecting it to enter through. Tidings of these spyings were bought to Turgon and he began preparing Gondolin for whatever may become of them. Idril then encouraged Tuor to have a secret tunnel constructed, leading from their house far onto the plain of Tumladen, for Idril perceived that things would not remain peaceful and that Maeglin, her cousin, was not all he seemed. This Tuor did and despite the hardness of the rock of Amon Gwareth work began.

Idril's advice proved very good since Maeglin was captured by orcs spying in the region. In exchange for his life he offered them much information on Gondolin, and though they knew much of what he had told them, he told them to bring him before Morgoth so that he may judge the worth of his information. Morgoth was well pleased by what Maeglin had to tell and together they conceived a plan for the capture of Gondolin, Morgoth even promising Maeglin the hand of Idril if he could slay Tuor and Eärendil. On Maeglin's advice Morgoth had his smiths and sorcerers construct iron monsters in the likeness of dragons, which might cross difficult terrain and harbour legions of orcs to transport them safely across the open plain of Tumladen. These monsters it is noted had never been seen before and never would be again until the "Great End".

Maeglin returned to Gondolin promptly so as not to arouse suspicion and from that point on appeared increasingly happy and light-hearted though a shadow of dread placed upon him by Morgoth ever gnawed at him. This new Maeglin however only increased Tuor and Idril's suspicion. Furthermore Morgoth withdrew his spies which Turgon and the people of Gondolin interpreted as him seeing the impregnability of Gondolin and deciding against assault and the watch on the mountains was slackened. It was in that year that Eärendil was seven years of age.

The Fall

It was as the Gondolindrim were celebrating the festival of Tarnin Austa that Morgoth assaulted their city. As the sun went down that day and all the people were out to witness the ending of the day, a red glow grew in the north dying the snow on the mountains as blood. Riders fled over the plain bringing the tidings, Morgoth was upon them.

There follows a detailed description of the symbols and colours of the Twelve Houses of the Gondothli as they ready for battle: Turgon and the House of the King; Tuor and the House of the Wing; Maeglin and the House of the Mole; Duilin and the House of the Swallow; Egalmoth and the House of the Heavenly Arch; Penlod and the twin Houses of the Pillar and the Tower of Snow; Galdor and the House of the Tree; Glorfindel and the House of the Golden Flower; Ecthelion and the House of the Fountain; Salgant and the House of the Harp and Rog and the House of the Hammer of Wrath.

A council of war was called by Turgon and though Tuor recommends an attempt to sally, Maeglin and Salgant (who fawned upon Maeglin and did his bidding) convinced Turgon to remain in the city since it was so hard in the making. So ended the council and the Gondolindrim deployed themselves for the battle.

So the battle began in earnest. As the hosts of Morgoth, commanded by Gothmog crossed the plain of Tumladen, Turgon's war machines opened fire, supplemented by the Houses of the Heavenly arch and of the Swallow, both houses of archers. However for all their efforts they did little to slow the advance. Once the forces of Morgoth had reached the city however, they found that they couldn't assault the walls as the sides of Amon Gwareth were smooth and hard and the beasts of Morgoth could not climb them. Therefore Gothmog led an assault on the North Gate, using the iron monsters that Morgoth had had forged to break them. From the bellies of the Iron creatures hosts of orcs spilled and Galdor and Rog with their houses were hard pressed to hold them.

At this time Maeglin had decided to bring his plans to fruition and had traveled with the House of the Mole to Tuor's abode on the south western wall. There he intended to thrust Eärendil over the walls and to goad Idril into leading him out of the ruin of the city by her secret way, which Maeglin had heard rumour of. However he was thwarted by Tuor, who arriving just as Maeglin was dragging Eärendil to the walls and Tuor gave a great shout, and battle ensued between the Houses of the Mole and of the Wing. In the midst of this Tuor rescued his wife and son and lifting Maeglin threw him over the walls to his death. Tuor left Idril and Eärendil in the keeping of Voronwë and a guard of warriors from his house and returned with the remainder of the House of the Wing to the combat. At the gate, battle intensified as the balrogs came upon the defenders there. Duilin and Penlod were slain. But Rog rallied his House about him and made for a desperate charge, beating the enemy back from the gates and bringing the battle out onto Tumladen. There, however, he was slain, cut off from the city and his house fell to a man by the horde assembled. Battle continued and a fresh assault was made by the forces of Morgoth upon the western wall. There the dragons had beat a way up Amon Gwareth and heaved against the wall, succeeding in breaching it. But Tuor and the House of the Wing and Ecthelion and the House of the Fountain (which had before now been held in reserve) were ready to meet it. In the battle that followed Tuor and Ecthelion proved themselves mighty in battle, slaying orc chieftains and balrogs alike but it was there that Ecthelion bought a wound on his left arm from a Balrog's whip. There a great dragon appeared and trampled all those about it, orc and elf alike. But Tuor hewed its foot and it fled wrecking ruin about it.

And so slowly but surely all those Houses that remained were driven back to the Square of the King. Of the Chieftains, Turgon, Tuor, Ecthelion, Galdor, Egalmoth and Glorfindel were there. Glorfindel came late, only able to escape from his position in the Great Market once the House of the Harp under the craven Salgant had taken leave of their captain quailing in his bed and relieved the House of the Golden Flower, as they had previously been ordered. There the Gondothlim made their final stand, reinforced by the presence of Turgon and the House of the King. They were hard pressed and soon what barricades they could erect were broken. There came Gothmog and though grievously wounded Ecthelion stepped up to face him. Gothmog disarmed him, ruining his right arm, but Ecthelion was not so easily defeated and drove the spike of his helmet into the chest of Gothmog, wrapping his legs around the demon's body and forcing him into the Fountain of the King where they both drowned.

The Escape

Battle proved vain, and Turgon recited the words of Amnon the prophet: "Great is the Fall of Gondolin". As the Noldor were pushed back to the very Tower of the King Turgon repented of his dismissal of Ulmo's advice, casting off his crown and bidding the Gondothlim follow Tuor from now on and if they might, find a way to flee the city. With that Turgon climbed to the highest peak of his tower and declared "Great is the victory of the Ñoldoli!" to which the orcs sneered in derision. Desperate council was taken and Tuor now informed them of the secret delving of Idril he had had made.

This course of action seemed best and so gathering what people of Gondolin they could find, Tuor led them south by the Road of Pomps. Where it crossed the Way of Running Waters to Tuor's house stood Gar Ainion where he and Idril had been married and there once again was Idril with a great mass of people about her but without Eärendil and Tuor feared he was dead. With Glorfindel and the House of the Golden Flower protecting the rear therefore, they moved quickly down the Way of Running Waters, with dragons and orcs in pursuit.

They won to Tuor's house and there filed down into the tunnel which was hot from the fires of the dragons upon the plain and choked with bodies of those crushed by dislodged rocks in its roof. At length though, they came to the exit hidden in a dried pool shrouded by bushes. There the band came into some conflict over the path to take for though Tuor proposed Cristhorn others trusted rather to the Way of Escape which was nearer. Therefore a split occurred and those who fared to the Way of Escape were caught by a dragon that waited there and were slain. In the dark of the rising dawn, Tuor's company were guided across the plain by Legolas, of the folk of the tree and went far across the plain. But looking back they witnessed six men on foot fleeing across the plain pursued by orcs upon wolves and Tuor saw that upon the shoulders of one man was Eärendil. Therefore gathering fifty men about him he led them to the rescue of his son, destroying the orcs. So was Eärendil reunited with his parents.

Tuor and the refugees made it to the Eagle's Cleft and moved along the narrow pass, a cliff to one hand and a sheer drop to the other. They had already begun the passage when a hail of stones came from above, hurled by orcs, and from behind a Balrog came upon them, set there to prevent escape from the city. Glorfindel blocked it from reaching its target and there ensued a battle on the heights. Glorfindel hewed its arm and wrestled with it, but to defeat his foe forced his weight against it forcing it over the brink and into the abyss. The eagles came, driving the orcs off the mountain-side and so the column of exiles were saved. Glorfindel's body was borne up by the eagles and a cairn was made for him despite their haste and after this deed the exiles escaped the ruin of Gondolin.

Later events

In the text it is told that the exiles wandered for a year or more before they found the Way of Escape and Sirion (This cannot logically be taken as canon for the Way of Escape was little more than five miles from the exit of the Cirith Thoronath). In this time they suffered much hunger and anguish and only late came at last again to the land of willows where Tuor had once witnessed Ulmo. Here the text ends.

Inspiration

Tolkien reputedly wrote The Fall of Gondolin recovering in a field hospital after the Battle of the Somme. While many of his works echo the conflicts of World War I, The Fall of Gondolin is particularly striking in the descriptions of the 'monsters' Morgoth has built in his preparation for the battle. The Iron Dragons which are capable of crossing difficult terrain and which contain within them companies of orcs are speculated by some, notably John Garth in his book Tolkien and the Great War to be in part allegorical of the tanks that made their debut in the Battle of the Somme. In the commentary to the text in The Book of Lost Tales Part 2, Christopher Tolkien seems to support this view saying that "the language employed suggests that some at least of the 'Monsters' were inanimate 'devices'."

See also