Sunday, May 06, 2007

Book Review: "The Children of Húrin"

Elements of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Children of Húrin (Houghton Mifflin, 2007) have appeared in shorter form before, in The Silmarillion and later in The Book of Lost Tales. For this edition, however, Tolkien's son Christopher has diligently reworked the disparate threads of his father's narratives of Túrin Turambar into a coherent whole for the first time. The text is accompanied by a marginally useful introduction placing the story into context with the better-known tales of Middle Earth (it occurs more than six thousand years before the events in The Lord of the Rings), and by an enlightening appendix after the text in which Christopher delineates the process by which he came to create this version of the work.

The tale of Túrin, deeply rooted in the Norse myths and largely a product of Tolkien's early writing years, will seem vastly different to those who know Tolkien from The Hobbit and LotR. The writing style is more formalized, but I think Christopher has done an admirable job of teasing out the narrative elements here and shaping the tale into readable form. This is a very different animal than what many casual Tolkien readers (like me; although I've slogged through Silmarillion and some of the histories I have rarely found it particularly enjoyable)
might be expecting, but I recommend giving it a chance. I won't spoil the ending, but I warn you not to be prepared for any happy homecomings.

Alan Lee's beautiful illustrations (both black/white and color) complement the text nicely, and are a welcome addition.