To address the questions that most people have:
* This is an easier read than The Silmarillion.
* It is a greatly expanded version of Chapter XXI of The Silmarillion, "Of Túrin Turambar", BUT...
* Reading The Silmarillion is not necessary.
* It is told in a narrative voice.
* The narrative voice is archaic.
* The so-called archaic voice falls somewhere in between The Silmarillion and LOTR in style.
* Húrin is a great hero amongst men.
* His son, Túrin, is whom this story is chiefly about. His daughter Nienor makes a late, but significant, appearance. Significant enough for this book to be called The Children of Húrin.
* You will recognize a few names from LOTR, but don't look for furry-footed Hobbits. A Balrog makes a brief appearance, as does a dragon.
* Unlike some posthumous publications of Tolkien's, there is only one footnote in the entire narrative, and it doesn't interrupt the flow of the story. It's inclusion wasn't necessary, but the information was nice to know.
* There is an Index of Names at the back of the book to help the reader keep track of who is who.
* As always, a well detailed map is included.
* Read the Introduction. Christopher Tolkien does a wonderful job preparing the reader who hasn't read The Silmarillion for what is to follow.
I can't emphasize the last point enough. One reviewer noted that you wouldn't know who Melkor was, and that this was detrimental to the reading of The Children of Húrin. Not so! Melkor (known later to Elves and Men as Morgoth, which translates to "Dark Foe" in Sindarin) is discussed in the Introduction. In the event that you ignore my advice, Morgoth is the original Dark Lord, for whom Sauron was but a mere Lieutenant. Think on the malevolence of Sauron, and imagine him serving something far more powerful and foul. That is Morgoth. Indeed, "malice that wakes in the morning is the mirth of Morgoth ere night."
Between the Introduction and the first chapter, you have everything you need to know. Regarding the first chapter: it starts slow. It feels biblical: "Glóredhel wedded Haldir son of Halmir, lord of the Men of Brethil; and at the same feast his son Galdor the Tall wedded Hareth, the daughter of Halmir. Galdor and Hareth had two suns, Húrin and Huor..." But for those of us who are confused names, that's the worst of it, and as noted above, there is an Index in the back to help you keep track if necessary.
Húrin was a great warrior of Men, and fought with the elves against Morgoth in the Fifth Battle of Beleriand, called Nirnaeth Arnodediad in the Sindarin tongue of the grey-elves, meaning The Battle of `Unnumbered Tears'. It is aptly named, for many lords - elf, dwarf, and man - died that day. Húrin, though, was captured, for Morgoth wanted more than his life. He demanded from Húrin the location of the hidden city-kingdom of Gondolin, the last great stronghold of the elves. But Húrin defies Morgoth, mocking him, and in his wrath, Morgoth places a curse on his children: "Wherever they go, evil shall arise. Whenever they speak, their words shall bring ill counsel. Whatsoever they do shall turn against them. They shall die without hope, cursing both life and death." And as final punishment, he binds Húrin in a chair high above the kingdoms of Men, so that he may look down "upon the lands where evil and despair shall come upon those whom you have delivered to [Morgoth]."
After Húrin was thus bound, Túrin was sent to Doriath and grew up in Menegroth, with the elf-King Thingol, who claimed him as "foster-son". There Túrin was taught the craft of those who would live in the woods, the language of the elves, how to hunt, and how to fight. He quickly became a great warrior, as lithe as an elf yet with the great strength of a man. He accepts from Thingol the Dragon-helm of his father, and fights against the Orcs in their skirmishes in the marches of Doriath. Many came to love him, and the Orcs fear the Dragon-helm, but as he is Húrin's son, Morgoth's curse followed follows him. Envy soon finds its way into the councils of Thingol, and Túrin leaves, believing that he has lost the favor of the king; but ever prideful, he believes that he has been wronged and refuses all ties to Doriath.
(A word about Orcs. They are the twisted creation of Morgoth. Many believe they are directly descended from the Quendi [elves], whom Morgoth imprisoned and then bent to his will, filling them with his malice and hatred of light.)
The tale follows Túrin as he goes from place to place: taken in with a band of outlaws; their encounter with the "Petty-dwarves"; Túrin's time in Nargothrond (a great elven kingdom); his love of the fair Níniel; and his great battle with Glaurung, father of and greatest, perhaps, of all the dragons. And where Túrin goes, so does the curse of Morgoth follow, leaving only despair in its wake.
One criticism of Tolkien is that he plays softball, whereas other authors - Stephen R. Donaldson in the late 70s and early 80s, and more lately George ("the other R.R.") Martin - play hardball. One interpretation of this metaphor is that Tolkien didn't put his characters through "the wringer" like Donaldson did with Thomas Covenant, and he didn't kill off any of his main characters, something that Martin seems to have devilish fun doing. (There are other interpretations, but I'll just address this one.) Obviously, anyone making this claim never read any of Tolkien's posthumous work or given any real thought as to what Frodo endured as the ring-bearer. Anyone reading this review knows that the cute little hobbit that was Frodo left Middle Earth from the Grey Havens with a broken, shattered soul. When thinking of Túrin, think more along the lines of Frodo's ending, and less Sam Gamgee's. Morgoth's curse is heavier than Frodo's burden in that through Túrin it touches the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands of Men and Elves alike.
Many will ask, "Should this have been published? Is it good enough to stand next The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, etc.?" A very loud YES to both. It's the only complete narrative of Tolkien's that hasn't been published, and that alone means that it should be published. That said, Tolkien was never satisfied with his own work, and was constantly editing and rewriting. What would *he* think? If it were possible for him to be looking down on this, my hunch is that he is wincing, and dying to edit the daylights out of this book (pun intended?). It's not a perfect work. Some passages feel uncomfortable, a few are out of place, but overall, I'll take Tolkien's imperfect work over virtually every other writer of fantasy's BEST work.
Reading the appendices, I was struck that Tolkien was, perhaps, a man misplaced in time.
His work, poetry and prose alike, rivals (if perhaps they do not exceed), the depth and quality of any who have come before him. Imagine him as a commissioned scribe, or someone who, like Martin or Jordan or Rowling today, made enough money from their work to do it full time. So much of what Tolkien left us is unfinished. Would that it were not so. We would be the better for it.
(By the way, the cover art for Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth depicts Mîm with Túrin and the outlaws, with Mîm pointing to Amon Rûdh.)
on April 19, 2007
When the Tolkien Estate announced a new Tolkien novel to be published in April, 2007, the world was shocked. After all, Tolkien died 34 years before THE CHLDREN OF HURIN was published. Reactions varied from trepidation and fear, to charges that the Estate is trying to milk the pubic for more money, to sheer excitement that, beyond all odds, we're getting another Tolkien story. We all know Hollywood is eying it greedily, though the Estate has made it quite clear that it is not interested in selling the film rights any time soon.
Naturally, an event such as a publication of a new novel by a long deceased major author is bound to excite different reactions from different quarters. Depending on where you stand in Tolkien fandom will largely define your reactions to the story.
First, just a few quick facts about the novel.
*CoH can be read independently of Tolkien's other works, due largely in part to C. Tolkien's excellent introduction, explaining the background and context in which these events occur in Tolkien's imagined cosmos. Having an overall general knowledge of Tolkien's legendarium is certainly helpful, but fortunately it is not a pre-requisite as the story is strong enough to stand independently.
*CoH is much darker than the Hobbit cycle. It is a very tragic story on a Shakespearian level, and altogether not suitable for children, featuring incest and murder as prominent plot features.
*The plot revolves around the Dark Lord Morgoth's curse on Turin and Nienor, who are the Children of Hurin, for Hurin's defiance against Morgoth. Morgoth is Tolkien's equivalent of Satan, and who Sauron is but a servant too.
*CoH is easier to read than THE SILMARILLION, though CoH still employs in places the archaic style found in that book. In style and content, it bears similarities to both LOTR and THE SILMARILLION, mingling the archaic style of the later with the more conventional novel style of the former.
*Although the novel has been "reconstructed" by Christopher Tolkien, unlike certain elements of the published SILMARILLION, there has been no editorial interpolation or invention. Other than minor grammatical errors and some brief transitional passages, the text is entirely as Tolkien conceived it.
*Approx 25% of the text has never been published before. The remaining 75% has been published in THE SILMARILLION and UNFINISHED TALES, though Christopher Tolkien notes there are several changes to the text that do not appear in UNFINISHED TALES
*Though the press has made much of the fact that Tolkien began this in 1918, almost all the text used in the book was written AFTER LOTR was written
*There is a swift narrative urgency. While THE SILMARILLION stands as a broad overview of Tolkien's mythology with hundreds of characters vying for the readers' attention, CoH keeps its focus on a well-defined cast of main characters.
There are three primary readerships that will be approaching THE CHILDREN OF HURIN. Depending on what group you belong to will largely define your reaction to the work.
The first group is that portion of Tolkien's fanbase who has read the Hobbit Cycle, and most if not all the posthumous publications regarding his legendarium (THE SILMARILLION, UNFINISHED TALES, and the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH series). These are the hardcore Tolkien fans, who are known to debate the rather arcane finder points of the mythology and are very much into the "lore" of it all. This reviewer belongs in this group.
This group will overall be quite pleased with the work. Tolkien left much of his work unfinished, and it is nice at long last to have a completed version of one of the central legends of the First Age. Much of the actual text will not be new to them, as the much of the novel largely has already appeared in UNFINISHED TALES and THE SILMARILLION, though there are several stretches that have not been published before, or the material is handled differently than in previous publications. Naturally, the story is already well known to this group, and there are no plot surprises. I will say, however, even though I knew how the story ended, when I finished reading CoH, I was moved by the sheer pathos of the tragedy, moreso than when I read the other, compressed versions.
The second group are those who largely have read only the Hobbit Cycle, and found THE SILMARILLION and other books very dry and difficult to get through. It is for this group, and the third group, that C. Tolkien primarily did this project for. Due to the arid, remote style of THE SILMARILLION, and the diffuse, contradictory, and unfinished nature of most of HoME, as well as the heavy editorial content, much of Tolkien's mythology remains unknown to the casual reader. This book was meant to address that, and to make the legends of the First Age more accessible to the general reader. The style is a successful blend of both the Silmarillion and LOTR. For those of this group unfamiliar with the story, many will probably be surprised at how dark and altogether depressing. Undoubtedly, there will be readers who find the pathos and tragedy of Turin rather offputting, but on the same token there will be readers who find it riveting.
The third group is those who know Tolkien primarily through the Peter Jackson films. This group will probably have the most far ranging variety of reactions of the three main groups, from sheer delight at the story to utter bewilderment and confusion. Those looking for a story along the lines of the Hobbit cycle will be invariably disappointed, and this group may be the most surprised at the darkness of the story.
A fan once wrote to Tolkien, saying that he only read THE LORD OF THE RINGS during the Lent season, because the novel is so hard and bitter. For those unfamiliar with the storyline of THE CHILDREN OF HURIN, many will be surprised at how dark the "new novel" actually is. CoH is much bitterer than its famous predecessor
Overall, I think that CoH is a fine novel in its own right, and I also think that it is a perfect bridging link between his most famous work (LOTR) and, as Tom Shippey says, the work of his heart (the Silmarillion). I also feel that CoH, in terms of style, is, to put it in vulgar terms, Silmarillion light and LOTR heavy, and serves as a primer for what to expect within the Silmarillion. While CoH certainly shares several main hallmarks of the Silmarillion style, especially the beginning chapters, the book reads quite well, and bridges (successfully, in my opinion), the remote style and wide focus of the Silmarillion with the more conventional novel approach of the Hobbit cycle. CoH also has the benefit of being a product of long study of the manuscripts to produce the most accurate version to Tolkien's intentions, something that cannot, unfortunately, be said of the 1977 SILMARILLION.
Will it stand the test of time? That, only time can answer. But if I was a betting man, I think time will be very gracious to this last novel from the father of fantasy.
on April 11, 2007
Taking place in the distant past of the Middle Earth most people know from the "Lord of the Rings," the "Children of Hurin" is a poignantly beautiful gem from JRR Tolkien's literary world. Before great cataclysms that altered the very substance of Middle Earth, the High Elves were allied with three great Houses of Men in a proud and hopeless struggle against the original Dark Enemy. "The Children of Hurin" begins with the most disastrous defeat of Elves and Men in that war, and how Turin, son of the greatest warrior in the history of Men, tries to take up his father's responsibility and reverse the damage.
One of JRR Tolkien's greatest achievements was the world of Middle Earth itself, which contained endless layers of history and backstory that informed the origin and actions of its characters. What can be easy to miss in reading LOTR is that Middle Earth is a desolate shadow of what it used to be, before time and the mistakes of foolish pride wore down the greatness of Elves and Men to almost nothing. This book takes place in a part of Middle Earth that was later destroyed, to be remembered only in the sad songs and anecdotes that pop up here and there in the background of LOTR. This and the book's maps may initially confuse fans of LOTR, but the journey into unfamiliar territory is more than worth it: "The Children of Hurin" is great all by itself, but will do a lot to help you understand the world of LOTR in general. Fans who have trouble with the drier, historical tone of the "Silmarillion" might be better served with this fleshed-out piece of its story. If you have ever wondered why the Elves are such a small, sad, and reclusive bunch in LOTR, you'll see a bit of the answer here, and did you know the great Sauron was once just a servant of the true and original Dark Enemy? You'll meet the dark god Melkor here, and understand why Sauron was just carrying on a legacy. Be prepared also for the diabolical Father of Dragons, Glaurung. If you enjoyed the combination of guile and physical might that Smaug brought to the table, you'll get more than you bargained for from this dragon.
"Children of Hurin" may also surprise fans that are used to the "plain Hobbit sense" and sober steadfastness of more well-known Tolkien protagonists. The central character, Turin, is in many senses the complete opposite of a Hobbit: a great and proud warrior, born for leadership, but doomed to make poor, rash decisions in the heat of emotion. You might be reminded a bit of Boromir, and rightly so. Turin struggles with moral choices and his pride often gets the better of him. Whereas you could trust the Bagginses to use logic, see the big picture, and keep their heads cool enough to defeat despair... or even the cunning wits and words of a dragon... you'll be horrified to see Turin falter. He's the essence of a tragic hero, and although he'll frustrate you, you might see more of yourself in him than in the nearly-unbreakable Hobbits.
It's altogether a different flavor from LOTR or the Hobbit, but it's no less great, and anyone interested in the world of Middle Earth should give it a go.
on November 9, 2007
The Children of Húrin, also known as Narn i Chîn Húrin, is the latest J.R.R. Tolkien book. The stories of Túrin (son of Húrin) appear in earlier works like The Silmarillion, and are now released in full novel form thanks to tireless editing by his son, Christopher Tolkien. The tale takes place in the First Age of Middle Earth, and is somewhere between the Silmarilion and The Lord of the Rings in style, audience, and readability.
Húrin defies a god and his entire family is cursed. We experience most of the story through Húrin's son Túrin, who journeys through the entire western half of Arda - befriending Elf, Man, and Dwarf alike - to escape his doom.
You don't have to be a die-hard Tolkien fan to enjoy this book. While you can read The Children of Húrin as a stand-alone work, I do recommend reading The Silmarilion, or at least having some familiarity with the First Age. I do not recommend this as your first experience with Tolkien, due to the book's dreary theme and heavy style.
The language is dense. VERY dense. Dialog and descriptions are highly formal. The number of unique names for people and places is enough to fill a sizable appendix. The main characters change names a good four of five times each through the course of the story. Many of the places have similar names, and some of the important items in the book even have names. Side effects may include bouts of violence in fussy readers. If you feel that committing names to memory is important to your reading, you may want to put a bookmark in the appendix, make some index cards, or have a copy of The Silmarillion handy. For Tolkien fans, this excessive use of proper nouns is expected, and is very important to the charm of Tolkien's works. Tolkien was a linguist, and for every new name, new meaning is bestowed upon the characters and places.
Beyond the language, the themes are familiar and classical. The story is relatively short, but each chapter is almost episodic in structure. Túrin travels to a new place, makes friends, enemies, and horrible mistakes. All of these mistakes occur as a direct result of his rashness, or by dark, coincidental irony. His mistakes force him on to a new locale and new mistakes. People who seem untouched by Túrin's folly inevitably get drawn in later. There's not a lot of internal dialog, so most of the characterizations are created by actions. The overall effect is that you're reading an ancient epic, and I'm sure this is why The Children of Húrin is often classified as epic high fantasy, in the purest sense of the genre.
Christopher Tolkien has a lengthly foreward and appendix, explaining his editorial process, and describing the source materials used to create the novel. Foremost is C. Tolkien's insistence that the novel is published "with a minimum of editorial presence, and above all, in continuous narrative without gaps or interruptions, if this could be done without distortion or invention, despite the unfinished state in which [J.R.R. Tolkien] left some parts of it." (p.7, Preface) I expect that this process may have a deliberate effect on the story, as some of the passages are only summaries of action, contain alternate tellings, or are threads dropped or terminated with little or no pretense.
The posthumous releases have been a subject for hot debate among Tolkien fans, who question how much of the releases have contained creative writing. I have no strong opinions on Christopher Tolkien's editing process, which he's made very clear for readers. I recommend reading the entire work and appendices before forming your own conclusions. I'm a fan of Middle Earth and will happily receive this and any future Tolkien stories set in this rich, fully-realized world.
Read The Children of Húrin if you're a Tolkien fan, or enjoy classic and epic tales of fantasy. Don't read it if you're disheartened by constant tragedy. Few tales of the First Age have happy endings.
The Children of Hurin is a tale dating from the very early years of J.R.R. Tolkien's mythical worlds. He began writing it as early as 1918 and continued to work on it off and on for the rest of his life. Other versions of the Tale have been included in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, but now we have the story as close to the way J.R.R. Tolkien intended it as his son Christopher could recreate.
The Children of Hurin takes place in Middle earth thousands of years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, specifically in Beleriand, a region that by the time of The War of the Ring had long since sunk beneath the Sea. During the First Age Elves and Men (the Eldar and the Edain) were locked in combat with the Great Enemy Melkor/Morgoth, of whom Sauron in The Lord of the Rings was a mere servant. At the Tale's beginning Morgoth has conquered the greater portion of Beleriand and now rules it from his fortress of Angband in the mountains of Thangorodrim. The Elvish kingdoms of Doriath, Nargothrond, and Gondolin are hidden and for the moment still safe. The Edain have been less fortunate and are now scattered and largely demoralized. Hurin, the Heir of the House of Hador, seeks to rally Men to continue the struggle. Morgoth captures Hurin and places a curse on his family. Hurin's children Turin and Nienor must deal with the curse and its consequences for the rest of their lives.
This is a dark story full of tragedy, deceit, and violence. Tolkien's models were the Germanic sagas, but there are also elements of Greek drama, in particular in the role Fate plays in the lives of so many characters. There are also many elements readers of Tolkien's later works will recognize: dragon-guarded treasures, swords and other talismans with unknown powers to be reckoned with,and proud men and women who meet their destinies with grim determination. Although the story is complete in itself, there are hints of more Tales to come, and it is to be hoped that Christopher Tolkien will provide the full "Fall of Gondolin" among other stories still left to be completely told.
An additional pleasure are the very fine but sombre paintings Alan Lee has provided to illustrate The Children of Hurin. They perfectly match the mood of the story and greatly enhance it.
Here is my perspective - I've read the Hobbit, seen the Lord of the Rings movies, passed on the Silmarillion (too complex) and have now read The Children of Hurin. So I am not a Tolkien expert with limitless tolerance for genealogical trees, but I enjoy Middle Earth.
As the title of the review suggests, The Children of Hurin is definitely a tragedy worthy of being compared to Shakesperean or Greek tragedies in its depressing finality. In considering the major novels covering middle earth, the dark tone of the Children of Hurin provides a nice balance to the lighthearted novel The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings trilogy falls in the middle with a mixed bag of good and evil, tragedy and triumph. So overall Children of Hurin is dark, but adds more breadth to the good and evil transpiring in middle earth.
When I sat down to read it, I felt like I was in for a treat of long lost history. We all know it is pieced together from J.R.R. Tolkien's drafts and notes - the preface makes this very clear. Nevertheless it is a wonderful read. Enhancing the mood of the novel, Tolkien's writing is an archaic style that makes the text seem as if it could have been passed down verbally and as old as the first age itself.
This work may be faulted for a lack of secondary character development and somewhat disjointed nature. I certainly did not mind the episodic nature of the work or the heavy focus on the main character, Turin. These characteristics added to the mystique of the book. If it had been a well-polished epic saga, it wouldn't have had the same feel.
Christopher Tolkien did an excellent job of assembling this novel for all of us to enjoy. Alan Lee's accompanying artwork is perfect in its reserved nature. I truly enjoyed the book and intend to read it again. I hope you will too.
on April 28, 2007
The Children of Húrin is a tale dating from the early years of J.R.R. Tolkien's life and mythical worlds. It is a story he began work on as early as 1918 and continued to write on and off for the rest of his life. It is a story that consumed much of his son Christopher's life and a story Christopher, late in his years now, almost didn't finish either. All this together makes The Children of Húrin a book that consumed two writer's lifetimes, and this begs the question was the effort worthwhile? Was Middle earth not yet finished without The Children of Húrin. Is The Children of Húrin the crowning achievement in a monumental series?
Arguably, the answers to those questions will differ depending on to whom you are speaking. Devoted Tolkien fans who have read not only The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings but also The Silmarillion Unfinished Tales and were left hungry for more will undoubtedly consider The Children of Húrin to be a crowning achievement, if only because of the way it brings the story of Middle earth full circle with its earliest roots. Critics and those who aren't true fans of Tolkien's master works may think otherwise, finding it failings and flaws to be too many to overlook. Nevertheless it is nearly impossible to read The Children of Húrin and not see the genius of the young man who would later become the great man whose works readers around the world have come to love.
So what is the story about? The Children of Húrin takes place in Middle earth 6,000 years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. It is largely the story of Húrin, an exile wandering among outlaws in Beleriand, a region that by the time of The War of the Ring had long since sunk beneath the Sea.
During the First Age, Elves and Men (the Eldar and the Edain) were locked in combat with the Great Enemy Melkor/Morgoth. At the Tale's beginning Morgoth has conquered much of Beleriand and now rules this land from his fortress of Angband in the mountains of Thangorodrim. While the Elvish kingdoms of Doriath, Nargothrond, and Gondolin are hidden and for the moment safe, the Edain haven't been as fortunate and are now scattered.
Húrin is the Heir of the House of Hador. He seeks to rally Men to continue the struggle. Morgoth captures Húrin and places a curse on his family. Húrin's children Túrin and Nienor must deal with the curse and its consequences throughout the rest of their lives.
The book has good battle sequences as well as an interesting story. There's a Gollum-like character (the petty-dwarf Mim), a great fight with a dragon, and plenty of character development. While putting the story together, JRR Tolkien's son, Christopher, didn't add any connective prose of his own, and knowing this, I expected it to be less refined and more of a patchwork, as the text comes largely from his father's notes, drafts, and such, but this is not the case. The narrative is very complete. It's darker than LoTR, and much like a greek tragedy.
As the book is full of characters and names, any one not familiar with pre-LoTR material may have trouble. As far as style, the prose is eloquent although deliberately more archaic than LoTR. Still, this a real gem for any Tolkien fan. After finishing, I couldn't help wonder what Tolkien might have accomplished if he had ever written another true novel after LoTR.
This is very highly recommended, and much easier reading than you might expect. There's only one footnote in the book. As always, a well detailed map is included. Plus there is an Index of Names at the back of the book to help the reader keep track of who is who.
As a final note, don't skip the Introduction, written by Christopher Tolkien. The introduction does a fair job of preparing the reader who hasn't read The Silmarillion for what is to follow.
on April 17, 2007
There's been great speculation about this book since its 2006 announcement. Based on a manuscript begun by father J.R.R. in 1918 and reworked throughout his life, son Christopher, who has edited 14 posthumous volumes of his dad's work, spent decades shaping the story's many drafts into this final form. Tolkien's legions of fans--all except those expecting Lord of the Rings Part II--shouldn't be disappointed; it's goooood! But far from hobbits frolicking in the Shire, this is a woeful tale laced with suicide, incest, and murder. Set 6500 years before Rings, the old master delivers new depth to Middle-earth lore, which, by its sheer weight, arguably is modern literature's greatest mythology. Many characters and settings will be familiar to those who've delved beyond Rings, and here we encounter Túrin and Niënor, son and daughter to Húrin, a great warrior held captive by Morgoth, the Dark Lord. Once grown, Túrin seeks vengeance against Morgoth, and though mighty in arms and the bane of orcs, Morgoth's icy fingers touch all Túrin's deeds, and doom and darkness surround him. The destiny of sister and brother are intertwined, and their ultimate fate is a family tragedy worthy of Shakespeare. Production wise, the book is a beauty, with nine color paintings and 25 pencil sketches by Tolkien artist Alan Lee, plus a glossary of names, family trees, and the obligatory appendix and map. The Children of Húrin is a dark and brooding yet glorious addition to the Tolkien canon. Welcome back, old friend (and bravo Christopher for bringing it to fruition!). Highly recommended.
on April 24, 2007
The Children of Hurin is so good in some places it gave me a chill reading about these monumental events previously all but lost in the shadowy time before The Lord of the Rings. As were others, I'm certain, I was unavoidably reminded of The Silmarillion (a much maligned book in itself) but here in The Children of Hurin there was an ease that the other tale of Middle Earth's earlier history did not have. The Children of Hurin is still a ponderous, sometimes heavy, recounting of events as imagined by one of the great storytellers of human history, JRR Tolkien, but this editing and completion in the hands of Christopher Tolkien has made The Children of Hurin the accessible instant classic that it is. The epic and ultimately tragic story of the noble hero Turin, son of Hurin, proud warrior from the age of Morgoth---terrible Sauron's one-time master let us not forget---is at least on a par with anything Tolkien imagined for The Lord of the Rings, and should be gratefully welcomed by anyone who has ever been swept up in the magic of Middle Earth. I'd also like to note that once again in Nienor, the other "child of Hurin" a strong female character comes in at the narrative's end, just as with The Return of the King, to greatly impact the outcome of the tale itself, and personally, for good or ill, I was glad that Nienor played the role she did in a tale otherwise centered on the men in Tolkien's world. (Not complaining about the fact men dominate the story, just saying I was impressed that Nienor was used as she was.) I found the archaic prose appropriate and somehow authentic to the tale. I wouldn't have it any other way, even if it did slow the pace of reading down from time to time. The Children of Hurin is in my opinion as good as could be wished, and is exactly the story it is advertised to be. It is delightful, moving, sad, soul-stirring, and it re-awakens the light of imagination as few books do. It deservedly belongs alongside all the other books of Middle Earth.
on April 30, 2007
When J.R.R. Tolkien passed away in 1973, it might reasonably have been assumed that his literary career was over. But Tolkien left behind voluminous papers and manuscripts: a snippet of a poem here, a half-completed story there; and many nearly-completed pieces which nevertheless were not formed to their master's satisfaction.
Tolkien's son and literary executor Christopher has made it his life's work to organize and publish as much of his father's work as possible. Most of the material concerns Tolkien's work on "the First Age" of Middle Earth, the other-world he invented and devoted his life's imagination to. It may be said that the First Age, or Elder Days, stories consumed the first and last part of Tolkien's literary life, with the far better known "Lord of the Rings" period in the middle. He first conceived and worked on these stories from the end of the Great War until the mid-to-late 1930's, when he published The Hobbit, a book so successful a sequel was commissioned.
"The Lord of the Rings", the massive three-part story of Frodo the hobbit and his friends' quest to save the world by destroying the evil ring of power, has given Tolkien his lasting fame. There are numerous references, however, to Tolkien's earlier work in "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings": a mention of a famous sword, a great kingdom, a love poem, and the glory of lost civilizations upon whose ruins the late Third Age civilizations of "Lord of the Rings" are built. When his masterpiece was completed, Tolkien turned again to the long-abandoned manuscripts of the Elder Days, always hoping to perfect the stories he loved most and find a publisher for them. But for whatever reason, Tolkien's work never caught up with his vision. He never brought the stories to what he considered a satisfactory completion. He died thinking his artistic vision a failure.
Christopher Tolkien has done his best to remedy that by publishing volume upon volume of the stories his father left behind. First came "The Silmarillion", meant to be as comprehensive a history of the Elder Days as possible, from the creation of Middle Earth to the fall of the great enemy Morgoth. The twelve volumes of "The History of Middle Earth" series followed, documenting the evolution of the Elder Days tales as well as early versions of what became "The Lord of the Rings". And now, for the first time since "The Silmarillion" was published in 1977, Christopher Tolkien has put out a book in novel form: "The Children of Húrin".
Húrin was a hero of men in the Elder Days. The mightiest warrior of his time, taken captive in battle against Morgoth's forces, Húrin was brought for his torment before Morgoth himself. Incensed when Húrin resists him and mocks his power, Morgoth lays a curse on Húrin and his children, so that all they do will be turned to Morgoth's evil purposes. The novel is mainly concerned with the exploits and fate of Húrin's son, Túrin Turambar. Túrin is a cursed man indeed: he is driven from his childhood foster-home by a jealous rival; he becomes leader of a band of outlaws which is destroyed by treachery; he accidentally kills his greatest friend; he comes to Nargothrond, one of the last free kingdoms resisting Morgoth, and causes its downfall; he strives against the dragon Glaurung, Morgoth's servant, and though he vanquishes the dragon in the end, his victory is robbed of joy by the revelation of his sister's fate. That sister, Nienor, is also cursed and trapped by Glaurung, finally becoming entangled in her brother's fortunes before learning the awful truth of the dragon's deceptions at last.
The novel is an expanded version of a chapter from "The Silmarillion", fleshing out the details of Túrin's life into a book-length narrative. Its style is something between "The Silmarillion" and "The Lord of the Rings": the former is a broad overview, not too focused on the individual lives of its characters, while the latter has a well-defined quest and clear depictions of good and evil. "The Children of Húrin" is more like a biography of Túrin, and you're never quite sure if he's even meant to be a sympathetic character. For while he is cursed with evil times and always has evil choices, you sense that he might escape his fate if only he would choose wiser. He is always led astray by his own pride, his anger, or his yearning for glory. Had he been less selfish and more prudent he may well have avoided his fate, as the story hints once or twice that he might.
It is in this sense one might say this is the most fully realized of Tolkien's novels. Although Tolkien despised allegory, and was critical of his friend C.S. Lewis's work on that account, he sought to create "new myths" in keeping with the Christian worldview. The constant presence of evil, the temptation of the quick and easy path, the perils of pride and the misery a man can create for himself show the misery of the fall. This is not an uplifting tale but a saga of damnation.
Leaving aside those heavy themes, any Tolkien geek will want to read this book. How could you resist a new epic in the canon of Middle Earth? I also wonder if Christopher Tolkien might not have more books planned...perhaps a treatment of Beren and Lúthien, the love story of which the tale of Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings is an echo? I hope so.