46 of 49 people found the following review helpful
DENSE and Epic,
This review is from: The Children of Hurin (Hardcover)
The Children of Húrin, also known as Narn i ChÓn 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.
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Initial post: Mar 1, 2015 5:52:24 PM PST
Stephen Hitchings says:
If you call this book dense, you have clearly never read the version in The Simarillion - the same story, the same tragedies, in less than a fifth of the length.
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