The Children of Hurin
J.R.R. Tolkien’s new book, The Children of Hurin, was released in mid-April. It’s available in hardback for just over $15 (on Amazon), including illustrations by Tolkien artist Alan Lee. I’ve read about half of it so far.
The story, which is very dark and definitely tragic, explores the impact of the evil influence on Hurin’s children of the fallen Valar, Morgoth, whom Hurin had defied. For those unfamiliar with Tolkien’s mythology, Morgoth is very like Satan. Hurin was a man and leader of men who joined with the elves in resisting the growing power of Morgoth in Middle Earth. Hurin’s son, Turin, was born some 6,500 years before Frodo took up the burden of the great Ring of Sauron, who had been Morgoth’s most powerful lieutenant.
The Children of Hurin has been published only now because it took J.R.R. Tolkien’s son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, many years to piece together all the fragments and drafts of the story so that it might be presented in the most consistent possible form. Those who have read all of Christopher Tolkien’s prior collections of his father’s writings will have seen much of this material already, but not in as polished or as complete a presentation.
The story uses what we might call Tolkien’s mythic or epic voice, like much of The Silmarillion. It is written to evoke the high matters of the elder days, shrouded in mystery, more abstract, and with relatively little concrete emphasis on place, time and personality. The characterizations are less malleable—more fixed—than in the concrete, “here and now” style of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. For these reasons, most readers will find the book less absorbing than those works of Tolkien which have now been immortalized on film.
Nonetheless, The Children of Hurin is a fully-developed tale in its own right, and it retains Tolkien’s characteristic Catholic moral ambience. Good and evil are clearly delineated, and both are always at work in the world. Although a tragic doom hovers over Turin, Tolkien holds open the possibility that things could have turned out differently, that ultimately it is not fate or the gods but the decisions of men which determine destiny. This moral context, of course, is essential to the possibility of future triumphs in other times, such as those chronicled in The Lord of the Rings.
While you can pick up a collector’s edition for three times the price, the cheap hardback is very nice. As Christopher Tolkien will turn 83 later this year, one can hardly hope for much more. The Children of Hurin is a bargain for one last round of J.R.R. Tolkien’s magnificent work.
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