on 24 August 2008
This is a tale of unrelenting tragedy. Drawn from the history of the First Age of Middle-earth, it tells of how Morgoth, the original Dark Lord to whom Sauron was but a lieutenant, wreaked appalling vengeance upon the family of the man Hurin, chiefly for his refusal to betray a great hidden city of the elves who were his allies. Readers acquainted with the story from a more summary version published three decades earlier in THE SILMARILLION will have some idea what to expect. They will also understand the part these events ultimately did play in the fall of virtually every elven kingdom in the vast land of Beleriand before it sank beneath the sea, still millennia prior to the events recounted in THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
This new telling, however, differs from the former in at least two respects. First and most obvious, it greatly develops the details so that we come to know the doomed players more intimately, better appreciating both their flaws and their virtues, and thus feeling the tragedy more personally when it manifests itself in turn after turn of their lives.
Second and perhaps more subtle is what this version leaves out. THE SILMARILLION continued the story further, revealing later events which, while not negating these present disasters, at least mitigated them somewhat, suggesting that evil's triumph was indeed only for a season. (There were also poignant touches, such as the extraordinary future of a certain gravesite, which lent a melancholy beauty to the sorrow.) Here, however, Christopher Tolkien, the author's son and editor, chooses to end the tale at a point which before had occurred in mid-paragraph. When I first glanced through HURIN and then reacquainted myself with the earlier publication, I seriously questioned this decision.
It has been said that part of Shakespeare's genius in writing his own tragedies was his choice to abstain from moralization. Rarely did the Bard attempt to explain a character's fate in terms of what he or she ought to have done, or of some divine wisdom which, if glimpsed, might explain or even vindicate the suffering. Shakespeare simply showed tragedy with all the seemingly pointless capriciousness of real life, and left it to his audience to speculate further.
Tolkien was not Shakespeare, however. While even THE HOBBIT and LOTR are haunted by melancholy and a sense of loss, Tolkien believed in a transcendent Sovereignty and argued eloquently for some element in such tales which, however faintly, foreshadowed a distant 'Eucatastrophe' (i.e., happy ending) to come, 'giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.' By cutting off the story of Hurin's family where he does, Christopher denies it that consolation.
Having said this, I must make a confession: When I had read HURIN through properly from the beginning and came again to the final two pages, I broke down and sobbed. The same juncture had had no such impact on me in THE SILMARILLION. I may prefer the elder Tolkien's tempering of tragedy with hope and question the philosophical implications of ending this story so abruptly; yet I can not deny that doing so made the bitterness of that end immeasurably more powerful. For a moment I FELT the despair of those who had endured such relentless doom, who left the world knowing nothing of some vaguely conceived consolation in the far future. While that moment lasted, for me their suffering had become very real.
If there is, as Tolkien believed, a 'Joy beyond the walls of the world', the heartbreaking fact remains that there are those who live and die and, for any number of reasons, fail utterly to apprehend it. Consolation may be, yet some are never consoled. THE CHILDREN OF HURIN is not a pleasant book, yet it captures something of the seeming futility in which so many souls have passed through the world. At the least, it reminds those who find and live in hope not to grow callous toward those who are cheated of it.
on 19 April 2007
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.
The literary world was shocked at the announcement a new Tolkien novel was being published. After all, Tolkien died 34 years prior to CoH's publication date. 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 new Tolkien. Hollywood is eying it greedily, though the Estate is not interested in selling the film rights any time soon.
Depending on where you stand in Tolkien fandom will largely define your reactions to the story.
First, some quick facts:
*CoH can be read independently of Tolkien's other works, thanks to C. Tolkien's excellent introduction, which explains the context in which the novel occurs in Tolkien's universe. Though an overall knowledge of Tolkien's legendarium is helpful, due to the story's strength it's not required.
*CoH is much darker than the Hobbit Cycle and is tragic on a Shakespearin level. Even Shakespeare's characters have a better fate than the Children of Hurin.
*CoH's principal plot focuses on the dark lord Morgoth's curse on Turin and Neinor, the Children of Hurin, for Hurin's defiance against Morgoth. Morgoth is Tolkien's equivalent of Satan, who Sauron is a mere servant too.
*CoH is easier to read than THE SILMARILLION, though CoH still employs in places the archaic style found in that book. Stylistically CoH bears similarities to both LOTR and THE SILMARILLION, mingling the archaic style of the later with the more conventional novelistic approach 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 widely publicized Tolkien began this in 1918, almost all text used was written AFTER LOTR was composed
*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 focuses 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.
This group will overall be quite pleased with the work. Due to the largely unfinished nature of Tolkien's legendarium, it's nice to read a completed version of one of the First Age's central legends. Most of the text will be known to them, as it has already appeared in UNFINISHED TALES and THE SILMARILLION. There are several stretches that have not been published before, or the material is handled differently than in previous publications. 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 have largely read only the Hobbit Cycle, and found the posthumous books dry, difficult reading.. 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. CoH's aim was to make the First Age legends more accessible to the general reader. For those of this group unfamiliar with the story, many will be surprised its darkness. There will be readers who find Turin's tragedy off-putting, but other readers will be very moved.
The third group knows 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. Those looking for another Hobbit type story will be invariably disappointed. This group will probably be the most surprised at the darkness of the story.
Overall, CoH is a fine novel, and 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 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 CoH become a major addition to the fantasy canon of literature? Only time will tell. But if I was a betting man, I think time will be very gracious to this last novel from the father of modern fantasy.
on 27 April 2007
I've been a fan of Tolkien for years and enjoyed this book very much. But I think I only did so because I have allowed myself to become some immersed in the Tolkien mythology. For me, I liked the extra richness it brought to stories we already know and reading it had that comforting feeling of slipping under a warm blanket on a cold day.
Having said that, I'm not entirely sure that The Children of Hurin actually adds all that much to the story as previously presented in the Silmarillion. Yes, there was a bit more dialogue, but the sweep of the narrative was still very broad and there wasn't actually anything much new here.
Perhaps more seriously, one of the reasons I think I liked the book was because I know the mythology and back story from the Silmarillion, including all the different names and characters, inside out. My suspicion is that if I'd come to it 'cold' as it were, the procession of new names and references to other parts of the mythology would have been close to impenetrable - as some of the other reviews on this page suggest.
So. Here's the rub. There's not a great deal of 'added value' here if you've already read the Silmarillion, unless you're a Tolkien obsessive like me. But at the same time, you kind of need to have read the Silmarillion first for half of the text to actually mean anything to you at all.
I AM a Tolkien obsessive and so did enjoy The Children of Hurin. And I just can't bring myself to give it less than '4' for this reason. But part of me wonders whether it really deserves a '3' for the weaknesses I've just mentioned...
on 22 June 2007
I have read the other reviews left and find myself slightly amazed the diversity of views. It is clearly a love-it or hate-it phenomenon. For readers of the Silmarillion, the over-arching storyline is familiar, as it is summarised in this work, please read my companion review. The Children of Hurin is a piece by Christopher Tolkien, who also completed the Silmarillion on his father's behalf and this installment is one of the three main works that Tolkien wished to see completed in the epic tragedy that the Silmarillion was to be: Of Beren and Luthien (which is complete), The Children of Hurin and the Fall of Gondolin. In the foreword, Christopher Tolkien underlines the fact that this book is written for devotees of the existing series of tales, and particularly dedicated fans. Although I cannot claim to be as devoted as those who can quote sections of the story, my enthusiasm comes from exploring and forgetting some details as a casual reader. This separate publication is highly recommended to read as a bridging work, for Lord of the Rings fans to become familiar and confident to attempt The Silmarillion. I acknowledge from another reviewer that, without background of characters in the early chapters, the sudden introduction of names and places that have no reference on Middle Earth can be daunting and imposing (indeed, these tales are set in Beleriand, a region west of the Westernmost shores of Middle Earth that became destroyed before even Bilbo Baggins was born.) I would highly recommend a list of Dramatis Personae for future editions and a brief summary of their character to make this transition easier.
Having outlined some of the flaws here, I think it is important to balance up unmentioned strengths of the works. First and foremost, it has been overlooked that Alan Lee provides several beautiful full colour illustrations at regular intervals in the piece, as well as many more monochrome vignettes through and at the end of chapters, which help in complementing Tolkiens vivid descriptions.
The book can be depressing in parts, but readers of the Silmarillion will be familiar with this from the shorter chapter piece, and that the depressive element comes from maligned Turin, who has misfortune to have been son to Hurin, a man who was captured by the Great Enemy and spurned the attempts to corrupt him, resulting in a curse being placed upon his family. This curse is not purely manifest, but more a vow to relentlessly seek vengeance to hunt Hurin's offspring and anyone associated to them, but also because knowledge of this curse, Turin's experiences lead him to become pessimistic and, by his own reactions to others, help bring dismay and doom upon himself. Therefore tragic irony becomes a major plot driver and can therefore be paralleled with Hamlet and Macbeth, though Turin is for the most part a hero beset by tragedy, rather than a hero wholly corrupted by earlier actions for greed or vengeance.
Secondly, the embellishment of an earlier work could seem repetitive and boring to established fans, and indeed some lines of dialogue and prose are identical to their earlier counterpart. However, it is the manner in which the previously undrafted works lead up to these lines that makes this story worthwhile. For example a section where Turin is blamed for the death of someone is revealed that the Elf provoked his demise by relentlessly taunting Turin, a series of events not explicitly referred to and so underscores the death as a tragic accident that had dire repurcussions rather than the act of a brash ranger murdering the Elf in cold blood. The book makes a welcome return to having appearences of Dragons, which has only really been tackled in the novels in The Hobbit. In particular, the formidable wyrm Glaurung is presented as a General with as much influence as the successor Sauron.
In summary, I also echo the fact that this would be a superb gift for a reader of Tolkien
on 17 April 2007
The Children of Hurin is the long-awaited addition to the Tolkien franchise. Started somewhere around 1916 - 1918 by J.R.R. Tolkien, then revised several times, it has taken his son Christopher Tolkien 30 years to finally complete it and form the tale of Turin Turambar and the other offspring of Hurin of Hador for publication as an independent work. It is the first, full-length, cohesive Tolkien novel to be published since The Silmarillion of 1977.
For Tolkien enthusiasts, the story will not be entirely unfamiliar because a short version of it appears in The Silmarillion, in the same way that a compressed version of The Lord of the Rings appears. You may also recognise snippets from other posthumous publications, specifically "Unfinished Tales" and "The Lays of Beleriand". However, if you are new to the franchise, it is still a wonderful tale, although expect it to be far darker than anything else you may have read.
The story takes the reader back to a time long before "The Lord of the Rings", in an area of Middle-earth that was to be drowned thousands of years before the story of the Ring. The great enemy was still the fallen Vala, Morgoth, and Souron only a lieutenant. Hurin, is captured by Morgoth in battle. When Hurin refuses to give Morgoth the information he demands, Morgoth sets a curse upon his bloodline. Thus, his family is destined for tragedy, despite the greatness of his warrior son Turin. In Turin's struggles through the lost world of Beleriand, everything he does fails or turns to bad.
Christopher Tolkien was granted the honour of becoming the J.R.R.'s literary executor by the author himself and insists that the majority of the text is the original word of his father. His only changes are grammatical and linguistic of "a stylistic nature". However, reading it, I can't help feel that there may have been a little more than that. Its style of writing feels more modern than The Silmarillion, for example, perhaps as a symptom of the 30 years that this work has been in progress. On the one hand, I think this is a good thing. For such a gloomy story, it has a readable quality that I believe some of the meandering parts of previous works lacked. Finally, for the real buffs among you - the new map and editorial notes are very interesting, plus wonderful Alan Lee illustrations that make this edition a joy to own.
Just when you think they can't find another draft, note, poem or shopping list written by J.R.R. Tolkien, something new pops up.
But in the case of "The Children of Húrin," the result is a surprisingly solid and lucid story, full of familiar characters from other books about the history of Middle-Earth. Tolkien's timeless, formal prose and richly-imagined world make this novella pop from the pages, especially without his son's stuffier footnotes.
It opens with the story of Huon and Hurin, heroic brothers who lived back in the first age. But when battling the terrible Morgoth (the Middle-Earth Satan), Huor is slain and Hurin is taken prisoner by Morgoth, who torments and curses him. The Easterlings overrun his lands, and in fear for her son and unborn baby, Hurin's wife Morwen sends her son away to be fostered in Doriath.
And so Turin grows up in Doriath, until the day when he feels the need to go out and defend his distant family. His adventures take him through Middle-Earth, encountering great elves, orcs, lives with outlaws, and Mim the petty-dwarf. But his life is cursed by Morgoth -- as is the mysterious girl he falls in love with -- and his downfall will be one of horror and disgrace, even as he slays the most terrible dragon in Middle-Earth, Glaurung.
This book is actually a jigsaw puzzle -- Tolkien worked on the interrelated stories and poetry throughout his lifetime, but he never quite finished a solid cohesive story. So Christopher Tolkien cobbled together these various stories with Tolkien's unfinished works, pasted them together, and the result was "The Children of Húrin."
Surprisingly, the resulting story is very solid and strong, with a darker finale than "Lord of the Rings." While the main storyline is about Hurin and his son, it's sprinkled with familiar characters, such as Melian and Morgoth. And the rich, tragic storyline is full of noble elves, great human heroes, ancient lost cities and even a vengeful, talking sword.
And Tolkien's writing is somewhere between his "Silmarillion" style and his "Lord of the Rings" style -- it's formal and archaic, but he includes strong descriptions ("A flash of white swallowed in the dark chasm, a cry lost in the roaring of the river") and dialogue ("You are one of the fools that spring would not mourn if you perished in winter". One of the best scenes is when Morgoth and Hurin argue about theology and the "circles of the world" on a tower.
Despite the formality of his writing, the characters really pop out of their stories -- Turin is fierce, passionate and tragic, and his last scenes are absolutely stunning. His noble father and moody mother also come across well, and we get plenty of other colourful characters, from snitty elves to the evil Morgoth himself, who torments Hurin by forcing him to see everything Morgoth sees.
Since the actual story is only about two hundred pages long, it's fleshed out considerably by Christopher Tolkien's introduction and appendices, which explain about the writing and construction of the stories and poems, as well as a pronunciation guide, and a series of family trees.
And Alan Lee provides several beautiful drawings (both black-and-white and color), including Doriath's forests, eagles carrying Hurin and Huor, elven smiths, the dragon, Elf warriors, and finally the death of Turin, over a grey river under some burned trees.
Despite its brevity, "The Children of Húrin" is a stunning, brilliant piece of work, full of Tolkien's vibrant storytelling and memorable characters. Definitely a must-read.
I ordered it through Amazon and received it on release day.
If you loved the Silmarillion - (a book I prefer over Lord of the Rings), you'll love this - the style of writing, the prose, the story itself is in much the same vein, basically in the same vein as many Old English works Tolkien was familiar with, such as Beowulf, it's written as a SAGA.
I was actually expecting a more 'modern' story telling approach or a 'Novel' in the same vein as LOTR but not so.
So if you're a 'casual' reader, or one of those who jumped on the bandwagon when Peter Jacksons version of LOTR was released and don't particularly enjoy the Silmarillion style, nor are a fan of myth, legend and don't much enjoy epics then you might be disappointed.
The story itself is one of the best, if not the best that Tolkien has written and is essentially a tragedy and a romance and tells the story of Turin and his sister, his father Hurin and mother.
Cursed by the Great Enemy Morgoth, their fates rule and direct the fate of the 'War of the jewels'.
Hurin is the greatest ever warrior among Mortals, and Turin his son, or Elf-man (as he more than any other mortal closely resembles the Immortal Elf kind) is very close behind, "..a stabber in the dark, trecherous to foes, faithless to friends, and a curse unto his kin, Túrin son of Húrin!.." says the Dragon Glaurung about him.
It is dark and morbid in parts, full of great deeds, of noble values, betrayel, honour, trust and love, friendship and horror. With a brilliant villain and Heroes which make those in the Illiad seem like monkeys in comparison.
The characters aren't one dimensional at all, contrary to what some people say, and are fleshed out as people one can visualise, sympathise with or hate. Beleg ".. Beleg Strongbow, truest of friends, greatest in skill of all that harboured in the woods of Beleriand in the Elder Days.." is simply admirable, and his passing is a dramatic point. Morgoth is a total bstard, but totally blinded by his evil intentions. Turin is at times a complete arrogant, pig headed, holier than thou self righteous pratt - the complete opposite of Morgoth, yet alike in their narrow mindedness, but one has to admire his integrity, bravery, honour and strength.
There are some timeless classic monents whih really grip you, and others which stay with you forever!
It is an 'extended' version of the tales found in Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion, with extra bits and elaborations which complete the picture, so all in all a worthy read and a true saga.
I just hope CJR Tolkien releases a book on Tolkiens 2nd Age, the forging of the Rings and the war of the last alliance.
on 24 April 2007
This is where it all began - Morgoth the Enemy, the early elven kingdoms, the races of men. So much depth and background whispered in the LOTR but never actually available in a complete narrative. Now this book appears with detailed dialogue and descriptions of places and events that shaped the lands of Middle Earth as we know them. I must say its brilliant but not for people who are looking for "LOTR The Next Chapter". The people who tried to read LOTR after the films came out and couldnt finish wont find solice here. Its for true fans - people who are fascinated by the world created by Tolkien and want more information and legend and magic. Its a work of art and something i will be reading 2 or 3 more times. After that I am looking forward to reading LOTR again to see how the story ties in and to enjoy the references characters make to the events in this book. Brilliant.
For people who say it reads like The Silmarilion, I must disagree. It isnt as descriptive of every hill and bush like LOTR but its alot easier to read than The Silmarilion and so fresh, its as if it was written yesterday. Its amazing to think that one person could come up with a world that is so cohessive and stands the test of time so well.
on 26 April 2007
I'm writing this review for those who have not yet strayed far from 'The Lord of the Ring' or 'The Hobbit'. Much like myself a couple of years ago you were probably swept up by the movies and decided to read the books. But now that the adventure is over your looking for more, let me take you by the hand and lead you down the dark and brooding path of middle-earth's past. But be warned, this journey should not be taken lightly for middle-earth is vast and varied, even more so than the events of 'LOTR' let on, and it's history is as long as the history of our own world.
But if you are willing and strong of heart then follow me.
There is no better place to start on your journey into middle-earth's past than with the tale of 'The Children of Hurin', but there are two things you should know before embarking. 1) The story is a tragedy of epic proportions so be prepared for much heartache and hardship and 2) It is not 'The Lord of the Rings', in fact the story takes place a few millenia before those events.
Middle-earth's history may seem like a sprawling and confusing mythology at some times and it can be easy to get lost in the massive laberynth of detail, but if you can piece it together, starting with this book and working your way outwards to works like 'The Lost Tales' and 'The Silmarrilian, then you'll be greatly rewarded for the effort when re-reading 'The Lord of the Rings' as the knowlegde you have gained will lend such a depth of history and meaning to all of the charachters, races, places and events that made that book so very timeless in the first place.
You might not need it but this vast history is there, in every page of 'The Lord of the Rings', it is what makes it's heart beat so strongly.
All you have to do is choose to take the harder road.
on 29 May 2007
There's no way I can top some of the other reviews posted here, so I'll focus on a different question: "Should I, someone who knows little about Tolkien, buy this book for a friend who's a Tolkien fan?"
The short answer is yes. As Tolkien's major tales go, this one ranks in third place after Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit (or second for those who don't like the children's flavor of The Hobbit). Unlike The Silmarillion, this is a genuine story with a narrative and character development. The only deficiency is that, without those hobbits, it lacks the light and comic touch they provide, giving it a grimmer and more fatalistic feel. Unless he reads Tolkien only for the hobbits, your friend will be delighted with your gift.
Perhaps the only other Tolkien work that would top The Children of Hurin in value--and one you ought to consider if your friend doesn't have it already--is The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien. It's a collection of Tolkien's letters over a six decade span (from 1914 to 1973), and it provides the definitive background to Middle earth. When I wrote the entry on "Magic in Middle earth" for The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, I used it almost exclusively. It was far better to let Tolkien explain what he meant than to make guesses of my own.
--Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien (a book-length LOTR chronology)