Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Book Review: The Children of Húrin

© 2007 by J.R.R. Tolkien

Thoughts on a re-reading of J.R.R. Tolkien’s (through his son Christopher’s editorship) The Children of Húrin:

I first read this un-epic-length tale (226 pages if you disregard the lengthy prologues, appendices and glossary) seven years ago, a foray back then into Tolkienna after nearly 25 years. I reviewed it here, though I haven’t re-read that review prior to writing this post.

This time around the book took me 4-5 hours spread over 7 days, which felt quicker than it did before. Perhaps it’s because of my re-familiarization with the great works of the Professor. Since 2007 I’ve read The Lord of the Rings three times, The Silmarillion (on which Children of Húrin is most akin to) twice, and The Hobbit once. In addition to a half-dozen or more books about Tolkien and Middle-earth. So the second time around the territory was much, much more recognizable.

I also realized that The Children of Húrin is best read as a capital-T Tragedy. Do not expect a happy, fairy tale ending. There are no heroes here. It’s purposefully dark. This time around I kept that in my forebrain and had a much more enjoyable experience with the text. I imagined, as the pages turned, a story scratched out by Shakespeare, scored by Wagner, on a black, bleak stage. Turin, clad in swirling greys of leather and steel, fighting a writhing dragon presence in the smoke machine mist, as all around him fall by or because of him. And because of this, I like it just as well if not better than seven years ago, though I don’t recall how much I liked or disliked it back then.

But though it’s a tragedy, it doesn’t have to be painful to read. The second go-round I found myself, as always, reveling in the setting and the time of Edenic First Age Middle-earth. This is something that can’t really be explained, only experienced. You either get it, or you don’t.

And, unfortunately, I’ve also realized, thanks primarily to George R. R. Martin, and, to a lesser extent, Hollywood, I’m somewhat more desensitized to sexual and violent tragic elements in a fantasy setting than I was back in 2010. Yes, a few hundred deaths in the Game of Thrones novels (about 6,000 pages self-subjected, or roughly three times Tolkien’s literary output) will do that. Now that’s tragic!

So, to cap off this mini-review, I have to say I rather enjoyed the Húrin experience. I’ll re-read again, perhaps in another seven years.

Grade: B-plus / A-minus.



I just re-read my old review of The Children of Húrin from August of 2010. Bittersweet, was the tone that registered with me. I noted the “tragedy” aspect of the story, and graded it a solid-B. So I guess I enjoyed it a tad bit more this time through. Also, I must have read Silmarillion before revisiting Húrin; have to check the reading logs on that.

The question to me is, is The Chuldren of Húrin Tolkien’s least respected work, and if so, is this because it is the newest, or is it because it is deservedly so? Will its reputation grow with the years, as it seems to have with me? My hunch is yes. I’ll have to schedule a re-read sometime around the summer of 2024 to test this out …

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