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Customer Review

160 of 171 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Marvelous novel, stylistic bridge between THE SILMARILLION and the Hobbit Cycle., 19 April 2007
This review is from: The Children of Húrin (Hardcover)
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.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 10 Apr 2008 14:24:56 BDT
Excellent review! I have just seen this book on the shelves and wondered whether or not to buy it, as I found the Silmarillion extremely hard reading; so I am definitely a Grade 2 Tolkien fan! Based on your superb precis i think my mind is now made up and I will buy it. Many thanks!

In reply to an earlier post on 9 May 2008 01:57:54 BDT
CoH along with the Silmarillion are written in a similar style as the 'Sagas' (such as Beowulf) were written, more 'prose' than an out and out 'novel'. They may be heavy going, but immerse yourself in them, and you'll love them, utterly brilliant, and the imagination gone into them makes you wish they WERE an actual part of English folklore, and based on 'real' legends and myths.

Posted on 9 May 2008 21:10:11 BDT
Al Ba says:
I've read the review just for fun, as I already know Tolkien very well and have bought CoH long ago (in the author's terms, I am a hardcore fan). And I must admit that it is outstanding, in the sense that it covers the most important aspects that a buyer should know. Of course, I recommend this book as one worthy of admiration, and its tragic plot will give you a sense of what was happening in the 1st Age of the Sun, long before Sauron's dominion. And maybe, if you belong to the 2nd or 3rd groups described by Mike London "MAC", then you should read CoH first, and then attempt The Silmarillion, if this story impressed you.

Posted on 5 Jan 2016 16:27:01 GMT
James says:
I'm nearly at the end of my 4th read of lotr, and will be gutted when it's finished. Having read The Hobbit several times as well I've been looking for my next Tolkien fix. Your review has convinced me it's CoH. Cheers.
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