Aldean's Reviews > The Children of Húrin

The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien
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Dec 15, 08

bookshelves: tolkien, possessions
Read in December, 2008

As a general rule I try to write my reviews "in a vacuum" as much as possible, that is, before I read through the other reviews already here. I am not going to be able to do that here. I have spent more than twenty years with this story (since my mother first read the Unfinished Tales version aloud to me when I was eight years old), and if Christopher Tolkien had not put this volume together, I might have eventually had the hubris to do so myself.

Let me start by making a couple of points. First: this is not a new book in any sense of the word, other than it is now standing on its own between two covers and without visible editorial apparatus for the first time. Second: Christopher Tolkien cannot be said to have written any portion of the narrative of this book, despite many reviewers intimations to the contrary. The bulk of this text appeared in Unfinished Tales, with significant gaps; Tolkien the son has filled in these gaps using the relevant sections from the (much more concise) version that was used in assembling The Silmarillion, as well as framing material at the beginning and end of the current volume, also from The Silmarillion. Christopher Tolkien has done little more here than the literary equivalent of very carefully stitching a few patches to mend the gaping holes in an otherwise noble and beautiful garment.

On to the story itself, then. This is, as so many others have already noted with varying degrees of enthusiasm, a very dark tale. If you don't like very dark tales, well then, you will quite likely not like this. It is also in a prose style, as is the vast bulk of Tolkien's work, that is very susceptible to being called "stilted", because compared to contemporary prose, it is. But as at least one reviewer here has wisely noted the tone is in keeping with the tone of the Nordic sagas of which Tolkien was so fond of and inspired by. And like so many ancient sagas and myths, this tale is about an entire family haunted by a doom they cannot escape.

Or is it? I think that Tolkien has done a wonderful job here of subverting the curse of Morgoth and the doom of Húrin and his kin with another motif: free will. Tolkien, who strenuously avoids almost any hint of allegory throughout his vast imaginative work, nevertheless imbued almost every corner of that world with reflections of his own deeply-held Catholic convictions and sensibilities. The core of the story is the tension between doom/fate on the one hand and free will on the other. Túrin makes decision after decision that invariably lead to tragic consequences. But does he do so because he is doomed to do so? Or because he is a man of haughty pride who stubbornly refuses to consider any viewpoint but his own, using his considerable gifts (natural charisma and rightfully-legendary physical/martial prowess) to charge willfully forward regardless of even foreseeable consequences to anyone and everyone around him? I believe that it is very much the latter, but without necessarily completely repudiating the former.

The malice of such a being as Morgoth is a very real force in the tale of the Silmarils, and such malevolence bent upon a single family, and largely upon a single individual as Túrin rises to prominence, can be understood to have tangible effect on individuals and events. And even on a more mundane level, the incursions and aggressive actions of Morgoth's forces, both the marauding armies of Orcs and the Easterlings who occupy Túrin's childhood homeland, can be understood to push Túrin in a particular direction in his life that he might not have gone had circumstances in his life and in his world been otherwise. So there is some range to the senses in which Morgoth can be said to have cursed the children of Húrin.

But Túrin has also grown up the proud child of a proud mother; effectively orphaned from the age of nine, he receives ostensibly every advantage, yet the pride instilled in him from the earliest age tragically unravels every opportunity he is presented with from his youthful fostering in the halls of Thingol onwards. It is his human choices, not the supernatural force of an evil will, that guide him on his tragic path, and this complex narrative thread is what makes this, to my mind, one of the greatest of all of Tolkien's tales.
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Reading Progress

10/25/2008 page 198
63.26%
11/26/2008 page 204
65.18% "I think I have savored this fiorst read long enough; time to saddle up with Morwen and Nienor and ride to the doom-filled finish."
12/11/2008 page 260
83.07% "And with Morwen's final breath, I close the book at last. A mighty tale as always, and still a beloved favorite, even without endnotes."

Comments (showing 1-1 of 1) (1 new)

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message 1: by Gbvenom (new)

Gbvenom Wow. Amazing review.


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