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Published in 2007 in its standalone form, 'The Children of Hurin' was originally included, albeit in incomplete forms, in Tolkien's overwhelming work 'The Silmarillion' and also 'The Unfinished Tales'. Here, his son Christopher Tolkien, had taken his father's original work and patched it together as a complete story in its own right.
Having been a life-long fan of Tolkien's work (though I still haven't got round to tackling the beasts that are the 'Silmarillion' and 'History of Middle Earth'), I found myself doing something rather out of character and marching straight to Waterstones to buy the hardback version of this book on its day of release. It was rather expensive, with not much change from £20, but it felt exciting to take home a beautiful copy of what promised to be a new work by one of my favourite authors.
Did it live up to its expectations? Yes and no. Without giving too much away, the tale is a sad one. It mainly follows the stories of Turin and Nienor, children of Hurin, a man raised in the Elvish city of Gondolin. Hurin is cursed by Morgoth, the Middle Earth equivalent of Satan (and the original master of the more familiar Sauron), and must live to see the curse play out through his descendants. Cast out of Elvish society for a regretful act against a haughty noble, Turin joins a band of criminals, and flees from his past, only for it to catch up with him with disturbing consequences...
The tale and writing style are instantly evocative of Dark Age family sagas. The lineal ties and blood-feuds fuel the story, and Tolkien's love of Anglo-Saxon and Norse literature shines through. The language and descriptions are terse and earthy, which is simultaneously refreshing and irksome. It serves to show Tolkien's ability to shift his style as he chooses. Whereas 'The Hobbit' is light and whimsical in its tone, and 'Lord of the Rings' is both epic but selectively detailed, 'Children of Hurin' is scant in the descriptive department. Morgoth, the chief antagonist, is not described, and the major event 'The Battle of Unnumbered Tears' is summed up in about a page. Here is an extract recounting the clash between the Elves and the armies of Morgoth's fortress, Angband:
'Gothmog, high-captain of Angband, was come; and he drove a dark wedge between the Elven hosts, surrounding King Fingon, and thrusting Turgon and Hurin aside towards the Fen of Serech. Then he turned upon Fingon. That was a grim meeting'.
This blunt narration serves as the tone for the whole story. Most people will have a passing knowledge of Middle Earth and the basic stories and concepts behind Tolkien's two major works, 'The Hobbit' and 'Lord of the Rings'. However, 'Children of Hurin' will most likely feel rather incongruous with the content of both of these books (and movies), as this tale is set in a time many aeons before the events in 'Lord of the Rings', before Hobbits had come into being, and in a land that does not feature in these works (having been swallowed up by the sea at a later time). This is one of the most awkward and infuriating aspects of the work. While a map is included, this book is scant on description, but heavy with characters and their lengthy heritages, placenames and events.
Reading this book requires the reader's imagination to be in top gear, as the descriptions are so sparse you'll need to build up your own landscapes from Tolkien's other works, and the map in the back. You'll probably also need to keep a bookmark the appendix, as it has a handy list of placenames and characters for reference, as they are introduced with little background. This is a book that would make modern commissioning editors and publishers cringe, did it not have such a huge name attached to it.
One gets the impression that the timing of the release of this book was slightly cynical. Released in 2007, interest in Tolkien had been rekindled earlier in the decade by Peter Jackson's movies, and all the speculation surrounding the possible film adaptation of 'The Hobbit'. 'Children of Hurin' was met with probably far too much excitement than was warranted, and it does feel like a bit of a cash-in on Middle-Earth's popularity. Smaug would be proud.
That said, it is a good tale, that stirs the emotions and fires the imagination, and I fely genuine sorrow as the story reached its climax. While it is by no means an easy read, it is best approached as if it were a saga of its own, written in a very similar style. It sits quite nicely alongside Beowulf. This is not recommended as a first foray into Tolkien's world, but if you're hungry for another tale of Middle Earth and wish to see a different facet of Tolkien's works and style, then go for it. It is also beautifully illustrated by Alan Lee, who injects a bit of colour into it.
Ever since I was a little child, I have been a devoted fan of J.R.R Tolkien, The Hobbit one of the first novels I ever remember enjoying profoundly! A couple of years after having read The Hobbit, I embarked upon the masterpiece that is The Lord of the Rings, and seeing as this novel is one of my all time favourite novels, I really looked forward to reading Children of Hurin, knowing it to be a different and darker read than the former work of Tolkien...
There should exist no doubt to the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien was a brilliant author and creator of amazing tales and characters, and with Children of Hurin, he wrote a much darker and more serious story, which takes place many years before the plot of Lord of the Rings, the story is both devastating and tragical, yet as always written with a beautiful and lyrical pen, making it a very worth while read!
I found the writing style and description of characters and surroundings to be just as good as those we receive in Silmarillion, yet there`s a depth and seriousness to this book that makes it somehow a heavier read, it takes more energy and time to process and take in the story... With the wonderful illustrations and drawings of Alan Lee, the novel comes to life with a dramatic and realistic touch, we get an insight into this world and time, which is absolutely much darker and more intense than what you will find The Hobbit to be... Seeing as the topic of this novel is of such dark nature, I wouldn`t recommend this novel for the youngest of readers, as it in no way should be looked upon as a children`s novel, the way The Hobbit certainly is a novel for both children and adults! This novel focuses upon the characters Turin and Nienor, husband and wife with a dark and shocking secret which I shall not reveal, as it`s quite a spoiler! The conclusion to the discovery of the secret between them is very intense and dark to read, and is without a doubt the very most serious and intense writing that Tolkien ever has created... As a fan of Tolkien, I was certain to enjoy this novel to some degree, and all though it`s not to compare with LOTR, The Hobbit and Silmarillion, I still recommend this story as a tragic, yet very good read!
This book can be purchased for the very low cost of 2.00 at HMV.
I have been a fan of Tolkien ever since I had read Lord of The Rings in its entirity. I missed out on the Hobbit until much later than I read The Children of Hurin - mind you some references are made in the Hobbit from Children of Hurin (which made reading Hobbit more interesting and enjoyable). Nevermind that, this review isn't about The Hobbit, its about a dark and grim tale full of adventure, love, guilt, sorrow and so much more. It is the tale of Hurin's children and their bane - having being cursed by Morgoth.
The first few pages or so deal with the lineage of Hurin, his wife and their children Turin and Urwen (Lalaith). From thereon, one can note a dark tone. Tolkien depicts a great battle and the consequences of countless wars; there is much blood that is spilled and that remains to be spilled.
The tale is so dark and full of brutal twists it can easily shock the unexpecting reader. It is I would say, definitely more adult for it has themes which are gruesome and grim. There is much melancholy, death and even taboo right up to the end. It is not a book about happy endings or about the laurels of good and virtues. Nay, it is undoubtedly a work of fiction that is like cannon in the world of Middle Earth. The story unfolds as intricately as a delicate weaving and the attention to detail makes it so much more pleasurable to read.
If you are looking for wizards, magic, hobbits and trolls, you will not find it in this book. What it provides instead is a gripping melodrama that encompasses all the aspects of a true epic. For it captures the imagination with Men, Dwarfs, Dragons, Elves and the Valar in such a manner that you are left for wanting more.
Even then the tale is accompanied by beautiful colour hardback illustrations by Alan Lee. It compliments the narrative and enhances the readers acumen to grasp the depicted scenario.
For those who have also read any of the books relating to Middle Earth, this is a great addition to the library. A must have for Tolkien fans.
Having read both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings twice, like most people I suspect, this was as much as I knew about the works of JRR Tolkien. A few years back we were introduced to a new book, The Silmarillion, which Tolkien's son, Christopher, had put together from unfinished writings of his father, based on what he understood the original plan had been for the plot of this new story.
I hadn't realised as well that Tolkien senior had a habit of starting and never finishing his stories or even starting them all over again, leaving the original version abandoned and then not even finishing the alternative. Whether he just got bored or was a perfectionist who was never satisfied is unclear. What is clear is that masterwork, The Lord of the Rings, is one of the finest pieces of writing in the English language and is regularly acknowledged as the greatest book(s) ever written, in popularity polls.
But what of all those other uncompleted stories? Was there any emerging evidence of the future greatness in them? Would we ever know? But for Tolkien Junior's dedication to the task of bringing these to a readership hungry for more, we might never have found out.
I have not read The Silmarillion and based on reviews I have read it does sound somewhat heavy going. This is a surprise since The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are anything but. However, based on the assumption that the other as yet unpublished works were likely to be of a similar nature, I had had no intention of picking up any others that might appear.
However, The Children of Hurin was one such book which I received as a birthday present and it was inevitable that eventually I would get around to at least starting it. I'm glad I did.
The Children of Hurin can be described as a prequel to the later and more famous works. Tolkien kept a common genealogy for the peoples of the story and he includes at the end of the book the family trees of the characters, showing how they link to later people, especially Elrond of Rivendell.
It tells the story of the children of Hurin, decendent of Hador Goldenhead, Lord of Dor-lomin and Morwen of the House of Beor: Turin, Urwen and Nienor. At this time, in the First Age, the Evil Presence is Morgoth, whose servant, Sauron, will inherit the role of oppressor in future stories. In a common theme, Morgoth uses a fearsome dragon, Glaurung, but most especially the Orcs as his stormtroopers to seek to dominate or destroy all those who value their freedom and in doing so oppose his will.
Hurin is one such rebel but his army proves no match for the forces of Morgoth and he is captured and so commences the story of his children and their continuing fight against their father's enemy. The principal character is Turin and it is his story that we mostly follow through his successes and failures until he and his family finally meet their own ends in classic saga fashion.
The story has very much the feel of the ancient Norse sagas and it is well-known that Tolkien, in writing the books, had as his objective to create a "mythology" for the British to match the very best of those of Scandinavian origin. Christopher describes the story as a poem but in reading it I wasn't aware of any poetic structure. Certainly the story has an almost metronomic rhythm and it's not until this is brought to your attention that the style of writing can be recognised.
Christopher describes it as being written in "...the ancient English alliterative metre (the verse form of Beowulf and other Anglo-Saxon poetry)...". I suppose an example of this from the book is the sentence "'Not the door of the house, but the gate of the garth,' said Mim." Once you know what you're looking for, this becomes easy to appreciate.
The story is an easy read, which is probably good news for those who tried to tackle The Silmarillion. It is broken up into sections, each of which has its own title and could almost be considered a story in its own right. However, the entire tale flows very well and Christopher must be commended for doing such a good job, even if he had to add or change certain parts of his father's original work in order to fill logical gaps or correct inadvertent mistakes.
What he didn't do (I assume) is correct his father's punctuation, which has to be just about the worst I have ever seen in what might be considered a work of writing by a major author. I did find this somewhat distracting. Don't get me wrong. Whilst I have read "Eats, shoot and leaves" and agree with much of Trusse's guidelines, it takes a lot to raise my hackles where punctuation is concerned. Tolkien does it to me with ease though! Still, this is my only complaint.
In the appendix to this book, Christopher describes how he assembled it from the various works that his father had cast aside and, where passages were duplicated in various versions, had to chose which to keep, which to discard and where to merge the writings to create a coherent storyline. I found this part of the book almost as interesting as the story itself.
The book is also illustrated with a number of atmospheric pictures by Alan Lee, who also contributed to later editions of the classic Tolkien books, as well as making artistic contributions to the current BBC TV series, Merlin.
Do not be put off from reading The Children of Hurin if you failed to finish The Silmarillion. I found this book hugely enjoyable and, like The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, it is probably a book I will pick up and re-read in the future.
The Children of Hurin is published in paperback by HarperCollins at a cover price of £8.99.
It's always a surprise to be able to buy a new book several decades after the death of the author, but the Children of Hurin has been painstakingly pieced together over the years by Christopher Tolkien from manuscripts his father wrote before his death. If you have read the Silmarillion, this story will not be a complete surprise to you - the tragic tale of the antihero Turin and his sister/wife Nienor is one of its most compelling stories and this is a rework and extension of existing material. This version is greatly extended from the version in the Silmarillion and has improved readability over the Silmarillion.
I particularly liked the new artwork by Alan Lee. Shortly after the book came out, I went to a talk/signing session of his and he spoke very knowledgably about New Zealand, the production of the Lord of the Rings movie and Children of Hurin.
Turin, in my opinion had some really bad luck, but as with most heroes, he wasn't helped out by his pride. His death (together with his sister) as he realises his accidental incest are one of the most haunting tales that Tolkien wrote.
Lovers of the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings will be surprised at the much darker tone of this story, which is entirely lacking in loveable hobbits. Unintentional incest, murder, battles, tragedy and betrayal make for a heady mix. Well worth a read for the Tolkien completist.
Recovered from incomplete manuscripts, this tale of Tolkien's may help feed your hunger for hobbits. Illustrated by Alan Lee and edited by Christopher Tolkien.