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Old 06-01-2015, 10:20 PM   #17
Shade of Carn Dûm
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Toronto
Posts: 479
jallanite is a guest of Tom Bombadil.
There has not been much posted here on The Fall of Arthur. I am rather knowledgeable on the subject, but chose instead of publishing here to publish reviews in the fanzine Minas Tirith Evening Star and in the fanzine Amon Hen. Some of my thoughts from those articles follow along with material not published there.

The book The Fall of Arthur, unlike Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún and Tolkien’s Beowulf, is an incomplete poem and one which unlike the other two he is basing largely on his own creative imagination rather than on pre-existing sources. Tolkien does not present Arthur absent from Britain in a campaign against Rome, as in some of his sources, or in a war against Lancelot in Gaul, as in other later sources. Tolkien instead has Arthur leading a continental campaign against the continental Saxons and their eastern allies when news is brought to him that his nephew Mordred whom he has left to rule in his place has revolted against him and joined with the western Saxons, Angles, and Jutes against him.

Yet Tolkien presents in retrospect much of the later Lancelot story in which Lancelot has been caught openly with Guinevere and is forced to rescue Guinevere from being burned alive at the stake for the adultery she had committed with him. Gawain’s brothers Agravain, Gaheris, and Gareth are slain in those battles, although Gawain’s subsequent hatred for Lancelot is not stressed, unlike the standard Lancelot story which makes a great deal of it, especially in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur which makes much of Lancelot’s former love for Gareth and Gareth’s former love for Lancelot.

Tolkien seems to prefer the ultra-heroic Gawain of earlier tales to Malory’s version, the one seen, for example, in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. But Lancelot is clearly imagined in Tolkiens poem to be the better knight of the two. And Tolkien removes any particular religious side to the Lancelot story. Unlike Tolkien’s sources there is no mention of the Pope or the Bishop of Rochester influencing Lancelot and Arthur to make peace and persuading Arthur to accept Guinevere back. Lancelot seems to make the decision entirely on his own. Tolkien makes no mention of the Holy Grail or connected traditions.

Christopher Tolkien on page 181 gives a passage which his father later replaced:
In Benwick the Blessed  once Ban was king,
whose fathers aforetime   over fallow waters
in the holy lands  their homes leaving
to the western world  wandering journeyed,
Christendom bearing,  kingdoms founding,
walls uprearing,   against the wild peoples.
Towers strong and tall   turned to northward
had Ban builded;  breakers thundered
This mostly agrees with the descent of Ban, father of Lancelot of the Lake, in Lancelot-Grail: The Quest for the Holy Grail, translated by E. J. Burns, (chapter 41) [ ], in Lancelot-Grail: The History of the Holy Grail, translated by Carol J. Chase ( chapters 12 & 41) [ ], and in Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur XV.4 [ ]. In this account St. Joseph of Arimathea moves to the city of Sarras just outside of Egypt, and christens a certain duke Seraph of the region called Orberika who takes the Christian name of Nascien and is famed as the greatest knight of his time. From this Nascien descends the following line of sons: (1) Celidoine, (2) Narpus, (3) Nascien, (4) Alain (Alan) the Stout, (5) Ysaïes (Isaiah), (6) Jonaans (Jonah), (7) Lancelot, (8) Ban, (9) Lancelot of the Lake, (10) Galaad (Galahad). However Tolkien never mentions anything about the Holy Grail in his Arthurian poem and may have felt more comfortable in ignoring any tradition that might be connected to the Grail.

Also, in traditional literature dealing with Lancelot and Guinevere, Lancelot becomes a hermit, and in some accounts a priest, before he dies in his hermitage. But Tolkien seems to have intended his Lancelot not to have become a hermit, but to have sailed west to join with Arthur in Avalon. Tolkien was writing a fairy story and felt entitled to modify his sources as he pleased.

Tolkien similarly ignores a statement found only in Malory XIII.7 (from Shepherd’s edition, spelling modernized by me):
 ¶“Yeah, forsooth,” said the Queen, “for he is of all parts comen of the best knights of the world, and of the highest lineage; for Sir Launcelot is come but of the eighth degree from Our Lord Jesu Christ, and this Sir Galahad is the ninth degree from Our Lord Jesu Christ:

 ¶“Therefore I dare say they be the greatest gentlemen of the world.”
Tolkien also ignores traditions placing Arthur’s burial or departure at Glastonbury Abbey, preferring earlier accounts that Avalon be a mysterious fairy isle in the western seas to which Arthur is taken and placing Arthur’s last earthly battle in the fabulous land of Lyonesse off Cornwall.

But the tradition that Arthur’s last battle was in this Lyonesse goes back no farther than the poem “The Morte d’Arthur” by the famous Victorian poet Alfred Lord Tennyson. See . It appears to arise from a completely unrelated legend of ancient storms which tore up the former Island of Scilly into separate small islands. But the former name of the island is said to be Lethowstow, not Lyonesse.

Lyonesse or Leonois is instead a possibly fictional country said to be the heritage of the Arthurian knight Tristan in the Prose Tristan and said to border on Cornwall/Cornoaille. See Le roman de Tristan en prose I, edited by Renée Curtis. But in this version of the Tristan story Cornwall/Cornoaille and Leonois seem to be in Brittany and not part of insular Britain. The early kings of Cornwall/Cornoaille and Leonois are under the control of French kings of Paris. Whenever a character in this part of the story goes to Paris from Cornwall/Cornoaille or Leonois the character goes on horseback, but for journeys to or from Great Britain the character goes by ship.

Seemingly the author thinks that Cornoaille is the country of Domnonie in Brittany, for Dumnonia was the Latin name for both insular Cornwall and Breton Domnonie. Leonois would be the region to the west of Domnonie known as Léon, bordering on Domnonie. Or possibly Cornoaille is to be identified as the region of Cornoaille in the southwest of Brittany, although this does not border on Léon.

That if Cornwall is to be identified with insular Cornwall, then Lyonesse or Lionnesse is likely to be the traditional Lithowstow may have been earlier mis-guessed, but this was first stated in print in Richard Carew’s The Survey of Cornwall, first published in 1602. For a reprint of this work see and search on Lionnesse and the erroneous printing Lethowsow.

Leonois usually appears in medieval French as Loënois, and refers to the district of Lothian, the sound of th as in the Modern English word the generally not being pronounced in French. The final -ois corresponds roughly to the English suffix -ish.

Arthur lands in Britain at Richborough in Geoffrey of Monmouth but at Romney in Wace and Laȝamon. In the Alliterative Morte Arthure Arthur’s landing site is not named. Other reasonably full accounts place the landing at Dover. Tolkien follows Wace and Laȝamon, or perhaps we should say he follows Laȝamon, for Wace relates almost nothing not also in Laȝamon. See .

But most of Tolkien’s details follow the Alliterative Morte Arthure. See , Part IV and following. Here alone among Tolkien’s sources it is King Craddok who brings Arthur word of Mordred’s treachery, but details differ in that Craddok in Tolkien is not in pilgrim’s guise. Again Tolkien has removed the religious colouring. Tolkien also mentions Arthur’s bearing the Virgin Mary on his sail. The ebbing tide hinders Arthur’s landing but Gawain takes a boat with a few companions and then wades ashore. Gawain fights with Galuth his sword, here alone this name being used. Gawain fights with a golden griffon on his ship’s banner and on his shield. Gawain slays the King of Gothland. Then Gawain is slain by Mordred.

On page 85 Christopher Tolkien writes:
Professor Eugène Vinaver, in his great edition (The Works of Sir Thomas Malory, three volumes, 1947), showed that this tale was actually the first that Malory wrote, and he argued that ‘contrary to the generally accepted view, he first became familiar with the Arthurian legend not through “French books” but through an English poem, the alliterative Morte Arthure’ (Vinaver, I, xli).
In fact Vinaver absolutely failed to prove his case and I know no Arthurian scholar today who would accept it. For possibly the best essay partially on the web on this matter see , III MALORY AND HIS ENGLISH SOURCES by Edward D. Kennedy.

Vinaver originally put forth his theory about the Winchester Mauscript of Malory in 1947 and immediately began to receive opposition to it. He did not argue his case, but simply ignored the opposition in his writing. It was soon proved that there were various discrepancies within the supposedly individual tales. It was proved as much as anything can be that Malory in the supposedly individual tales included material of his own invention intended to connect the tales into a coherent whole. Vinaver simply refused to discuss the problem. Now Vinaver is deceased, but even before his death in 1979 scholarly discussion had ceased because Vinaver would not discuss the matter and no-one would speak on his behalf or argue for his position.

In 1998 Helen Cooper published an abridged version of Malory in modern English for Oxford University Press and does not in her comments even discuss Vinaver’s theory. In 2003 Stephen H. A. Shepherd published an edition of Malory for Norton Critical Editions with lots of notes and critical discussion, but not a word about Vinaver’s theory. In December 2013 P. J. C. Field, generally held to be the current foremost expert on Malory, has published a two volume edition of Malory for D. S. Brewer, one volume primarily of text and the second of commentary, which only mentions Vinaver’s theory twice in quick fashion to indicate it is not accepted.

My own opinion in verse form:
Morte Darthur, Morte d’Arthur,
 Sir Thomas Malory,
Caxton’s the printer
  whose work was adored,
Vinaver viewed it
 Winch’ster Manuscriptic’ly—
Made up a dumb theory
  most hearers abhorred.

Last edited by jallanite; 06-05-2015 at 04:45 PM. Reason: punctuation
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