Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur
Well… I’ve read Chaucer. I’ve read Arthur. Tolkien’s work is a combination of Caxton’s Translation of Malory, Beowulf and Chaucer. Chaucer’s feminine element is embodied in Guinevere, and Tolkien’s story is a very simple one. The title of the piece is “The Fall of Arthur.” Tolkien was writing with material sufficient for a Long poem, but intended the piece to be an epic. It proves one cannot go beyond the archetypal limitations of a story.
I have finished the poem with seven lines to give words to the metaphor, for my own pleasure. As the poem screamed Chaucer to me. It ended so beautifully at the Cliffs of Albion, and the metaphor wanted to be tied up there as a long poem, not an Epic. The metaphor being the loss of Albion giving up the Kingdom. The piece is a metaphor, of course. Arthur was out fighting his battles with, what I assume is, France (metaphorically), left Guinevere alone, and Mordred came and began to stir up strife. Therefore, Albion was lost because Arthur was overseas.
I saw Chaucer in the text. Therefore, a Canterbury tale. The piece is appropriate for a Canterbury tale; its subject is the same. Arthur left his lover vulnerable, Lancelot saved her, Arthur became jealous over Lancelot—therefore, for the warlust of conquering, he lost his friend because that friend had to save Guinevere, and his kingdom; so therefore, Arthur was also killed at Albion. The nature of the Jealousy is Chaucerian;—his son Chris says that the interpretation is new. It is for an Arthurian Legend, but Tolkien fused Chaucer’s element with Malory’s. The subject of Chaucer is showing up in the Arthurian poem, that being a certain feminine character in Guinevere.
The story is a metaphor about losing the Mythos of England to France. Perhaps because Tolkien had already given up the battle and embarked on writing Middle Earth, the poem could not be finished. It’s why I wrote Hail Britannica was this controversy right here, of Britain not having its own mythology. But, there’s some tension between Tolkien’s Middle Earth and The Fall of Arthur. What is called “Mirkwood”, there’s the beginning of a tension between Tolkien’s Universe of Discourse and the Arthurian Legend’s. Tolkien did, in fact, give a mythology to England. So also with the entire English Speaking civilization.
I have criticism from the New York Times, that doesn’t quite understand what they have here; which is typical of anything named after New York. We treat serious literature as if it were a product. But, it has a quintessential English Myth, about losing the Cliffs of Albion—what is referred to as “The Wall” several times in the poem—being the pivotal point in history where Arthur loses his reign. You’d almost have to be English to understand it—or have the first thing you learn about England be the impenetrable Cliffs of Albion.
Albion is the whole of Great Britain’s poetic name. And I believe the patriotic reference is appropriate. Tolkien, as a whole, was deeply ingrained in believing in the unity of good people’s against evil. So with it, I do believe the poem is right. Tolkien is English. He did fight in WWI, the worst war ever fought to date. It is a metaphor about the United Kingdom needing to stay whole.
I do, also, believe Tolkien had a Chaucer like tale here. I wish he could have tied up the metaphor, instead of go down rabbit holes trying to fuse his Middle Earth with the Arthurian Legends. He didn’t have the material for an Epic Poem, just a Chaucer like Long Poem which could be found in the Canterbury tales. The metaphor is perfect—but he had made a mistake by trying to carry on with the poem after its conclusion. The metaphor was in the title, and certainly, it would make Albion fall to Mordred, the events of the poem.
Why Tolkien could not finish a work of poetry is not really understood by me. But, the fact remains that the poem could be finished only by about line 70 or so of Canto V. Arthur was lost at Albion’s beach. As, that’s the poem’s end; it’s the metaphor being built up to. There can be no winning England after Albion falls. If the English lose Albion, there is no Gawain to win it back. I think that’s why Tolkien could not finish the poem. He had too far a breadth, but the archetypes wouldn’t allow him to go any further.
And frankly, my original draft of this essay had said “Dover.” Because of an obscure reference to Pevensey. But, I believe Tolkien is talking about Albion, not just the region of Dover. Where the battle is—which gives the myth more weight as no one knows where Camlann was fought—could be anywhere there are Salt Cliffs in Albion. The unified whole of the United Kingdom. The battle is most likely in Wales, though, as it seems the geographical center of the conflict, but it also blends with Dover. Probably a discreet warning to England about Wales’ geography. One might think that it is perfectly impenetrable being next to Ireland, but the threat is internal. Mordred is from Wales, and in the King’s absence, Mordred stirs up a rebellion. That is why the cliffs of Wales embody a United Kingdom, or better known as Albion.
Upon reading notes in my copy of the book, and my vivid imagination, I had imagined the possibility of writing more to the piece. Siegeworks being rowed in, the logistic train of ships. Though, this is a poor artistic choice. Tolkien would have known this, as many writers have fantastic notes, but employing them would be bathos, or in this case, ruin the Voltaire like ending. As, there is a striking Voltaire like punch in the last line.
My added lines would only be there to help the reader assess what the meaning of the poem is they had just read. Only for a modern audience, as I can easily account that the poem is talking about Camlann. The three futile battles, as Camlann was one of the three futile battles of English history, being the loss of Lancelot, the loss of Guinevere, and the landing of the galleons at Albion. The poem could not make more battles, as Hastings is one of those three futile battles, therefore, it must be three futilities, and landing at Albion is the third futility. To siege Albion would seem French.—To even assume it’s possible. Albion’s shores are futility, being the third futility. Guinevere’s love the second. Lancelot’s disownment the third.
Nothing more needs written to this poem. Except what I had written, only for a modern audience to help them understand what they had just read, and to help give some closure to the ambiguity of the poem if only for myself. Landing a fleet at Albion must be futile, as the battle Tolkien described was already stated a Punic victory several lines back. I suppose one could make it an Odyssey, but one would need fifteen Cantos, which would be theft. Let the reader simply imagine it with this line, as a series of failed siege attempts at Albion would be a strong story, but it would not then be Tolkien’s. His subject was taken up, it was completed, the three woes beautiful and simply were Guinevere’s futile love, Lancelot’s futile service, Arthur’s futile landing. To siege the cliff would be a fourth woe, therefore unnecessary.
A Defense of the Completion of Tolkien’s Poem:
“… :: My heart Urgeth/ that best it were:: that battle waited.” To read the poem as it would naturally be read, with the context of the previous lines, it is Arthur claiming it would have been best to wait to give battle, rather than fight on the beach. The next lines are ambiguous, possibly to allow Tolkien the option to continue if he ever wanted to take up the subject again. But, since he never could, the last lines are best read as if they were stream of consciousness, to help complete the work. There is no way to communicate the sense, but to consider it in a grammatical tense of Arthur giving immediate thought to the events unfolding before he landed on the beach. That he is in that present mind. As, the author’s intents are known to the reader. But, subtracting the author from the text, using Autonomous Artwork in theory, the line should be reflected within the framework of the story as stream of consciousness. Therefore, a conclusion, and giving connotation of Pevensey, where the French sieged England and won at Hastings. The poem is masterful with this conclusion in view,—to go further would be deuterocanonical, and spoil the metaphor.
Why I Offer a Different Scholarship than Chris Tolkien
For one thing, a man is acquainted with his father. He’s acquainted with Arthurian legend. He’s not so sure what he has. I’ll tell him what he has. He has one of England’s masterpieces, but, only if the poem does not continue.
So, it will come to no surprise that there should be no—rather there ought not be any—instance of the Silmarillion in this poem. Mirkwood sounds too much like one of Tolkien’s inventions, which was clumsy in the poem. Granted, Tolkien’s masterwork The Lord of the Rings is far superior to anything I had ever dreamt up, even to this date. It is without ties to any historical story. Arthur, however, is tied up with a lot of legends, where Tolkien’s foray into the Silmarillion or Middle Earth universe of discourse doesn’t fit the body of work poets have been creating in Britain, France, Dutchland and the United States. England has a vast mythology, starting with Beowulf, but including Paradise Lost, Pilgrim’s Progress, Arthur, Robin Hood, St. George. Middle Earth is like Rowling’s Masterwork. It is purely creative; it is even more creative, in that it is something brand new. It is a mythology for England. It is—as it can only be—purely British. There can be no American, Frenchman nor any German intruding on the purely British story of Middle Earth. It is the first of its kind, written in the bunkers of WWI, and only Dune rivals it in scope. If anyone were to ask me which body of work stands as the greatest masterpiece of fiction ever, The Lord of the Rings stands as the greatest.
However, Tolkien wrote an impressive work—to be viewed outside of his body. The Fall of Arthur is not unfinished. It is, I will argue, complete. Because the metaphor is complete. Tolkien had completed the poem on verse 63 of Canto V. I had written an interpretation starting at verse 64, and ending at 70. The reason why—and we’re in the realm of poetry—is that the metaphor is perfect in The Fall of Arthur.
One must understand Tolkien was writing a myth for England. Modern England. The England with Communism to the North of it. The England with Atomic Bombs. The England where further conquest would be futile.
In that is the third futility. Camlann was considered the third futile battle in English History. As recorded. Futile, Punic—Tolkien had written in Canto V a Punic victory. He had—as I read him closely—been conscious of the effect of the poem, and that it was soon coming to an end.
What’s more, is that there are wars with the “East”. Not south. The “East.” Rome was south of Britain. Russia is to the East. The metaphor must be preserved in the poem, as the poem is really about Wales being a vulnerability in the English isles. Not much is spoken of about Wales in our English literature. But, Mordred is a prince. A Prince of Wales, who foments a coup against his father, as his father is out fighting his glorious wars with the East. Remember, the point of the battle of Camlann is its futility. Anticlimax is the sum of futility, and is an artistic choice worthy of the subject.
Historically speaking—perhaps Tolkien realized this—the victory over Rome never occurred. C. S. Lewis was fanatical about this apparently—such is friendship that the fanaticism would carry over to Tolkien. It was, for some intellectual reason, disgusting, and these obscure and arcane opinions are held by scholars in agreement—for whatever reason, probably as a point of agreement that the sacred bonds will never be broken on that one solitary point. Arthur had left—the third futility when he came back and landed at Albion—and lost everything fighting his war with the “East.” Not Rome.
The first is Guinevere’s unrequited love. The second is Lancelot’s disownment as a friend. As the Chaucerian themes start to intrude onto the story. The story is English, but not wholly Arthurian. It is borrowed from Beowulf, it is borrowed from Chaucer.
The story seems to be a metaphor about Albion. The metaphor is the Salt Cliffs—often ambiguous, as the geography is all of England at once, but the conflict arises at Wales. The salt cliffs which kept England safe were the same ones, “The traitor keeper”, that solidified the reign of Mordred. The reign of whatever foreign threat there is. The metaphor is clear, the story must be about futility. It must have three futilities. A battle after winning a beach, the win must be the futility, not the future battle a futility. “:: doom of mortals/ ere the walls were won…” The walls were not won. Albion prevented Nazi invasion. It would never fall, even to Arthur. The metaphor must be Albion, either being in the possession of Arthur, where he can reign responsibly. Or in the possession of Mordred, the power hungry prince. The battle with the East will not be won, but will end in futility. The poem must mean that, or the metaphor it’s building carries no meaning.
It is arcane if studied in the context of Morte D’ Arthur. But Tolkien is not writing Morte D’ Arthur. He is writing The Fall of Arthur; a myth with no French words. The fall of Arthur, the spirit of England, is the disunity of the United Kingdoms. What follows suit, from the beginning of the poem, Albion is protecting not just England, but Christendom. Therefore, the metaphor is not only about Albion. It is about the Western Civilization.
The threat is war with the East. A futile war, that Tolkien is alluding to, which cannot really be won. It would be in name a glorious victory, fictitious in its accomplishment like Arthur’s victory against Rome. Truly, Arthur is in possession of Rome right now, therefore a possible concrete fulfillment of the prophecy of literature. But losing Albion, it is something futile. As futile as unrequited love. As futile as broken friendship.
Tolkien’s Fall of Arthur An Analysis
The poem is not uncompleted. It is finished. With a comma in place of a period, it is finished. With seven lines of mine, maybe even extraneous, the poem is finished. Therefore, what does the poem mean?
The Battle of Camlann is considered the third futile battle in English history. Therefore, the poem is talking about the futility of the English striving with the East. It is a metaphor—Rome being the Western civilization. Therefore, completed, Arthur has conquered all Rome, with the United Kingdom being the principate in control of the entire Western Empire. Therefore, Arthur does control Rome, and the book is not looking back to Arthurian legends, but is looking to today, with wars haunting the West from the East.
With this being said, it is interpreted that while Arthur is out fighting his war, it leaves the door open to his son Mordred to rape away Guinevere, which is where the plot hinges. On that central focus, Mordred is now taking advantage of the king’s absence, by stirring up Wales against the United Kingdom. Wales, in particular, is the most stable of the three protectorates of England. But, in Arthur’s absence, Wales is stirred up against England, and therefore, Mordred launches a coup to usurp the kingdom from Arthur.
What follows is that Lancelot must save Guinevere, and her love for Lancelot is discovered. This leads to a furious jealousy in Arthur, who disowns Lancelot as a friend, and Arthur must now know that Guinevere is unfaithful. Therefore, two of the three futilities. The third, is the loss of Albion to Mordred. There can be—as the poem’s metaphor creates—no winning back the shores of Britain if Albion is seized by another king.
Arthur here is not a King, but is the spirit of England. And if the spirit of England is lost to the East, in futile battles bordering the edges of Mirkwood, the United Kingdom will be lost. The poem is a rallying cry to keep the kingdom United.
It fairs well as a short piece, almost like a Canterbury tale in length. Upon reading it the first time through, I was amazed, and kept hoping that the poem would end at Albion’s shores. It sure enough did, which is why the poem’s subject was finished. There was no sieging nor winning Albion, what was called The Wall. Because the cliffs are unassailable to foreign invader. Even keeping out the Nazis during World War II.
The poem is proof of a concept, and that is the archetypal structure of the collective knowledge. Albion cannot be lost to war, but must only be lost to subterfuge. If the Spirit of England fails, it is gone. The glorious revolution proves this all the more, that England must acquiesce to its rulers. It is the only way a ruler can get embedded within the shores, because once the Walls of Albion are abandoned, the power that is within the walls will be sustained. Thus, it is only lost to cowardice, or it is lost to campaigning, which is how Arthur lost it in the poem.
Readily, that is the metaphor of the poem, the three futilities are Guinevere’s Unrequited Love, Lancelot’s Disownment and Landing Ashore at Albion, as opposed to Pevensey, where it is possible to take Britain by military exploit, if she doesn’t have her navy.
A Reflective Analysis of Mirkwood
Tolkien’s body of work includes references to “Mirkwood.” His masterpiece Universe of Discourse is starting to blend into the Arthurian legend. For what reason, we must know that the poem is Tolkien’s. Therefore, the poem must be a striving with Arthurian Legend and Middle Earth. Perhaps, Tolkien is only capable of achieving one universe of discourse, and is not able to enter into another.
With this said, there is a blending of Mirkwood—Middle Earth—with Arthur’s legend. Arthur is out fighting at Mirkwood, the East, somewhere, I would suppose with Middle Earth. Perhaps showing an unconscious tension between the two realms of creativity, that they could not be separated. Until, at the end, Middle Earth won out, and Tolkien abandoned the Mythos of England for the myth of Middle Earth.
Tolkien had said he wanted to embark on creating a “Universal myth of England,” a mythology that was “Uniquely English.” Thus, drawing from the English of past, fusing it together to work new languages; creating ex nihilo a body of work as rich as Middle Earth, England’s purely English mythology was made to be Middle Earth. Substantial in its own right, it does not interact with the real world. It is, on its own, something untouchable.
Tolkien, however, touched it with the Arthurian legends. He was probably unintentionally creating a link, temporal, with Middle Earth. Tolkien’s fairy worlds were an invention of Post World War I, and were probably an expression of his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder incurred by fighting in the trenches of World War I. Thus, the dark and dingy world of Tolkien’s is starting to burgeon into the more tangible metaphysic of Arthurian Legends.
This is what separates literature from fantasy, by the way. Literature is more real in its subject. As opposed to Fantasy, a world of pure creative thought, literature embarks on recreating what is real, even when it is using fantasy. It’s why Orwell’s 1984 is literature. Because it is real. Same with Brave New World. As opposed to Middle Earth which is High Fantasy. There is something overall fantastic about it. Yet, here, bordering Mirkwood, Tolkien is embarking on the fusing of the reality of Arthurian Legend—-something tied into the archetype of England—with his invention. It was, for lack of a better term, unwelcome by me when reading the poem. It is my only criticism of the poem, that Middle Earth began to rear up. It was better left at the War of the Rings.
Though, the poem does not suffer from it. As, its effect once understood begins to impress upon the reader the imaginative subject of Tolkien. Mirkwood is dark forest. Something ominous, nonetheless. Just, unfitting for the subject, we see what probably didn’t let the poem get finished. A man is only capable of perhaps one great world. Two great worlds, they must, therefore, be fused in some way. As is what happens in most of our art. I’m sure Disney will do it with Star Wars and Marvel, unadvisedly. Much the same, it had the same effect in this legend as Disney would fusing Marvel and Star Wars. And unwelcome fusing of two well established themes.
However, an author is keen on doing it. They get their little pet ideas, which then burgeon to a schema about how their worlds work. And, ultimately, it is unavoidable, which is why Tolkien should have probably written this work first. Unless, of course, the work was written first, and then Mirkwood created The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. To which case, Tolkien inventing Middle Earth by mere suggestion of a place is itself a wonderful little invention. But, he’s hereto created from Mirkwood what will, from now on, be associated with it, and that’s Middle Earth.
Therefore, Tolkien maybe created the archetype of Mirkwood. He not only created it, but encapsulated it with the War of the Rings and the Ents. To which I would say “Bravo”, but it still looks awkwardly placed in an Arthurian legend. Simply put, because Tolkien had invented, post hoc, the myth of Mirkwood. Which is interesting in its own right that this would take place, that even if Mirkwood were, itself, a real established literary place, Tolkien had been the one who created it for the modern audience. Therefore, it might be difficult to unravel Mirkwood as Tolkien created it with Mirkwood as it is established in a historical context.
In either regard, its placement, and not being deleted, is proof that Tolkien’s body of work was already fully immersed in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. It could not go any further, nor any creative work could be separated from it.
Conversely, even I with Fairyland must have it bleed into my other Universe of Discourse. Of course, there is the round and flat earths. The round the tangible; the flat earth the afterlife.
But, I digress there because it is inevitable that a worker of Universes of Discourse blend them into one Superordinate reality, which in Tolkien’s case is Middle Earth. In mine it is just Here and There.
The Fall of Arthur a Legacy
Encroaching upon the cannon of history, a well written, paragraph response about this will not show up on Wikipedia’s entry of Camlann. Even if it’s true, or fundamental for England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales. We are falling on dark times, when research must be vetted for what is obvious. One paragraph, and a week has gone by, the paragraph disappears.
I find this is why my scholarship is hard to publish. I have intellectuals who want to break into the field, possibly break ground first. Possibly plant their flag. Or, possibly, they don’t care to know that The Fall of Arthur is about Camlann. Much of our interpretation of literature is specious at best; unmoving. Because of academic pride. It should not be about planting a flag, but about the truth.
The Fall of Arthur shows a truth. The futility of conquest. The futility of war. The futility of a king striving with other nations, abandoning their kingdom. It’s only an idea as old as civilization. It is proven time and time again. When the owner of a business is gone, the Manager is in his place. The store gets dirty. The employees slack off. Why The Fall of Arthur is not about this, I’m afraid it will be lost to the annuls of history unless I take it, and make it read. Much like all of literature, which holds these invaluable pieces of wisdom. Not because they literally occurred, but because they do literally occur. There was probably not a Battle of Camlann. If there was, Arthur probably did not fight there. If he did, the most likely cause of it is a Barbarian invasion of Rome, where a battle was won against it. And, the news carried up into the Barbarian tribes in England, and disseminated throughout the isle.
And a process of peer reviews needs to show it is possible. Often breaking away from the sublime truths of literature.
I offer this essay in response to Christopher Tolkien because the work is not his; the meaning, anyway. The rights to the words are his, and the property rights. But, the metaphor—the meaning—is not up to him to determine. It was up to his father, who had studied Camlann, and knew it was the third futile battle in English history. Who knew that Hastings was another of those battles. And a perfect metaphor which needs to be read, especially in these days when Scotland is talking about annexing from the United Kingdom. Literature is important. Not because it actually transpired, but because it can, quite refreshingly, help us understand by legend what is practical advice. Not because the United Kingdom ever did loose itself to Mordred, but because Scotland could as much be Wales as Ireland, and Tolkien, who fought in hell’s barracks, needs to be listened to. Men who fight in war, men who understand war, even if their stories are metaphors, their stories are true. Because Scotland needs to not annex from Britain. The fate of our earth depends on it. And if this truth is found in a simple literary poem, it is worthy enough for me to do six essays worth of analysis. And Christopher Tolkien does not get to dictate—nor would he, as I would hope he’d see his father is more serious than he had first understood.
We need stories because they preserve truths that go beyond the actual battles of history. They are intellectual and metaphorical battles, to be waged on paper so they do not get waged in real life.
That is why this little poem is important. Probably the most important.