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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Review: The Children of Hurin

Okay, last night I finished JRR Tolkien's novel, The Children of Hurin. And while, the chapter by chapter discussion is still very much alive and active, I wanted to post my review while
it was all still fresh in my mind.

Children of Hurin by. J.R.R. Tolkien

Review by Wayne Thomas Batson

If it weren’t for the works of Tolkien, I doubt very much that I would be a published author today. Twenty-six years ago, I first read The Hobbit, and I was absolutely mesmerized by Tolkien’s ability to draw me into the story, both through sympathetic characters and picturesque settings. And more than that, there was a sense of history to Tolkien’s writings that made me feel as a reader that I had stumbled onto a world that had long existed. Tolkien’s canon of writing was not a set of stories written to entertain me, but rather an incredibly entertaining chronicle of the events of an ancient civilization long forgotten by too many of our generation. Since that Summer of 1981, I’ve become something of a disciple of Tolkien’s. I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings about fourteen times. The Professor’s work has profoundly influenced my life and led, I think, to my books being published. So it was with electric anticipation that I awaited the release of The Children of Hurin. I present my review for your consideration. Keep in mind, as with any review, there will be some minor spoilers.

The story concerns the “greatest warrior” of mankind, Hurin and his offspring. During the Battle of Unnumbered Tears where many great warriors are killed, Hurin survives and even becomes a festering sore in Morgoth’s plans for world subjugation. Morgoth, by the way, is the black sheep of the Valar--less than gods, but more like to a powerful angelic beings. To put Morgoth’s evil in perspective, Sauron was one of Morgoth’s servants, described once by Gandalf as a “footstool” of Morgoth. That alone should tell you that Morgoth is seriously bad news.

At the end of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, Morgoth captures Hurin and demands to know the secret location of Gondolin, the hidden Elvish city ruled by Morgoth’s last real threat, King Turgon. Hurin, with an inner power unfathomable to most of us, resists—even to the point of mocking Morgoth. But in his malice, Morgoth chooses not to kill Hurin. Instead, he levels a potent curse upon Hurin’s offspring and all those who love them and gives Hurin an everlasting front row seat to watch the misery unfold.

Here the story turns to Turin and eventually to Nienor, the children of Hurin and Morwen. Lalaith (Urwen) the third child gets barely a page to live. The events that unfold will take readers into Elvish Strongholds, Dwarven caves, and the nomadic bands of human outlaws. Readers will witness the machinations of Morgoth and see his clever war strategies in motion. And, (a highlight for me) readers will come face to face with Glaurung, a dragon so powerful and black-hearted that he makes Smaug look like a kitten. From this point, I’ll evaluate the book.

If having a story weigh on your heart long after you close its covers is any indication of quality, then The Children of Hurin (CoH) is a marvelous story. I found myself dwelling on Turin’s decisions and examining my own pride. I thought about how easy it is for loved ones to hurt one another even with simple words. And I was overcome by hatred for sin and the horrors that mankind inflicts upon itself. CoH is well-written, though you could tell in parts where transitions between scenes were abrupt or incomplete. But most marvelous of all, you could tell that this was indeed J.R.R. Tolkien’s language. Once again, I was transported into a vast and ancient land. I was a visitor to something old and magnificent, and felt privileged for the opportunity. I fell in love with the characters—even little Urwen whose stay was sadly so brief. In this tale I found creeping pestilence and dread. I found noble heroes—oh, how I wish Beleg Strongbow had whole books written about his adventures! And, of course, there were very cool swords and weapons—some cursed and some not. All to say, CoH is definitely worth of reading. It is definitely worth having on your “keep forever” shelf. And it is definitely worthy of Tolkien’s legacy. I am glad I lived to read Children of Hurin.

And one or two things about the packaging of CoH: Alan Lee has done the cover for the book, as well as, several breathtaking illustrations throughout. For long time Tolkien fans, that alone will prove worth the price of the book. But for any reader who loves fantasy art, you will drool (and perhaps, cry) over these images. Lee somehow manages to capture the emotion of Tolkien’s story over and over again. And, unlike so many other books with illustrations, CoH manages to put every picture in just the right place. You’ll never find yourself thinking, “Now what’s this picture of?” Just as you read a marvelous scene, boom, the art hits you in the heart and the overall weight of the scene triples.

All this said, there are some negatives I want to point out. But seriously, do not read on unless you want spoilers of a major variety. I’m not kidding. DO NOT read any more of this review if you don’t want to find out what happens in the end.

I said above that I was glad that I read CoH, but I don’t think I’ll ever read it again. That must sound strange. But you have to understand, I’m a sucker for a happy ending. No, I’m not a sap who unrealistically wants everything to turn out rosy. I absolutely love how in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien presents heroic victories, but they all come at tremendous cost. Sacrifice, death and suffering—okay, but I still want the victory. CoH is a tragedy and an intimate, penetrating tragedy at that. Anyone and everyone you will come to love in this story will die and usually in the most gut-wrenching ways. You will be yelling at Morwen, Turin, and Nienor in your mind, saying, “No, don’t do that! Don’t say that! Don’t fall for that!” And of course, they’ll do just what you feared they would. Time after time, characters will ignore the sage advice of friends who love them, and peril will result.

And after reading Children of Hurin, I am convinced there are things far worse than death. Watching every tragedy known to humankind befall your offspring—being chief among them. Morgoth’s curse so utterly devastated Hurin’s kin that it makes me wonder why he didn’t just throw a curse on ALL of his enemies and then, sit back and watch the mayhem unfold. And about Morgoth: there’s nothing better than having a really bad villain get what’s coming to him. But not in CoH. Morgoth escapes virtually unscathed. I guess I knew that going in, as Earendil and the Valar take care of Morgoth much later in the history of Middle Earth. Still, I wanted to smack Morgoth with a big war hammer, but it never happens. CoH struck me much like Mystic River, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, and The Departed. These are all extremely well-told stories. Well designed, well-directed, well-cast, well-acted, and well-shot—but dreadfully depressing. The Children of Hurin ended and left me with a vacant sense of dread, but no hope. I am glad to have visited with my old friend, Professor Tolkien. I am reminded of the power of the story. And I am left wanting more.


Amy Browning said...

I completely agree. Well written, well crafted, well developed, and a well told story, yet very sad and depressing.

I just went out and got The Hobbit and am promised it's a much lighter story. Whew.

The truth of CoH is that I would have read it even if I was told how dismal the story was and be happy that I did. Yet, I can't wait to get into The Hobbit.

WayneThomasBatson said...

Yes, you will love The Hobbit. Now if only Peter Jackson and New Line can stop futzing around and make a movie or two out of The Hobbit…

Astral Pen said...

I read The Hobbit in junior high. It is a lighter story, Amy, you can defintely bank on it.

Wayne, I didn't get a chance to read TCOH due to a rather time consuming exam this past week, and actually, it sounds like I might not have cared for it, in the sense that it would have been a tad depressing. But I know I would have enjoyed Tolkien's writing and his characters.

Speaking of a possible film, I heard Peter Jackson was off the project, and the studio is instead looking to Sam Raimi to direct.

- Jason

everlastingscribe said...

I'm glad that I didn't have time for this read, if I'm picking up on the cues in Rise of the Dibor, I'm going to be sad enough this Summer. Though on the up side, I *can* complain to Christopher Hopper seeing as he's still on this side of eternity.

Amy Browning said...

I'd love to see a movie of The Hobbit. I'm only a tiny way into it and can see Peter Jackson's hobbit holes already. Of course, I could just pop in my special edition Fellowship of the Ring DVD. See, although I've not read it, I absolutely adore the movies, saw each in the theater and bought the DVDs plus two of the super duper extended editions. I've even watched most of the bonus features. I'm a Tolkien nerd without knowing it. LOL!

I hope Peter Jackson doen't get booted off the project. It was his vision that set off the whole phenomenon again and possibly made it more popular than ever, definitely accessing a much wider audience. He was a huge part of these films even being made.

Anyway - I digress.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of digressing...this is entriely off-topic...but I noticed something and had to write about.
Mr. Batson I noticed your comment on Scribe's Blogger. The funny thing is is that I too was born premature, and almost died. I wasn't blue, but I def. needed blood tranfusions.
One of the needles came off my hand during one and the meds burned my right hand...I had a form of 'plastic surgery' done and now all I have on my hand is a star or cross-shaped scar. It's pretty neat, actually. I made front page of the newspaper when I turned 1 :)
I thought it kinda cool that we (Scribe, our Mr. B., and myself) were all born early.

Anonymous said...

Oh wait...I read Scribe's blog again....only two of us were born early. :)

WayneThomasBatson said...

Regardless of early, late, or right on time, the fact that we were all in serious peril at birth and yet God rescued us--now that is cool. And…worthy of praise for our Father who sees all ends.

Anonymous said...

The book was really good. Wayne, I totally agree with you. It was really good

chrisd said...

I had read the Silmarillion (sp???) a few years ago and this story was in it.

I felt that Turin's story was gut wrenching and I have not had the heart to go back and read it.

Thank you for the review, though.

Angela said...

I agree whole-heartedly with your review of the Children of Hurin. I was very excited when this book first came out, so I could learn more about Turin whom's story I loved in the Silmarillion. I wish Tolkien could have been around to finish it, but alas he was such a perfectionist it may never have been published!

I am reading your first book "The Door Within" and LOVE it! My 14 yr old son read it first and loved it to. He told me to read it. Now I just need to catch up with you and get the rest of your books!

WayneThomasBatson said...

Hi, Ang

Yeah, I so with the Professor had finished a dozen more books. He had a gift.

And thanks for the kind words about my books. I'm honored that you enjoyed them.


Brasil said...

This being his newest book in a long time with the help of his son, it is great! I bought it a few days after its release and was stunned. It caught my attention and never let go. An Amazing book. It is a hard book to read though like most ok Tolkiens books, but if you can handle it then read it, Its worth it!