Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Children Of Hurin, J. R. R. Tolkien

Title: The Children Of Hurin
Author: J. R. R. Tolkien
Rating: OK

This one has been done for some time, but I haven't managed to get around to reviewing it thanks to a tiny little job in my life of late. When that is done I'll be very happy. But leaving that a mystery for now, I need to review The Children Of Hurin by Tolkien.

Unlike some, I really like The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, but the rest of Tolkien's work is problematic for me. I know enough to understand he created a vast and complex history and mythology along with languages for the various races in notes and reference works. I know that the story of the one ring and Frodo Baggins is very late in that history, and that Sauron is a later evil, descended from the earlier and much more powerful Morgoth. It took several tries, but eventually I did slog my way through The Silmarillion though I remember basically nothing from it except the above tidbits, and the fact that the gods of Tolkien's mythology are called Valar.

As you can see my knowledge is very limited and incomplete. Oh well.

Then I learn that Christopher Tolkien has published yet another book in his father's name. For some reason it peaked my interest, so I looked it up and read a bit about it. I found myself heartened. I read that The Children Of Hurin has a different narrative style than The Silmarillion - more like Tolkien's big successes - and it tells a single story about a few characters, rather than summarizing hundreds or thousands of years of history.

It sounded good, so I got it.

But now that I've read it, I wish it were better than it actually is.

First off, though it is a single story about the wife and children of Hurin - one of Tolkien's favorite characters apparently - it isn't quite written in a typical story telling style. As you read it you learn, though much is told well, that it was clearly assembled from notes. There's something about the point of view and the narrator's perspective that kept me at a distance from the characters. I'm not familiar enough with English grammar terminology to put a name on it, but there's something slightly off in the presentation. Or at least there was for me.

Then there's the story itself, and it's hard to imagine a more bleak tale than this one. It mostly concerns Turin - the son of Hurin - and the horrible things that happen to him. He has two sisters and a mother that appear a bit as well. Most of the other actors are elves and men, though there is a brief interlude with some dwarves too, but don't look for hobbits here. This is thousands of years before The Hobbit takes place, and I'm not even sure they exist yet in Tolkien's world. But then I can't even correlate the map of the world with the one in The Lord Of The Rings, so I am clearly not the best source of information.

In any event, we're following a tiny part of the struggle against Morgoth in the first age of the earth, and both Hurin and Turin play significant roles in a way. To say more would be to give away important plot points and some of my readers may want to discover them on their own, so I won't even summarize the plot beyond saying that it is dark and sad. It's also a bit predictable, alas, and that reduced my pleasure while reading it.

And then there's the small matter of the appendices and introduction. My copy is 313 pages long in total, but the actual story itself starts on page 33 and ends on page 259. Thus it consumes only about two thirds of the book. The rest is introductory or supplementary materials of one sort or another, and in my case I found myself skimming over the appendixes. Yes, I know Tolkien spent much of his life working out all these little details, but they just don't hold my interest.

In summary, this book is much more approachable than The Silmarillion, but it's not on a par with The Lord Of The Rings. It's probably best appreciated by hard core Tolkien fans, and I clearly don't qualify as one of those.