The very first story set in Middle-earth!
The story of The Fall of Gondolin was first written by Tolkien as he conveleseased in Hospital after the Battle of Somme, sometime around the end of 1916, over one hundred years ago.
“Lo, it stands fair to see and very clear, and its towers prick the heavens above the Hill of Watch in the midmost plain.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien
This is the first story Tolkien wrote, that takes place in Middle-earth. He first wrote about Gondolin while trying to develop his ideas about the Kalevala and how he might interpret the epic Finnish poem and story.
This took place around 1912 through 1914, but it wasn’t until after his experience in WWI while recovering in the hospital, that he began in earnest to write this story. “The Fall of Gondolin,” was first written in 1916 while Tolkien was on medical leave after the Battle of Somme, though the idea had been germinating since 1912.
In a letter to W.H. Aulden, written in June of 1955 Tolkien said this…
“The beginning of the legendarium, of which the [Lord of the Rings] Trilogy is part (the conclusion), was in an attempt to reorganize some of the Kalevala, especially the tale of Kullervo the hapless, into a form of my own. That began, as I say, in the Honour Mods period; nearly disastrously as I came very near having my exhibition taken off me if not being sent down. Say 1912 to 1913. As the thing went on I actually wrote in verse. Though the first real story of this imaginary world almost fully formed as it now appears was written in prose during sick-leave at the end of 1916: The Fall of Gondolin, which I had the cheek to read to the Exeter College Essay Club in 1918. I wrote a lot else in hospitals before the end of the First Great War.”
And in a letter written to the Houghton Mifflin Company in June of 1955, he wrote this…
The mythology (and associated languages) first began to take shape during the 1914-18 war. The Fall of Gondolin (and the birth of Eärendil) was written in hospital and on leave after surviving the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The kernel of the mythology, the matter of Lúthien Tinúviel and Beren, arose from a small woodland glade filled with ‘hemlocks’ (or other white umbellifers) near Roos on the Holderness peninsula – to which I occasionally went when free from regimental duties while in the Humber Garrison in 1918.
The story as he wrote it in 1916 was never published during Tolkien’s lifetime, but he did read aloud a version of The Fall of Gondolin to the Exeter College Essay Club in the spring of 1920. For nearly 50 years no one else, but Tolkien and his family would hear this remarkable tale.
A version of the stories surrounding Gondolin were later edited and published by Christopher Tolkien in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth. Both of these works were published before Christopher Tolkien had finished his study of the materials in his father’s archive. So this new version of the story, The Fall of Gondolin should be the most complete version of the story yet published.
The story itself, recounts the tale of the Noldor, who were shown the Vale of Tumladen in a dream in the year 50 of the First Age. Under the divine guidance of the Vala Ulmo, Noldorin Lord Turgon travelled from his kingdom in Nevrast and found the vale he had seen in the dream. It was surround on all sides by the Encircling Mountains, which kept the vale hidden for nearly 400 years. In the middle of the vale there was a steep hill which was called Amon Gwareth. There Turgon decided to found a great city, that would be protected by the mountains and hidden from the Dark Lord Morgoth.
In secret, Turgon and his people built Gondolin over the course of 75 years. It was competed in 116 of the First Age and nearly a third of the Noldor and three quarters of the northern Sindar settled there. The city dwelt in peace and prosperity for nearly 400 years, until it was betrayed to Morgoth by Maeglin, Turgon’s nephew, and sacked shortly thereafter by the Dark Lord’s forces.
A great battle was fought for the city and Morgoth brought to bear a vast army of Orcs, Balrogs and the Fire-drakes of Angband. In the end the city fell and was utterly destroyed and of the Twelve Houses of the Gondothlim, many died and yet others escaped to becom exiles.
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