Saturday, March 20, 2010

Book Review - The Children of Hurin

Published 30 years after J.R.R. Tolkiens death, this is the first true standalone version of the the Narn i Chin Hurin, or The Tale of the Children of Hurin. Centered primarily on the tragic life of Turin Turambar and modeled after both Greek and Finnish tragedies, this is a bleak, dark and moving epic tale of the highest caliber.

I'm not going to go into detail about the plot here, but I'll touch on a few key points about the book in general. First off, it is not necessary to have read the Silmarillion (from where the story is drawn) or any of Tolkiens other works, though it certainly wouldn't hurt. Secondly, this is a tragedy. There are few points of light or cheer to be found in this tale, and there is a near tangible cloud of heaviness on the plot and characters. I wouldn't recommend this to people who like light and fluffy stories at all. Thirdly, this is a Tolkien story. That means that it's written in what is nowadays known as an "archaic" form of speaking, and there are lots of what would also be called "long-winded" passages and dialogues; though if one knows of Tolkiens study and love of languages it is made clear that neither of those descriptions are true at all. Going along with that last point, there are lots of odd names and place-names, which for the uninitiated Tolkien reader will no doubt be confusing. This is definitely a work that takes more than one read to fully understand the names and geography of it all.

Now, on to why I think so highly of this story. Simply put, it is moving. There are scenes of heroism, love, courage, grief and self-sacrifice which have yet to be rivaled in modern fantasy and writing in general. There is a genuine sense of history and depth, again because of Tolkiens vast knowledge of linguistics. The sense of brooding and despair can be felt until the very climax of the tale, and it is not a happy ending; but when one studies the writings of Tolkien, it becomes clear that happy endings were not the desired goal.

My final thoughts on the story are this: This is a dark story. It is a tragic story. It is an almost depressing story. But it is also a genuinely moving story of love, and courage in the face of utter defeat; don't expect a light-hearted fantasy tale like The Hobbit. Expect a dark, brooding drama that engulfs one of the most tragic groups of people Tolkien ever invented, The Children of Hurin.

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