And Then I Read: The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien

Children of Hurin cover
©J.R.R. Tolkien Copyright Trust.

I bought this a few months ago and have been saving it for the holidays when I’d have more time for it. If you’ve read “The Silmarillion” you’ve already read a 29-page synopsis of this story, and if you’ve read “Unfinished Tales” you’ve read an 80-page version. This one is much expanded, 226 pages plus introductions, notes, genealogies, appendices, a fold-out map, the whole Tolkien experience.

I enjoyed this version, mostly focused on Turin, son of Hurin, in the First Age of Middle Earth, battling the dark armies of Morgoth, ancient enemy of men and elves, and the evil inspiration of Sauron, his servant, later the dark lord in “The Lord of the Rings.” Here Turin’s story goes into much more detail, giving a better idea of life in the First Age for both men and elves (and a bit about dwarves and dragons, as well). Compiled by son Christopher from several versions of the story Tolkien worked on, it reads as a complete epic without signs of patching. Of course, it’s a tragedy in the classic sense, as much of Middle Earth history is, so no matter what happens, doom is always hanging over Turin waiting to strike. How he deals with that doom: embracing, rejecting, defying, succumbing, makes up a good bit of the story. How his doom affects all those around him is another. There’s something fascinating about the way Tolkien manages to keep us interested through all the ups and downs of Turin’s life, even though we know how it will end. And his final battle with the dragon Glaurung and it’s aftermath is a satisfying climax, almost Wagnerian in it’s melodrama.

The illustrations by Alan Lee, including a number of color paintings tipped in and pencil drawings as well, are certainly attractive, but they are mostly scene settings, with little emotional content and figures usually too small to capture any real human character, except for one of Turin’s father Hurin. None of the battles in the story are shown, only some of the aftermath.

If you’re a Tolkien fan, you’ll enjoy this. If you’re not, it may be a bit of a slog until you get drawn into the life and struggles of Turin himself, if you make it that far. After that, I think you’ll find it gripping. Fans of the “Lord of the Rings” films will probably enjoy the Alan Lee art, as he was one of the designers there. Recommended with those caveats.

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