Science fiction and fantasy                                            

The Children Of Húrin

by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Children of Húrin is a peculiar book. Published 34 years after the author's death and edited by his son Christopher, who added a preface, an introduction and an appendix, it's a novel that seems to demand a lot of explanation. Such as, how much of this posthumous novel was Tolkien's own work?

It's soon apparent that the answer to this particular question is, almost all of it, minus the odd couple of words here or there to bind it all together. Christopher Tolkien describes it as "a coherent narrative without any editorial invention". That gives it too much credit, because narrative suggests there's a lot more story than there actually is. Most of the text is little more than a plot outline, and it's told in a distant, almost Biblical style that's full of inaccessible and archaic speech. It tells the tale of Húrin and his family, noble humans who lived during the Elder days.

At this time Morgoth is the dark lord, and he's busy using orcs and other evil creatures to enslave everyone to his will. He can also spread plague using the Evil Breath, and he has a huge dragon, Glaurung, on his team as well. The elves and men oppose him, but they're fighting a losing battle.

Húrin goes to war against Morgoth's forces and takes part in a massive battle. But he's captured, and disappears. Without knowing whether he is dead or alive, his wife Morwen is unsure what to do. Too proud to beg for help, even if it means staying with a king, she tries to hold out at her family home, even though her country is being occupied by Easterlings. Eventually she sends her eldest son, Túrin, away because she's afraid that he will be turned into a thrall, or slave.

Most of this novel concerns the adventures of Túrin. He goes through several changes of identity and spends some time fighting, travelling, and leading people. The narrative has a tendency to skip quickly over parts that could have been very exciting and immediate, which is a shame. However, when Tolkien deals with Túrin's exploits it does begin to come alive.

Túrin has something of a shadow over him, and there are plenty of suggestions of his doom and misfortune. He's unlucky in love and friendship, and the plot's themes are quite tragic. But because these episodes are barely told with more detail than the rough outline of a plot, all of this tragedy is hardly moving at all. We never really get inside the minds of the characters, except on a superficial level. The distant and over-formal language doesn't help matters.

The Children of Húrin is an opportunity lost, a story that's more than a little unfinished. It's easy to imagine how it would make a great epic story if it were expanded and polished by a talented writer, however. But as it stands it's no more than an embellished and detailed plot outline, with a few of the gaps filled in. It's not quite a story, and as a result it's not a joy to read. Christopher Tolkien has approached his father's work with the reverence and meticulousness of a scholar, and this work is pure Tolkien senior. But does J. R. R. 's work deserve that kind of respect? After all, it's just a piece of fantasy fiction with no particular historical value.

As it stands, The Children of Húrin will mainly be of interest to serious Tolkien enthusiasts and scholars. But in terms of entertainment it falls flat: it's a summarised story crying out to be rewritten and expanded by other pens.

Book Details

Year: 2007

Categories: Books


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