Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Children of Hurin

I've been reading the new book by J.R.R. Tolkien, who has been dead for 34 years.  It's a story I'm familiar with from its iterations in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The Lays of Beleriand: Húrin, the lord of the (human) House of Hador in the First Age of Middle-Earth, is an ally of the Noldor Elves in their interminable war against Morgoth, the force of evil, until he is captured in battle.  When he still refuses to knuckle under, Morgoth curses him and his whole family, and Húrin's son Túrin and daughter Niënor grow up under the curse unbeknownst to them.  The book is mostly about Túrin and how everything he ever does turns out badly for him and those who love him...and, really, for everyone around him whether they love him or not.

It's a story that must have been close to Tolkien's heart, seeing as how he spent pretty much his whole adult life writing and rewriting it in prose and in intricate alliterative verse.  It's also bloody depressing, without a paragraph or even a line of redemption for anybody in it.  The emphasis on man's inability to escape his fate is very strong.

But I think it works better as a standalone tale between its own covers than it does as a chapter in a longer book.  The illustrations by Alan Lee are great as well.  Far be it from me to argue with Christopher Tolkien, who has been editing his father's papers almost as long as I've been alive, but I disagree with his decision to end the tale rather abruptly after the death of Túrin, then append an awkward epilogue about the parents; either leave them out entirely, or give them their own chapter! But I'd love to see the other two of Tolkien's three "Great Tales" given the same treatment, though I don't know if that's possible given the extant variations.

Originally posted at MySpace 4/27/07

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