Monday, December 27, 2010

The Children of Hurin Review

For about 100 years now, the works of J.R.R. Tolkien have captivated readers around the world and heavily influenced fantasy in general. Thanks to the success of the films, everyone knows about The Lord of the Rings, but the truth is the War of the Ring is only a very small part of the greater fiction.

When Tolkien first began crafting his stories, he focused on what would later come to be called The Elder Days; the First Age of the world. These tales told of the War of Jewels, in which the Elves fought against the first Dark Lord, Morgoth, a god. Central to this long, sad war was the "Tale of the Children of Hurin."

Worked on for decades in various forms, the "Tale of the Children of Hurin" tells of the fates that befell Turin and Nienor, the children of Hurin and Morwen. Hurin was a great warrior in the service of an Elf-Lord, and after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears in which Morgoth's forces were the victor, Hurin was taken alive as a prisoner and there he defied with great force of will the malice of Morgoth. As such Morgoth cursed him and his kin, and this curse of doom followed Hurin's children for all their lives.

Set in the lost land of Beleriand in the west of Middle-earth, smashed beneath the sea by the time of The Lord of the Rings, the entire history of the First Age is briefly explored in The Silmarillion, and the "Tale of the Children of Hurin" appears here in published form for the first time, about 50 years after its first conception. The chapter is entitled "Of Turin Turambar," and in truth it became one of my favourite chapters in the book.

An expanded version of the tale appeared in Unfinished Tales, entitled "Narn I Hin Hurin," or properly translated, "The Tale of the Children of Hurin," and it was filled with greater character development and exposition. Now, 27 years later, The Children of Hurin is published, a novel dedicated specifically to the "Tale of the Children of Hurin." Further expanded and refined, this novel presents the fullest and most complete version of the tale ever published.

What always fascinated me about Turin was that, due to his mood and the sad doom that ever weighed upon him, he developed into what we'd now consider an anti-hero. For though he was great in deeds of daring, courage, and valor, oft what he sought or designed went astray. This resulted in him regularly being viewed in a darker light no matter what good or ill he achieved.

Being a tale that was never properly finished, it's fascinating to read The Children of Hurin in such an unbroken form. The greatest addition to the narrative, though there are many little changes and expansions here and there, would need to be further detail on the Petty Dwarves and Turin's time with the outlaws. Always a fascinating sequence of Chapters that expands upon Turin's personality and mind, they were never-the-less always broken up or contradictory of one another. Now, in this version of the tale, they flow more smoothly than they ever have before.

Due to his love of both detail and language, Beleriand comes alive under both Tolkien's written word and Alan Lee's illustrations. Scattered throughout the novel are the most beautiful images, in black and white, that help flesh out and inspire the mood of the legend. Not wanting the ruin the images for myself, I found myself reading faster so I could get to each new chapter and see what piece of art awaited me. Of course I didn't rush and diminish my enjoyment of the story itself. Whether exploring the halls of Doriath through Turin's young eyes, fleeing through the forest with Nienor, or confronting the great worm of Morgoth, Tolkien is a master of painting the moment, and of simply but delicately bringing his characters' emotions and trials to life.

The Children of Hurin is a fantastic read, of rich fantasy, heroic deeds, and substance, and like much of Tolkien's fiction, it almost feels like you're reading a real history book. Almost.

Complete with appendices that describe the process of the Tale's completion, collection, and publication, as well as an index of place names and a map of Beleriand itself, The Children of Hurin is an excellent read for any book lover this holiday season, and a must for any Tolkien fan looking to further explore the days lost to the Sea.

No comments: