The Fall of Gondolin (chapter)

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The name The Fall of Gondolin refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see The Fall of Gondolin (disambiguation).
The Book of Lost Tales Part Two chapters
  1. The Tale of Tinúviel
  2. Turambar and the Foalókë
  3. The Fall of Gondolin
  4. The Nauglafring
  5. The Tale of Eärendel
  6. The History of Eriol or Ælfwine
A page from the first version manuscript

The Fall of Gondolin is the third chapter of The Book of Lost Tales Part Two. It is the earliest tale from the legendarium written by J.R.R. Tolkien. It was first written during a leave of absence granted to Tolkien around the year 1916, while he was fighting in the World War I, and was later revised until 1920. The text remains as the single complete account of the city of Gondolin's fall in existence.

Synopsis[edit | edit source]

Link[edit | edit source]

After Eltas finished telling the Lost Tale of "Turambar and the Foalókë", Lindo commented that the fate of Glorund's gold was told in the story of "The Nauglafring". Then many asked Eltas to tell that tale the next day, but he explained it was necessary to know about the coming of Eärendel first. At that moment Ilfiniol Littleheart, son of Bronweg, entered into the room and Lindo said that he was the best one to tell the tales of Tuor and Eärendel.

Then Ilfinion explained that those tales were very long and that it took seven times faring to the Tale-fire to hear them all, so he would need aid from Ailios and Meril-i-Turinqi. Messengers were sent to look for the Lady of the Isle, and no more tales were heard in the Cottage of Lost Play for three days. On the fourth day she was received as in a festival, and her maidens sang beautiful songs. Seated in the place of honour near the Tale-fire, Meril asked Ilfiniol: "Come now, O Ilfiniol, begin thou the tale of tales, and tell it more fully than thou hast ever done". Thus Littleheart began telling "The Fall of Gondolin".

Tuor's journey to the Sea[edit | edit source]

The Rainbow Cleft by Alan Lee

Tuor lived alone by the shores of Lake Mithrim singing and hunting in its woods and learning lore from the Gnomes that wandered in the region. At some point he found a cave through which a river ran, and was driven to follow it by a mysterious and sudden spring of water. He met some of the Noldoli and came through the cave into a ravine called the Rainbow Cleft.

After travelling through the ravine for many days, Tuor was able to scale the cliff, and as he followed the ravine, he saw that an enormous wave came into it with great noise, and he was afraid. Finally, he reached the shore and became the first Man to see the Sea, and his heart was filled with Sea-longing. There he dwelt for a long time, marvelling at the sound of the waves. In that time he made a little cottage with wood that the Noldoli sent him through the river. He adorned his new home, which was called Falasquil, and took the Swan as a token of his house.

Tuor tarried in Falasquil for a long time, until he saw three swans flying south. Seeing them as a sign, he followed them on a long trek south into more pleasant lands where the trend of the coast was more west-east than north-south. Eventually he reached a land where a river emptied into the sea. There, during the night he met a group of the Gnomes who guided him far inland, to Arlisgion from where he followed the course of the River Sirion north until he came to the Land of Willows. In this region Tuor was content to live, singing among the butterflies and other insects.

But Ulmo Lord of Waters, who had willed Tuor on this journey, decided he could not trust his plan to the Noldoli anymore, so he abandoned Ulmonan and leapt upon his car, and mighty was his appearance. Thus he came before Tuor in person, bidding him to seek the hidden city of Gondolin, and Ulmo promised that Tuor would speak his words there. This Tuor did, but soon the Gnomes' guides deserted him, fearing the reach of Melko's power in the north. Only one remained with him: Voronwë or Bronweg.

The journey of Tuor and Voronwë to Gondolin[edit | edit source]

Eagles fly above the encircling mountains by Alan Lee

After being abandoned by the Noldoli, Tuor felt weary and wished to come back to the Sea. But Voronwë encouraged him, explaining to him that he did not know the way, but it was said that those wanderers who seek the hidden city found true freedom in it. Then both sought for the city for many days until they found a deep dale amid the mountains that was opened by a noisy river. There a magic spell allowed only to the Noldoli to see a secret gate, so thanks to Voronwë they could find it.

But into the door was a dark and tortuous way, and they crossed it running, full of fear. When they came into the light, they were surrounded by the Guard of the Gondothlim. They were in a great vale surrounded by mountains, and in the distance rose a city shining in the morning light. Voronwë spoke to the guards in the language of the Gnomes, and one of them welcomed Tuor and Voronwë to Gondolin, city of Seven Names.

The city rose in sight upon Amon Gwareth and Tumladin was smooth, so they could walk there without any guide. They reached Gondolin in the evening and were amazed by its beauty. At the gate, a guard asked their names, and Tuor presented himself as of the house of the Swan and a messenger of Ulmo.

Tuor in Gondolin[edit | edit source]

The entrance to the King's house by Alan Lee

Thus 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, told Turgon to gather his forces and attack Melko as the time for his overthrow was ripe. Turgon refused this counsel and so Tuor warned him that both Elves and Men would suffer for a long time before the Valar could contrive another means of salvation. However Tuor voiced Ulmo's other counsel: to leave Gondolin, travel down the Sirion, build ships and sail back to Valinor to ask the Gods for help against Melko. Again Turgon refused, informing Tuor that he had every year sent messengers by boat over the sea but all of them perished.

Tuor lamented this refusal, but he was invited to dwell in Gondolin, even in the king's halls. There he learned many things that would otherwise be kept secret from the race of Men. Matters of music, lore, architecture and culture were all taught to him and he became beloved in the city. Turgon had a suit of armour made for him and an axe, Dramborleg. Some years later he married Turgon's daughter Idril at Gar Ainion, and Meglin, the king's nephew, became jealous of them. In those days the desire of the Valar was fulfilled because Idril bore Tuor a son: Eärendel.

The encirclement of Gondolin[edit | edit source]

Not all was blissful though, because Melko 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 Gnomes, bypassed the magic protecting it to enter through. Tidings of these spyings were bought to Turgon and he began preparing Gondolin for whatever might become of them.

Now Idril had a premonitory nightmare, perceiving that things would not remain peaceful and that Meglin, her cousin, was not all he seemed. Thus she asked Tuor to have a secret tunnel constructed, leading from their house far onto the plain of Tumladin. This Tuor did and despite the hardness of the rock of Amon Gwareth, work began.

Idril's advice proved very good since Meglin 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 Melko so that he may judge the worth of his information. Melko was well pleased by what Meglin had to tell and together they conceived a plan for the capture of Gondolin, Melko even promising Meglin the hand of Idril if he could slay Tuor and Eärendel. On Meglin's advice Melko had his smiths and sorcerers constructed 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 Tumladin. It is noted that these monsters had never been seen before and never would be again until the "Great End".

Meglin 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 Melko ever gnawed at him. This new Meglin, however, only increased Tuor and Idril's suspicion. Furthermore, Melko withdrew his spies, which Turgon and the Gondothlim interpreted as him seeing the impregnability of Gondolin and deciding against assault, and the watch on the mountains was slackened.

Seven years passed after the treachery of Meglin, and Eärendel was still a child. Idril became more worried and told some Gondothlim that she could help them if the city was attacked, but they laughed of this, trusting that the city would endure as long as Taniquetil.

The array of the Gondothlim[edit | edit source]

Winter passed and the Nost-na-Lothion was held with happiness. When summer approached, the festival of Tarnin Austa was celebrated at night. But as the people gathered to see the sunrise in silence, a red glow grew in the north, dyeing the snow on the mountains as blood. Riders fled over the plain bringing the tidings: Melko's armies were coming upon them.

Now is told of the symbols and colours of the twelve houses of the Gondothlim as they ready for battle: Turgon and the house of the King; Tuor and the house of the Wing; Meglin and the house of the Mole; Duilin and the house of the Swallow; Egalmoth and the house of the Heavenly Arch; Penlod and the two 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 all the lords gathered in his palace. There Tuor recommended to leave the city and save all the women and children. But Meglin and Salgant (who fawned upon Meglin and did his bidding) convinced Turgon to remain in the city, since it was a powerful fortress, so hard in the making and full of treasures. So ended the council and the Gondothlim deployed themselves for the battle.

First distribution of the Twelve Houses

The battle of Gondolin[edit | edit source]

So the battle began in earnest. As the hosts of Melko, commanded by Gothmog, crossed the plain of Tumladin, 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 Melko had reached the city, they found that they could not assault the walls as the sides of Amon Gwareth were smooth, and the beasts of Melko could not climb them. However, the heat of the creatures began to evaporate the city's fountains, except the fountain of the King. Now Gothmog led an assault on the northern gate, using the iron monsters 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, while the archer houses poured arrows from above. Slowly, the Gondothlim began to lose terrain.

The northern gate falls and Tuor confronts Meglin

At this time Meglin had decided to bring his plans to fruition and had travelled with the House of the Mole to Tuor's abode on the south western wall. There he intended to thrust Eärendel over the walls and make Idril see it. He also knew of Idril's secret way and wanted to use it for his own purposes. However, Salgant did not help Meglin as planned, and Tuor and his guard arrived just as Meglin was dragging Eärendel and Idril. Then Tuor gave a great shout, and a battle ensued between the Houses of the Mole and of the Wing. Meglin tried to stab Eärendel, but he was wearing a coat of mail made by his mother. Thereupon Tuor jumped upon Meglin and broke his arm, and lifted and threw him over the walls to his death. Tuor left Idril and Eärendel 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.

The north part is lost and Tuor goes to help

At the northern part, battle intensified as the Balrogs came upon the defenders there. Duilin and Penlod were slain. But Rog rallied his folk of the Hammer about him and made a desperate charge, beating the enemy back to the gates. However, Gothmog cut off their rear, so Rog kept the charge onto Tumladin. There he and his people were slaughtered, but in their charge Balrogs were slain for first time, with great surprise for both Gnomes and enemies.

Western walls are broken and the House of the Fountain comes in aid

With the loss of the folk of the Hammer, the other houses fell or had to retreat from the north part. Battle continued and a fresh assault was made by the forces of Melko 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 his men had already arrived, and soon came Ecthelion and the house of the Fountain (which had before now been held in reserve), ready to confront the incoming enemies. 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 received 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. Carrying Ecthelion, Tuor led men from other houses to the Place of the Well, and there they were saved by Galdor and his folk of the Tree.

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 folk 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.

Battle proved vain, and Turgon recited the words of Amnon the prophet: "Great is the Fall of Gondolin". As the Noldoli 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 Noldoli!" to which the orcs sneered in derision.

Tuor was torn between his love for the King and for his family, and wished not to leave Turgon. Messengers were sent to the Tower, but Turgon refused thrice to leave, and his royal guard stayed with him.

Desperate council was taken and Tuor now informed them of the secret delving of Idril he 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. With Glorfindel and the House of the Golden Flower protecting the rear, they moved quickly down the Way of Running Waters, with dragons and orcs in pursuit.

The escape of the fugitives[edit | edit source]

The King's Tower falls by Alan Lee

Meanwhile, Idril and Voronwë waited for Tuor before their house's doors, but Idril became worried and eventually sent most of her guard down the tunnel with Eärendel. Then she fared about, gathering survivors and showing them her tunnel, and she even bore a sword and led her guard to smite marauders. But soon the enemy killed all the guard except Voronwë, and Tuor's house was burned. Seeing the destruction of her city, Idril fell into shock and began wandering wildy around until she and Voronwë reached Gar Ainion.

Then Tuor arrived at this Place of the Gods, and there was Idril as on their wedding day. But Idril did not see Tuor: from the high Gar Ainion they could see the Square of the Palace, which was now burning and full of enemies. Then some dragons broke the base of the Tower of the King, and this fell, causing King Turgon's death. Melko had won this time.

Now Tuor led the people to his house, and many women and children joined them. The house was in burned ruins, but the staircase to the tunnel remained, so the exiles 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 Hendor was Eärendel. Therefore gathering fifty men about him he led them to the rescue of his son, destroying the Orcs. So was Eärendel reunited with his parents.

Tuor and the Exiles made it to the Eagle's Cleft and moved along the narrow pass, a cliff on one side and a sheer drop on 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, and to defeat his foe he threw his weight against it, forcing it over the brink and into the abyss. Then the Eagles came, driving the Orcs off the mountainside, 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 Gnomes always remembered him.

The wanderings of the Exiles[edit | edit source]

The exiles wandered for a year or more among the mountains, until they found a stream in the next summer, and following it they reached better lands. Here Voronwë was inspired by Ulmo and guided them, and eventually they reached the Sirion river and the Way of Escape, where some Gondothlim had perished. Following the great river, they suffered attacks of wandering Orc-bands, but as they went forward, the protection of Ulmo increased.

Then they crossed the great cave of the Tumultuous Winds, where the Sirion went underground, and came out to the Pools of Twilight. These regions full of reeds were known to Tuor, but he could not remember the way because he had travelled during night. Autumn had come and the Exiles delayed in those marshes with great inconveniences.

Finally, they reached the Land of Willows, where they could rest and heal their wounds and illness. There they dwelt for a long time, until Tuor again felt the sea-longing, and all the host followed him down Sirion to the Sea. Dwelling at the mouth of Sirion, the exiles took the name of Lothlim, and Eärendel grew fair there.

Then Bronweg said: "Alas for Gondolin", and everyone in the Room of Logs remained quiet.

Commentary[edit | edit source]

The Link that introduces the Tale into The Book of Lost Tales narrative was written in the same manuscript of "Turambar and the Foalókë". The text of the Tale itself had been in existence for some time before this interlude, having its own complex history.

The original text was written between 1916-1917 while Tolkien was recovering in a field hospital after the Battle of the Somme. It was written in pencil in two school exercise-books, with the title Tuor and the Exiles of Gondolin (which bringeth in the great tale of Eärendel). This first manuscript Christopher Tolkien calls Tuor A.

Unlike other Lost Tales such as "Turambar" and "Tinúviel", the later revision did not undergo a total rewriting: only in later parts is the text entirely overwritten, and general corrections are made directly above the pencil. The result of these corrections was Tuor B, a fair copy made by Edith Tolkien, probably in the period when Tolkien wrote "The Music of the Ainur" and was working on the Oxford English Dictionary (1919-1920).

Tuor B was fully emended with stylistic revisions and changes to names. Some of these revisions were written on separated slips, and some of them contain indications on shortening the tale when given orally. It is clear then that most of these emendations were made as a preparation for Tolkien's reading at the Essay Club of Exeter College in the spring of 1920.

Christopher elaborates by referring to his introduction to Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin, in which he gave some further information, like the notes Tolkien used to introduce the reading of his 'essay':

Therefore I must read something already written, and in desperation I have fallen back on this Tale. It has of course never seen the light before. . . A complete cycle in an Elfinesse of my own imagining has for some time past grown up (rather, has been constructed) in my mind. Some of the episodes have been scribbled down. . . This tale is not the best of them, but it is the only one that has so far been revised at all and that, insufficient as the revision has been, I dare read aloud.[1]

However, not all these emendations were made at the same time, as there is a clean typescript which Christopher calls Tuor C. This extends only until the message of Tuor to Turgon, having some notable changes in the end, and it has many names in blank which were filled later. As this was clearly an abandoned revision made before the lecture, Christopher used mainly Tuor B for the published text, giving the differences of Tuor A and Tuor C with notes.

Accompanying the Tale there is an unfinished document titled Name-list to The Fall of Gondolin, whose information was mostly included at the end of Christopher's Commentary and in the Appendix. The list was properly published in full in Parma Eldalamberon 15, edited by Christopher Gilson and Patrick H. Wynne.

Later use of the text[edit | edit source]

Soon after abandoning The Book of Lost Tales, Tolkien began several poems about his mythology in a more mature tone. Among those abandoned was The Lay of the Fall of Gondolin, probably written in 1920, which follows very closely the Lost Tale, adding nothing to the narrative.[2]

Tolkien only would finish the story of Gondolin in summarized forms, being particullarly special the one included in the Quenta Noldorinwa (1930), as it was the main text used by Christopher for his edition of The Silmarillion.[3]

The only attempt to revise the story was an incomplete narrative entitled Of Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin from 1951, 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 published in Unfinished Tales under the title "Of Tuor and his Coming to Gondolin" to more accurately describe its content.[1]

It is thus the remarkable fact that the only full account that my father ever wrote of the story of Tuor's sojourn in Gondolin, his union with Idril Celebrindal, the birth of Eärendil, the treachery of Maeglin, the sack of the city, and the escape of the fugitives – a story that was a central element in his imagination of the First Age – was the narrative composed in his youth.

See also[edit | edit source]