Children of Hurin by. J.R.R. Tolkien
Published by HarperCollins, April 2007
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 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. Hurin 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 Hurin: 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, Hurin 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 Hurin, 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. Hurin 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 Hurin. 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.
Wayne Thomas Batson, May 2007
Copyright © sffworld.com. If quoted please credit "sffworld.com, name of reviewer".