20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
The Hobbit starts like this:
"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."
The Lord of the Rings starts in a similar manner.
The Children of Hurin starts like this:
"Hador Goldenhead was a lord of the Edain and well-beloved by the Eldar. He dwelt while his days lasted under the lordship of Fingolfin, who gave him wide lands in that region of Hithlum which was called Dor-lomin. His daughter Gloredhel 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."
And, I should add, the book continues in a similar manner for the first three chapters, and it isn't until we are around 30 pages into the story that we start to get individual characters developing that we can engage with and follow on their journey. So anyone coming cold to the story who is not familar with the broad saga of middle earth and the Silmarillion will struggle in the early chapters.
So, having said that and having read the other reviews, why have I still given the book 5 stars? Because once you get into the story it is a wonderfully dark and compelling gothic legend of ill-fortune, ill-fate and the pride of man.
At each stage of the story we are presented with an astonishingly sinister legend full of doom and tragedy. Each poetic detail makes the loss and pain more beautifully sad. If you have ever felt frustrated at the eagles swooping in to once again save the day in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, then feel confident that "The Children of Hurin" contains no such Disney-style devices.
While hobbits might be useful characters to lead the reader into an Enid Blyton-style world of faerie, the hobbit-free "Children of Hurin" is a horrifyingly cold, grey world full of doom and suffering, and certainly no place for Hobbits.
Although those nostalgic for the teletubby world of Sackville-Bagginses, Hobbiton and Bag-End might feel let-down by this book, many readers will find a more beautiful and sublime poetry in the doom of Turin than in the nursery-rhymes of Bilbo.
If you have the strength to experience the sanctification of drowning slowly in majestic tragedy, suffocating in awe and despair beneath the grey oceans of suffering, buy this book.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 14 July 2007
Now I'm not a big reader but I've read the Hobbit and lord of the rings with enjoyment, so when i heard that another Tolkien book was being published i jumped at the chance to read it. Now I'm sure that it is my inexperience at reading but trying to keep up with all the names of characters, places and families in English was somewhat of a challenge, but it being a Tolkien book it does also switch to the elvish tongue allot as well so is very hard to keep up with who's who and where they are in relation to the map. But other than that a very good read a fantasy storyline that i expected very easy to get yourself lost in middle earth for the afternoon. But the character twists and one of the storylines is not what i expected and was a little shocked but all in a very positive way makes the read just that more difficult to put down.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 25 April 2009
This book has all the adventure of LOTR without the tweeness of it's bigger brother (I refer to the hobbits). This book is very dark by comparison and as such it is less predictable than the Hobbit or LOTR. A true tragedy from start to finish, this story nevertheless shares the scope of Tolkien's two better known novels in terms of the passage of time, the vast areas of Middle Earth covered and references to history. What seals the five star deal for me is the writing style which is much more like Homer than LOTR or Hobbit and whilst this takes a bit of re-reading to get into, it works beautifully with the story. The inclusion of a dictionary of terms and several family trees helps the reader to get the most out of the book and Alan Lee's stunning illustrations add colour and atmosphere to the whole experience
I can also recommend the audiobook which is superbly read by Christopher Lee. Look out for the hardback collectors edition in a slipcase
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 20 March 2014
Simply put, it reads like Arthurian tragedy.
If you have read the section in the Silmarillion about Turin then you already know the story, but this is more in depth and reveals a bit more on what drives certain characters in their lives.
I would recommend this to all fans of fantasy, whether or not you have read Tolkien's other works or not.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 6 July 2007
This is not a book for the faint-hearted, or for those of little faith. It is not a modern novel. It brooks no compromise with current literary fads or prejudices. That in itself, to me, is high praise.
Several of the reviewers seem to take objection not so much to the book in its species (as the Scholastics would have said) but to the very species; that is, they seem to have expected a different kind of book from what it in fact is and criticise the book for not conforming to their own expectations. This, for course, is not a flaw in the book itself. If you want to make an apposite comparison it would be with the likes of Beowulf (of course), some of the Norse sagas, the Odyssey and the Greek Tragedies. It is a powerful and profoundly moving story which deals with Real Issues in any age of the world.
I think Christopher Tolkien did a splendid job in casting this story as a separate volume, without the "scientific" apparatus of the History of Middle Earth series (worthy books too, but in a different species). I hope he will find the time and energy to do something similar for the other great stories of the Elder Days, the stories of Beren and Lúthien, and of Tuor and Gondolin.
26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on 26 July 2007
No, not Jormungand. The Midgar serpent will have to wait a while yet before it can devour the world at Ragnarok. Closer though, to tall strong Danes, with rather large swords and egos to match. I am, of course, talking about the release of The Children of Hurin; the next installment of the posthumous Tolkien empire.
Contrary to a good number of reviews I have read, this book is not rubbish. It's just not meant to be read by your newbie Tolkien fans who have been swayed by the films. This one's for the book lovers. Initially, it's a continuation of The Silmarillion - which actively worked as the foundations for all works to follow. You read The Silmarillion (if you manage to plough through it all,) then you understand the relevance of the obscure quotations in the LOTR texts. And, hopefully, find the answers to some rather bold 'Why?' questions as well.
The Children of Hurin is written for people who have read The Silmarillion. If you haven't read The Silmarillion, though Christopher Tolkien's introduction tries to give new readers a swift crash course in its content, you are going to have serious trouble appreciating the content of this book. And most people I've spoken to tried to read The Silmarillion and gave up. This book isn't as difficult to engage with, but it is a book published for the core fans. It's not a continuation of the LOTR trilogy, nor does it give much of an insight into any material presented in the trilogy. What it does, in my opinion, is give a taste of the literary background that Tolkien was trying to play with.
Tolkien was an Anglo-Saxonist. He taught Old English, critiqued OE Literature, and was in fact, the key mover in establishing Beowulf as a poem in its own right, rather than a larger piece of an incompleted manuscript. (See Tolkien's: The Monster and The Critics) His OE literary background, along with the Norse Icelandic sagas, comes to the fore in this work.
In the LOTR trilogy, you can see a lot of the linguistic influences of Old English at work, with Anglo-Irish mythological references seeping into a few names of the text: 'Dunedain' as Irish wanderer, and 'Theoden' as OE 'Lord.' This text, however, seems to regurgitate a lot of the themes from the Sagas of the North.
I read a review by one newspaper saying that the text was intolerable to read because of its peculiar syntax. Sentences were not constructed in the correct order (subject, verb, object) but were all rearranged. So instead of saying,'And he was forced to the ground by his black sword' (as a random example) it comes out as: 'And with his black sword, he to the ground was forced.' There are more complicated rearrangements, but this will suffice here.
I'm going to stand up and defend this. Is it really that hard to understand? Not in the slightest. And, it doesn't occur all the way throughout the novel - reviews exaggerate to make themselves look good. More importantly, if they'd bothered to revise the background of the novel, parts of it were originally penned in Old English - which has no syntactical rules! The word order is merely a nod to the OE language which the story was set to mimic. The tale is supposed to have a traditional feel. What better way to do it than with language?
As well as this, this particular review had one bugbear about the frequent inclusions of genealogy. "Turin, son of Hurin, son of Haldor." Yes, this occurs frequently. But only in Christopher Tolkien's introduction; it does not make constant appearances in J.R.R's text itself. (Which makes me wonder if the reviewer actually bothered to finish the book.) Now, again, the idea for The Children of Hurin was drawn from several Norse sagas. If you have ever read a saga, you'll know that genealogies permeate their very core - they are a means of identity and of tracing your ancestry back to Godhood (many of these genealogies traced their line back to Woden, or Odin, the Warrior of the Norse pantheon.) This was not only done in sagas, but in contemporary writing. The subjects of secular devotional works often had their ancestry traced this way to further bolster their reputations. (You are indeed great if the blood of the Gods runs through your veins.) This relevance aside, it also draws reader attention to characters from The Silmarillion; a literary device to arouse connotations from the previous work so that readers will remember the deeds carried out by so-and-so's father, and father's father.
The sagas permeate the plot, too. Accidental incest, dragon-slaying, and a beserker who kills his friends in battle, with a curse recast over himself by his own hyper-inflated ego, is all very standard. The Volsungasaga (from which a lot of The Hobbit was based) The Saga of King Hrolf Hraki, and even elements of the Grettirssaga, can be found in The Children of Hurin. I feel though, that what struck me most was the resemblance to any Nordic heroes, that their downfall is always their pride. Turin was cursed by the shadow of Morgoth, but was given various opportunities to attempt to life the curse from himself. Indeed, even Melkor was concerned that his inner strength would overcome the shadow, and the power of the curse would be unable to hold him. In each circumstance however, it is Turin's arrogance and pride that draws him back under the shadow's sway. If you think of Hygelac's over-boldness in Beowulf, and even Beowulf's rash decision to take on a dragon, eventually ending in his death, you will know that proud Kings never last. They die.
(The similarities to Beowulf and the Volsungasaga are striking - becoming foster son in an uncle's homestead, fighting a dragon through pride, settling in relative peace before succumbing once more the the Ego and fighting again, through which all goes awry.)
At any rate, the expected melancholy the inferences to a saga brings does not disappoint in this text. This, the longest of the Lays of Beleriand, is an enjoyable, fast-paced tale, but not one which will leave you fulfilled and whole. Rather, it leaves a bitter taste of the day the heroes died, and nobility fell under the shadow of pride. In the end, nothing feels resolved, and our anti-hero, for Turin is never a hero in the conventional sense of the word, has caused more ill than good. He slayed a dragon. So what? So did Bard. And that consequences of that were far, far, better.
Anyway, this is only my opinion. I'd read The Silmarillion, and then try out The Children of Hurin for yourself. If anything, Alan Lee's artwork captures the mood of the text as succinctly as always, and is worth seeing.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2009
The problem for me with all the posthumously published works of JRR Tolkien is that they have been plagued by two major problems.
Initially the two items first out of the traps - the Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales - both suffered from a lack of faith from the publishers. In consequence, they were a mish-mash of material collected in an ad hoc kind of way. Elements of JRRT's background material in the former volume have chunks taken out (for brevity, I would guess) which then appear in Unfinished Tales (in an "Oh - and on his way to Gondolin, Tuor did such-and-such" kind of way). So lack of faith by the original publishers resulted in two, 'bitty' incoherent volumes. So that's problem number one.
But then things got much worse... These problems were then compounded by Christopher Tolkien with his determined effort to garner every single, interminable scraping from his fathers rubbish bins into extra volumes of material - much of which his father had already rejected and which add almost nothing to the overall story and background. And yet - infuriatingly - each of the add on volumes justifies its existence by including the odd nugget, the occasional gem.
Years ago I said to anyone that would listen who was a fan of JRRT's work that what was needed was a separate series of books with the stories and topics collected together properly from ALL of the source material but (and here's the important bit) in a non contradictory way and with some story telling cohesion. Sure if Christopher had to add a few "and then he" type bridging sentences, I largely don't care. If the meat's there, I'll chew through the odd bit of connecting gristle...
So - with that in mind - what should be done (I usually say) is for Christopher Tolkien to produce several volumes called (for example)
The Rings of Power and the Third Age
The Fourth Age
Other stories and Histories
Lays of Beleriand etc etc
That kind of thing.
And each of those volumes should contain coherent, non-contradictory material culled from ALL of the other works - everything from the LotR indexes to The Book of Lost Tales, Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, The Lost road... everything that can be made to fit.
And - just when I think no one listens (which I know that they don't, but...) what happens? The Children of Hurin happens. And it's exactly what was needed, I believe: CoH is an assembled, proper 'story' made from components that JRRT actually wrote. I don't care if it was assembled, Frankenstein's monster style and stuck together with sticky tape, it works as a good read and that's the important bit.
All Christopher needs to do is lots more of the same. Stop treating his fathers every scratching as the Dead Sea Scrolls and start ordering it and republishing the best material in such a way as to correct the publishing gaffs he's made with the rest of his father's legacy to english literature.
If he did it properly - like Children of Hurin - I'd buy the lot.
A rather grim novel set in the same world as Lord of the Rings, but many hundreds, if not thousands, of years before it. It is written in a strange, rather portentous way - it's readable and not out of keeping with the tale, but is an unusual style for a work of fiction. However, for those who love to immerse themselves in Tolkien's world of elves, orcs and tragic heroes, there is enough here to enjoy. It's not as powerful as Lord of the Rings, or as neat as the Hobbit, but it's more accessible than some of the Tolkien's other accompanying works such as the Silmarilion.
The story is mainly about Turin, son of Hurin, who is cursed by the Dark Lord (a predecessor of the better known Sauron from LoTR) and despite having various good personal qualities, is ultimately doomed to end everything with disaster. The other 'child of Hurin' is his sister Nienor, although she plays a much smaller part in the book being introduced much later. The events are melodramatic and worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy, and the reader can only sit back powerlessly as the characters march towards their eventual undoing.
It's not overlong, and I did find it reasonably easy to read - perhaps more so than some of Tolkien's other books. I rather liked the feeling of it being an ancient tale, told in an old fashioned style, even if the Yoda-ish reverse sentences got a bit annoying towards the end (e.g. 'dark was the night'). One of the attractions of Tolkien is the immense depth and detail that underlies the world he created. His Middle Earth does feel very much like a real place. However, for readers who enjoy the stories but have chosen not to go into all the dry underlying detail (to be honest, I find real world history a bit dull, let alone fantasy history) some elements of the story might go over their heads. They did with me, as I struggled to remember who was related to who. Anyone hoping to hear of their old favourites from Lord of the Rings will be disappointed, as this predates them all.
Die hard Tolkien fans will have read this already, and not need me to recommend it to them. For the more casual Tolkien liker, as I'd describe myself, it is worth a read. The story is accessible, it's not too long, and you can make enough sense to enjoy it without needing to study Middle Earth lore for years beforehand. It's not one for younger readers, despite the shorter length and relatively accessible style, because some of the themes are very dark. It would be fine for teenagers. This edition has a number of beautiful colour illustrations by Alan Lee (on whose art the sets for the Lord of the Rings films were based) which add to the story and are genuinely pleasurable to look at. It's a really nicely presented book. There's also lots of background information, such as genealogies and historical information, for those readers who are interested in them.
Overall I enjoyed it, even though I wouldn't rave about it. There are lots of fantasy novels that I've enjoyed more. But I can't deny there's just something about Tolkien that is special - he is after all the father of the genre. It's worth reading just for that.
The basic premise here is that one can't cheat fate. Whatever contemporary views of such an ancient idea as fate might be, there's no doubt that in Tolkien's legendarium it tends, more often than not, to be unpleasant. In this instance Tolkien really goes for the darkest of pagan vibes, with a selection of themes that might be equally at home in the harshest of Nordic, or even Greek, tragedies.
Apparently Tolkien worked on a sequel to LOTR, but abandoned it, because it was, according to his son Christopher, "too dark". In much the same way, the story told in Children Of Hurin shared a similar fate, never reaching completion. Elements of the story first appeared in The Silmarillion, itself the first of Christopher's works as literary executor, after his father's death.
I first read it, many, many years ago, as a young teenager, in that incomplete state, under the title 'Narn I Hîn Húrin' in a volume entitled 'Unfinished Tales'. It was captivating then, and perhaps even more tantalising due to its incompleteness, perhaps like a partial fossilised skeleton is to an archaeologist or biologist. So it was exciting to learn that Christopher had revisited his fathers archives and put together a complete version of this bleakly compelling, enchanting tale. (I have long hoped he might be able to do likewise for the story of Tour and the fall of Gondolin.)
Tolkien inspires such devotion and admiration amongst a part of his readership, to which I belong, that many of his readers love to hear about the evolution, the archaeology if you will, of his work, and Christopher's subsequent part in this. How Christopher managed to finish this particular unfinished tale, the story of which process is also included in this volume, is in itself fascinating.
This edition is illustrated, by Alan Lee. I have to confess that, as a rule, other than Tolkien's own artwork (and even in respect of some of that), I prefer my own imagination to furnish visuals. But, ultimately it's the story, and in particular the timeless qualities of a well-crafted mytho-poetic tragedy, even more so than Tolkien's undeniable gift for creating a believable world that contains such unbelievable elements as magic, elves and dragons, that lies at the heart of the success of this book.
on 21 February 2013
This review has also been posted on Goodreads. Also, warning: spoilers ahead.
It isn't often that a book makes me cry. In a public place. And not just any public place -- in a SILENT library. Fortunately, I was alone in there but for the librarian, who knows me quite well: she glanced across at my sniffles, but let me be.
And I needed to be. Man, this book didn't just break my heart. It ripped it out and jumped on it. Those tears? They were in the MIDDLE of the book. Not the ending, where I cried... again. But the middle. I know it's going to be good when I get that emotionally attached to secondary characters.
Of course, it does very much depend on whether you like the style of it. It's much, much easier to read than, say, the Silmarillion, and I breezed through it in a day or two. But it does still have Tolkien's mythological style of writing, which is fine for me (I read a lot of mythology, so I'm used to it). Some people don't like stories that are told as though they are stories; they like to be placed in the picture as though it is real. You might want to be aware of that.
Also, if you get majorly grossed out by accidental incest, stay away. Amnesia on the part of one, and never having met one's sister on the part of the other, make for complicated relationships. Even so, with the feel that the story has of a myth or a legend, that almost makes it more 'authentic'. I mean, have you SEEN the sort of thing that happens in Norse myths? Just look at Loki's children. One of them's an eight-legged horse.
I'm getting distracted. So, we've got this intensely tragic story, with characters who break your heart and make you love them for it, and you've got an overly sensitive Tolkien fan who cries in libraries. Match made in heaven.
Alan Lee's illustrations were an added benefit... up to a point. There was one in particular at the end of the book: I thought at first it was just a landscape drawing, and then looked up at the top of the picture and saw (SPOILER AHEAD) Túrin falling on his sword ... and my heart just shattered. Ouch. It was painful enough reading it in writing.
So, highly recommended. It isn't dry or complicated, and if you made it through the Silmarillion it'll be a piece of cake. Yeah, there are the habitual three pages of names at the beginning, but once you're past that it's plain sailing. And did I mention that this is the most cinematic book I have read in months? I would give anything to see it made into a film. It would work brilliantly.