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

[17 April 2007]

By Tish Wells

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

In Middle-Earth, curses work.

Distilled from the many versions written by J.R.R. Tolkien, his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien, has produced The Children of Hurin, a new version of one of the Middle-Earth’s three “Great Tales”—the destruction of the house of Hurin.

It is a story of a powerful curse, pride, despair, betrayal, incest, elves, dwarves, magic swords and an evil dragon.

Greatly simplified, the action takes place thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings. The great evil Morgoth (whose henchling, Sauron, becomes the Lord in the Rings trilogy) is trying to control the world. After numerous smaller battles, humans and elves unite to battle Morgoth, lose, and their leaders are scattered “as leaves before the wind.”

One of the human leaders, Hurin, is captured. He is dragged to Morgoth’s dungeon and tortured so Morgoth can find a secret hideout of the Elves. Hurin refuses to talk. Morgoth curses him and his family—wife, Morwen, pregnant with daughter, Niemor, and a nine-year-old son named Turin—with doom. The curse plays out over decades causing death and destruction along the way.

Professor J.R.R. Tolkien who taught Anglo-Saxon language at Oxford University created his own languages and, over decades, built a vast historical backdrop for his mythical world of Middle Earth.

The first versions of The Children of Hurin were written in “ancient English alliterative metre (the verse form of “Beowulf” and other Anglo-Saxon poetry,” running over 2,000 lines says his son. Tolkien began writing in 1918 and noodled with it for decades while raising a family and teaching.

His best-known works, The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings, have spawned a fantasy empire on film, but nothing matches the original written material. Its stiff and formal style is not easy reading. As in: “Many songs are yet sung and many tales are yet told by the Elves of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, in which Fingon fell and the flower of the Eldar withered.”

Christopher Tolkien provides invaluable background articles including a pre-history for The Children of Hurin, several genealogies, a pronunciation guide, hand-drawn maps, and an index of names are included. Noted artist Alan Lee provides color plates and line drawings.

Most important, Tolkien explains why, after decades, he’s produced a new, longer version different from what has been previously published. He aimed to provide a completed tale for Ring aficionados who wonder about mentions of Hurin and Turin in The Lord of the Rings. In the end, though, he’s managed to write a book that even casual readers of Middle Earth can enjoy.

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