Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Children of Hurin

I finally got a copy of the Children of Hurin last week. This is the first new novel by J. R. R. Tolkien since the Lord of the Rings. That said, I want to be clear what this novel is and what it is not.

It is not a light happy work like the Hobbit. It isn't even a serious work like Lord of the Rings. It is high tragedy.

People who have already read the Silmarillion will be familiar with the story since it contains a shorter version. Tolkien's son Christopher wanted a version that is more approachable.

A little background:

The novel takes place thousands of years earlier than the Lord of the Rings during the war between the elves and Morgoth. Morgoth is sort of an evil god. He stole the Silmarils - three gems glowing with a godly light. They were made by the same elf who created the pallantirs in LOTR. The theft of the Silmarils triggered a long war between the elves who had journeyed to the undying lands of the west and Morgoth. Many of the elves returned from the west in pursuit of the gems. Most of the elf kingdoms mentioned are this group. There is also Thingol who rules Doriath along with his wife, Melian who is a maya - sort of a lesser god (Sauron, Gandolf, and the balrog are all maya). Doriath is protected by the Girdle of Melian which prevents anyone from entering the kingdom without permission.

Besides Doriath, the other two great elf kingdoms are Gondolin which is hidden in the mountains and Nargothrond which is hidden underground in the manned of a dwarf kingdom.

Shortly before the novel begins, the human Beren finds his way through the Girdle of Melian and falls in love with Luthien, the daughter of Thingol and Melian. In order to rid himself of Beren, Thingol gives him an impossible task - to bring one of the Silmarils. With much aid from Luthien and others, Beren eventually succeeds. He dies in the effort but is restored to life for a short time at the entreaty of Luthien. She becomes mortal and marries Beren, producing a daughter who is Elrond's grandmother.

The Children begins shortly after Beren and Luthien recover a Silmaril. This leads the elf kings to decide that it might be possible to defeat Morgoth after all. A great battle is held. Morgoth is triumphant and Hurin is taken prisoner. Morgoth tortures him by setting him in a chair where he can see all that takes place. Morgoth then curses Hurin's line.

Most of the book follows Hurin's son, Turin. Turin is sent to live in Doriath where he is welcomed as a kinsman of Beren. His pregnant mother has to stay behind in occupied territory and Turin eventually looses all contact with her. As with Anakin Skywalker, worry over his mother leads to bad things. Turin is always well-meaning and is a great warrior. His fatal flaw is that he constantly underestimates the power of Morgoth. Because of his prowess, he becomes a leader wherever he goes but he is at war with an enemy who cannot be defeated. Worse, Morgoth's curse brings about some tragic coincidences.

The book is full of heroic deeds and great sorrows. Despite the subject matter, it is a quick read. It is 313 pages but they are small with a large font plus there is an introduction and appendix.

People who are looking for another LoTR will be disappointed but anyone who wants to know more about Middle Earth history should enjoy the book.

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