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A short book review.
I had doubts when I first became aware of this book. ‘Edited by Christopher Tolkien?’ Did that mean ‘Here’s an idea vaguely mentioned by JRR before he died and his son took the concept and ran with it, so you really have no idea if this is going to stand up the father’s standards at all’?
But I then heard from my sister in law (a very big Tolkien fan) that it was indeed written by the Author of “The Lord Of The Rings” (which I have more than once here mentioned is my favorite book) and ‘edited’ was a good description of what Christopher did.
So then I vaguely began hoping that I could read it at some point in the future. But then I saw it in a store, pointed it out to my wife and said something about Father’s Day. She took the hint and later bought it. I was pleased.
Here, however, is the notable thing: The place that I spotted it was the youth section at Target. Again, this didn’t exactly bode well. Was this going to be just a half step above Harry Potter?
I am here to tell you that while I don’t doubt the marketing wisdom of putting it there – “Hey, cool, this is written by the guy who wrote the book with the cool elf surfing down the stairs and shooting a bunch of bad guys!” – I fear the placement here will cause some non zero amount of disappointment in readers more used to lighter fare.
In fact, I say with some shame that I was disappointed. As a rule, I try not to read anything about books that I plan on reading, up to and including the back cover blurb. I had read books where one had to get two thirds of the way through a book before getting to a part that wasn’t summarized on the cover description. I want to be surprised.
But for me, being surprised was a bad thing with respect to this book, for this reason – it is a very dark book. I just learned from a very reputable source (The movie – “Stranger than fiction”) that there are two kids of stories – Comedies and Tragedies. I think it wise to let you know that “The Children of Hurin” is a tragedy. I wish I had known this going in. I kept waiting for it to turn happy. I kept waiting for good to triumph.
After a short introduction, the book largely deals with the life of Turin, the only son of Hurin. Turin is a flawed hero – proud and too quick to act – but he is a hero. He spends time with Elves, then Men, then Dwarves. He fights Orcs. He fights an important dragon (This story is based on an epic poem called “Turin, son of Hurin and Glorund the Dragon”) But (and here’s another thing to note) as written here, these races are all quite different than they are in the Lord of the Rings. I believe this book takes place in the first age of Middle Earth, far earlier time-wise and far to the north in terms of geography of the events of LOTR. To give you a sense of how far back in time this story takes place, I think (since Elrond plays no part in this story) it is not a spoiler to say that a cousin of Hurin is Elrond’s Grandfather. And we know that Elrond in LOTR is very old.
The only character as far as I could remeber that are in both books is Glorfindel, who plays a very small roll in this book.
But back to differences of the races in this book – the Dwarves are more hermit like, the elves are more proud and vengeful, and the humans are less respectable. In LOTR the main heroes have fairly minor flaws, not so here.
So now I wish I could go back and tell myself these things before I read it. I would have enjoyed it more. And there are things to be enjoyed. As always, I appreciated the conversations (The conversations in LOTR are arguable the best parts of the book) I like the sense that there is deep history here. Here, also we have a well crafted and menacing bad guy in the dragon (who, by the way, apparently can’t fly.) Tolkein has left his mark in the characters.
Still, I have a feeling that Tolkein would have done much more with parts of the story if he had made it a goal to publish it. There are some corners of the story that I would like to know more about.
Nevertheless, for reasons spelled out above and others, I can recommend “The Children of Hurin” with the small caveat suggestion that you should be aware and prepared for the darkness you are about to read.