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Children of Hurin - J.R.R. Tolkien
Member Name: grahamt
Children of Hurin - J.R.R. Tolkien
Date: 09/11/09, updated on 09/11/09 (40 review reads)
Advantages: Far easier to read than The Silmarillion...
Disadvantages: ...but, Oh, that punctuation!
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 However, based on the assumption that the other as yet unpublished works were likely to be of a similar nature, I had had no intention of picking up any others that might appear.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.
Summary: A story of Middle Earth from the times before The Hobbit