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May 21, 2007 | by  | in Books |
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J. R. R. Tolkien – The Children of Hurin

When great artists die, there is always the temptation to make money off their memory with the endless publication of material that was often (rightly) left on the cutting room floor. This has afflicted artists from Leonardo da Vinci to Tupac Shakur. It happened to John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, the donnish creator of The Lord of the Rings. In 1977, his son Christopher completed and published The Silmarillion which J. R. R. had begun in 1925. The result was a dense book packed with history, genealogy and linguistic nuances. As a story, it was virtually unreadable and was lampooned as “The Sell-a-million” designed to cash in on the Tolkien legacy. The Children of Hurin, again edited by Christopher Tolkien, will always be compared to The Silmarillion though it is an infinitely more satisfying book. to his credit, Christopher Tolkien explicitly states his desire to remove much of extraneous material and stay focused on the narrative. Although the first chapter is quite turgid, the rest of the book largely stays focused on “only those deeds which bear upon the fate” of the main characters. As a writer, one of J. R. R. Tolkien’s strengths was his ability to create entire worlds. Often though, this would overwhelm the flow of the story and limit character development. The pared-back editing style allows the storytelling elements to come through here. The Children of Hurin is closest in tone to The Hobbit though it is a far darker tale.The story is of Turin and Nienor, the cursed children of a great leader. Turin (who continues the Tolkien tradition of having many, many names) is the focus and his sister gets her first line on page 202. Tolkien, an Oxford don of Anglo-Saxon language, perhaps understandably never wrote strong parts for women.

It is a very different style of fantasy from modern writers – more epic poem than action blockbuster. Hollywood will struggle with the heavy fatalism and tragic ending but that is inconsequential. Alan Lee’s haunting drawings add atmosphere. His fine, almost whimsical, style is a complete contrast to Tolkien’s bold but almost brusque artwork in earlier tomes.This is a worthy addition to the Tolkien corpus.


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