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The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien
April 20, 2007 1:55 PM   Subscribe

The Children of Húrin is the first complete book by J.R.R. Tolkien in three decades, co-written by his son Christopher. His grandson Adam Tolkein explains how it came about. The Washington Post gives a great review.
posted by stbalbach (58 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
A Turin Turambar turun ambartanen. I can't wait to read this, personally. I always enjoyed certain parts of the Silmarillion far more than The Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit; I hope this novel lives up to the review, and my expectations.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 2:02 PM on April 20, 2007


That's interesting--Adam is wearing an Einstürzende Neubauten t-shirt. Not huge--just a pleasantly "worlds colliding" juxtaposition of my own youthful preoccupations.
posted by everichon at 2:11 PM on April 20, 2007


Also, I want the book. Good post, didn't know about it.
posted by everichon at 2:11 PM on April 20, 2007


I own the book. I've not yet started reading it as my Fiancée decided to give me my birthday present a few days early, which turned out to be The Complete Calvin & Hobbes (she won many, many brownie points for that one). So I'll probably work my way through that before I work my way through Children of Hurin, which I pretty much already read in The Silmarillion anyway.

But I think I speak for most LOTR nerds when I say that this book will probably be awesome. I love me them tales of the Elf-friends of old...
posted by Effigy2000 at 2:19 PM on April 20, 2007


Of course it's a great review, it's written by Elizabeth Hand, no slouch at the fantasy fiction herself.
posted by thanotopsis at 2:19 PM on April 20, 2007


Yay!!!!!!
posted by BobFrapples at 2:25 PM on April 20, 2007


I said "co-written" by his son Christopher -- according to Adam's piece "The words are one hundred percent J.R.R. Tolkien's" - so "edited" would be a better description.
posted by stbalbach at 2:29 PM on April 20, 2007


I traipsed around in high school with that painted on the back of my army parka (you know the one, the German one, but I took the little flags off the sleeves)... never made it more than 3/4 of a book into LOTR though.
However, JRRT's original manuscripts are kept in a safe in the lawyer's office right next door to where I work... also he's standing in front of Niagara Falls, where I myself have stood a couple of times, and a place immortalized in one of my favourite Wedding Present songs... so I lay claim to some juxtaposition too dammit.
posted by Flashman at 2:35 PM on April 20, 2007


Sounds awesome. I had no idea this even existed, but definitely will be reading it. Thanks.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 2:39 PM on April 20, 2007


There's a good review at Salon, as well.
posted by MythMaker at 3:03 PM on April 20, 2007


I always loved the Silmarillion more than LOTR or even the Hobbits. I can only recommend it to anyone who loves sagas in a more nordic style.
posted by homodigitalis at 3:07 PM on April 20, 2007


JRRT has written more books dead than he wrote when he was alive. How much longer can they keep this up?
posted by grytpype at 3:22 PM on April 20, 2007


> JRRT has written more books dead than he wrote when he was alive. How much longer can they keep this up?

T will lie down for good as soon as 2pac does.
posted by jfuller at 3:29 PM on April 20, 2007


Tolkien created a brooding anti-hero?

What will Michael Moorcock make of this?
posted by bardic at 3:34 PM on April 20, 2007


I can't think of Tolkein and Moorcock without singing "Mention the Lord of the Rings just once more, And I'll more than likely kill you" to myself.

Ah, Half Man Half Biscuit.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:39 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Also, thanks for the heads up. I'm looking forward to reading this.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:40 PM on April 20, 2007


> I always loved the Silmarillion more than LOTR or even the Hobbits. I can only recommend it to anyone who loves sagas in a more nordic style.

Me too, which is why this news is so exciting to me. I can't get enough of the old Tolkien lore.
posted by Brak at 4:27 PM on April 20, 2007


Is this something I would have to be a nerd to understand?

just kidding!
posted by padraigin at 4:48 PM on April 20, 2007


I want to enjoy this rich legacy and I loved the movies but for the life of me I tried 4 times in the last 30 years and I always got lost a coupla pages into "The Hobbit'.
Is there a better way to ease into this stuff?
I know it is good. Many friends tell me so.
Should I try a different "gateway" novel?
I'm in earnest.
posted by Dizzy at 4:51 PM on April 20, 2007


Personally, I think you're better off starting with the LotR rather than the Hobbit. But there are plenty who just don't like Tolkien's style and swear the books are absolutely terrible. Crazy but TRUE.
posted by lyam at 4:53 PM on April 20, 2007


Dizzy, the problem is that The Hobbit sucks. It's 300 pages of walking.

Fellowship of the Ring is much easier to get into, I think, but it suffers from the same pacing problem of the Hobbit. Nothing happens until the Council of Elrond, about 3/4 of the way through the book. However, the prose is simply excellent, whereas in the Hobbit it is somewhat juvenile. You may find Fellowship an easier entry point to the "legendarium".
posted by synaesthetichaze at 4:57 PM on April 20, 2007


Thanks, syn---
I'll put "Fellowship" on my summer reading list.
posted by Dizzy at 5:12 PM on April 20, 2007


The Salon review was much better than the more fangirlish WaPo one.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:20 PM on April 20, 2007


I agree, it also included a totally badass line from Morgoth (but who would expect less):

"The shadow of my purpose lies upon Arda," ... "and all that is in it bends slowly and surely to my will."

Holy fuck.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 5:26 PM on April 20, 2007


Yeah. Where else have I encountered the idea of an evil agent involved in the creation of the world and thus its influence is not distorting and not even magic, but part of the natural order and thus difficult to counter?

Oh, I'm thinking I might partly have in mind Cherryh's Fortress series. But I think I'm trying to recall something that fits this more exactly.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:31 PM on April 20, 2007


I can't think of another "evil" so permeating in fiction, but I like to think of Morgoth as entropy.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 5:33 PM on April 20, 2007


The problem is that Tolkien really, really sucked as a writer - his prose is just a lumpen set of descriptions of characters and events. I think you need a very particular mindset to be able to work your way through and add what's missing for yourself. It's no coincidence that the LOTR set and Dungeons and Dragons players are pretty much the same people.
posted by reklaw at 5:53 PM on April 20, 2007


Having read at least three of the versions of the Tale of Hurin already in print, I'm not as excited about this as I might be. Which is to say, I'm still able to sleep nights while waiting to get my grubby paws on it. But I am thrilled at the prospect of at least one of the Silmarillion's tales making it to the big screen.

Definitely agree with the recommendation to start with LoTR. The Hobbit is much easier to appreciate as an adult when you already understand the world and the references to the deep backstory.
posted by Manjusri at 5:59 PM on April 20, 2007


reklaw, that may be a valid opinion you honestly hold, bit it's pretty much trolling in this thread, isn't it?

Even extremely well-read people have widely varying tolerances/expectations for the technical quality of narrative prose and it's only one important characteristic of a work among several.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:17 PM on April 20, 2007


It's no coincidence that the LOTR set and Dungeons and Dragons players are pretty much the same people.

Imaginative people?
posted by jtron at 6:31 PM on April 20, 2007


I'm with Manjusri. The versions of this story (in the Silmarillion? Unfinished Tales?) that I've read are depressing and turgid. I hope this one is truly better.
posted by alms at 6:58 PM on April 20, 2007


Imaginative people?

Actually, yes, that's what I was getting at (so it's hardly trolling, Mr Bligh). Tolkien-lovers are always imaginative in this odd, reclusive, I-imagine-the-friends-I-don't-have sort of way. I do not intend anything particularly perjorative by this, simply to point out that if you're not that type of person, you'll probably wonder what on earth anyone sees in those hefty tomes.
posted by reklaw at 7:58 PM on April 20, 2007


Tolkien-lovers are always imaginative in this odd, reclusive, I-imagine-the-friends-I-don't-have sort of way. I do not intend anything particularly perjorative by this, simply to point out that if you're not that type of person, you'll probably wonder what on earth anyone sees in those hefty tomes.

I never got into Tolkien as a teenager and in college I scorned the D&D crowd as dorks, but when I finally picked up LOTR a few years ago to read, before the movies came out, I was utterly consumed. I've now been through LOTR three times, including once reading the entire three-volume set to my son. To say Tolkien "sucked as a writer" is just utterly absurd. Yes, his style is alien to much of 20th century "literature," but the depth and breadth of the universe he created is astounding, and the writing is often quite beautiful, thrilling and moving. I cheered out loud my first time through the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and choked back tears when reading to my 8-year-old the passage where Pippin cries out "The eagles! The eagles!" I did not have a similar experience reading Don Delillo.
posted by stargell at 9:04 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


“I cheered out loud my first time through the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and choked back tears when reading to my 8-year-old the passage where Pippin cries out ‘The eagles! The eagles!’ I did not have a similar experience reading Don Delillo.”

I did have this experience with David Foster Wallace. It was at a reading of Infinite Jest by Neal Pollack. When he took the book in two hands and tore it in half, I cheered. Then, as the audience passed from hand to hand the remains of the book and reduced it to tiny pieces of self-indulgent confetti, I choked back tears. I was moved.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:31 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


It helps to have a love for the Beowulfs, the Songs of Roland, the Lays of Igor's Campaign, to love Tolkien's writing style. Such huge pieces of LOTR are loving homages to them.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:49 PM on April 20, 2007


It's good. There are some typos in the Quenya, though.
posted by taursir at 11:56 PM on April 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


The problem is that Tolkien really, really sucked as a writer - his prose is just a lumpen set of descriptions of characters and events. -Reklaw

Horrible writer? Someone should have told the British, who voted Tolkien's Lord of the Rings the best work of the 20th Century.
posted by Atreides at 3:53 AM on April 21, 2007


The problem is that Tolkien really, really sucked as a writer

tolkien has been responsible for more bad writing than any other author of the 20th century ... fortunately, he himself wrote very little of it

his prose style was functional - it did what it had to without being too overblown, most of the time ... sometimes it did get overblown and sometimes he managed a good turn of phrase, but overall, it took the reader where he wanted him to go ... he's in good company here, as a lot of writers in the last 100 years have deemphasized style for content

it's his weakest point as a writer, but it's not a major fault
posted by pyramid termite at 4:20 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Tolkien created a brooding anti-hero?

A brooding, cursed anti-hero with a sentient black sword that was originally part of a matched set, no less. And that's not even mentioning the incest, or the killing off friends and lovers, or eventually dying on his own blade. Nope. No similarities whatsoever.

What will Michael Moorcock make of this?

Eh, the Elric/Túrin similarities are pretty old news, what with both characters being inspired by Kullervo and all. Moorcock's rather famously less than fond of Tolkien, I doubt an older version of the Narn I Hin Húrin is going to change his mind.

(Meanwhile, I am fangirl, hear me squee.)
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 6:48 AM on April 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fellowship of the Ring is much easier to get into, I think, but it suffers from the same pacing problem of the Hobbit. Nothing happens until the Council of Elrond, about 3/4 of the way through the book.

Dizzy, I'd also add that I've known a lot of folks who disliked the Hobbit also had some serious trouble getting into FOTR, thanks to all the slow-paced bucolic hobbity stuff that takes up so much of the first portion of the book. Since you're familiar with the basic plot from the movies, you might want to give it a shot and see if the change in tone from the more juvenile feel of the Hobbit is enough...and if it's still slow going, perhaps just skip ahead to when the action starts to pick up and see if that does the trick.

The Customize Your Tolkien Book List page might also be of some help.
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 6:55 AM on April 21, 2007


Smilla's Sense of Snark, that's a good link. One thing not mentioned there is a chapter in Medieval historian Norman Cantor's book Inventing the Middle Ages, which puts JRR into context and what he was doing with Medieval history in his writings.
posted by stbalbach at 7:13 AM on April 21, 2007


Horrible writer? Someone should have told the British, who voted Tolkien's Lord of the Rings the best work of the 20th Century.

Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard tend to top lists of these sort open to non-British writers. Tolkien is not in good company by that measure.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:39 AM on April 21, 2007


Oh duh, that list is open. Okay then the British have better taste apart from Tolkien, who's not that bad but ain't the best.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 9:48 AM on April 21, 2007


The problem is that Tolkien really, really sucked as a writer - his prose is just a lumpen set of descriptions of characters and events.

It is not written in a style that is, shall we say, valued in modern literature. It is deliberately archaic. It is deliberately anti-psychological. Yet it is not less evocative.

Also, The Hobbit is not juvenile. It is silly. There is a distinction.

One of the interesting things about the trilogy is that Tolkien started out writing it closer to the style of The Hobbit and gradually turned toward the style of The Silmarillion (or its future components) as he was drawn into writing an epic. What was an error of strategy became a virtue, as this made the early part of the book more accessible: you are well into the story by the time it becomes forbiddingly serious.
posted by dhartung at 1:27 PM on April 21, 2007


Dude. The first half of the Fellowship of the Ring, the "slow-paced bucolic hobbity stuff" is the best part of the whole trilogy.

Why? Tom Bombadil. The most hardcore motherf*cker of all time.
posted by ELF Radio at 3:21 PM on April 21, 2007 [3 favorites]


Tom Bombadil. The most hardcore motherf*cker of all time.

Word.
posted by Aquaman at 4:09 PM on April 21, 2007


I can't think of Tolkein and Moorcock without singing "Mention the Lord of the Rings just once more, And I'll more than likely kill you" to myself.

"Moorcock, Moorcock, Michael Moorcock you fervently moan"

Ahem. Sorry.
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 7:15 AM on April 22, 2007


I have to say that I love Tolkien's prose. I recognise that everyone won't love it as I do, but consider:

Tolkien was a philologist, a scholar on the history of the changing forms of the English language. He worked on the Oxford English Dictionary for a time before becoming a published fiction author. When Tolkien uses a word, he knows exactly what that word means, where it comes from, and who all its sisters, cousins and aunts are. Reading the prose is like riding a horse whose every foot falls in just the right place. Sometimes that horse moves at a stately walk, sometimes at a gallop, but it's always a pleasure to ride.

Having said this, I can understand how people might have issues with other things about Tolkien's writing: the pacing, the racism and sexism sadly emblematic of his time-- but the prose, and the delight in his imagined world, are what carry it for me. Tolkien, like nobody else in his century, can make a sentence sing.
posted by Pallas Athena at 8:09 AM on April 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


BTW, anyone who ever fantasized about living in Lothlórien should read The Wild Trees, recently discussed here.
posted by homunculus at 9:51 PM on April 22, 2007


Oh, don't get me wrong, I enjoy both the quiet earlier passages (Tom Bombadassmofodillo and all) as well as the later epic bits; but I've seen so many people complaining over the years that they had serious trouble slogging through the first parts of FOTR that it seemed only fair to give Dizzy a heads-up that the first chapters might not click for him, but it's not all like that.

Tolkien-lovers are always imaginative in this odd, reclusive, I-imagine-the-friends-I-don't-have sort of way.

Eh, selection bias, maybe? I'll freely admit that I'm a reclusive oddball sort myself, but just as there are some heavily-modded folks that you'd never suspect, as their tattoos and piercings are all covered by everyday clothes, there are Tolkien fans out there who aren't spending all their time hanging out at sci-fi cons and game stores, wearing "FRODO LIVES!" buttons, and naming their kids "Galadriel".

It helps to have a love for the Beowulfs, the Songs of Roland, the Lays of Igor's Campaign, to love Tolkien's writing style.

It especially helps to have a taste for this sort of thing if you want to venture further into the backstory via The Silmarillion or some of the unfinished pieces in HoME. Next to complaints about the tone of The Hobbit or the earliest bits of FOTR, a dislike for the poetry and the most archaic bits of the prose seems to be another common complaint -- and if you hate that stuff when it comes in bits and pieces in LOTR, you are probably just not going to want to slog through all of, say, The Lays of Beleriand.

T will lie down for good as soon as 2pac does.

I am reminded yet again of my long-standing urge to get a "NERD LIFE" tattoo. In Tengwar, of course...

*flashes Fëanorian gang signs, etc.*
posted by Smilla's Sense of Snark at 4:37 AM on April 23, 2007


I know for me that when I was a kid, trying to slog through the Fellowship of the Ring, I hated all the poetry and deep backstory and obscure bits, and, frankly, as an adolescent couldn't quite ever get through the books.

But, as an adult, when I finally re-read them (I've read then entire trilogy through several times now), I found that the poetry and digressions were some of the best stuff.

It's kind of slow in places, but you have to let yourself open up to that pacing. If you just let yourself luxuriate in Tolkein's words and images and absurdly complete backstory, then you inhabit this entire world he created, as opposed to merely skimming the surface of something.

But, clearly, JRRT's writing is not for all tastes.
posted by MythMaker at 11:22 AM on April 23, 2007


I did have this experience with David Foster Wallace. It was at a reading of Infinite Jest by Neal Pollack. When he took the book in two hands and tore it in half, I cheered. Then, as the audience passed from hand to hand the remains of the book and reduced it to tiny pieces of self-indulgent confetti, I choked back tears. I was moved.

If there's anyone on the planet that has no leg to stand on when it comes to self-indulgence, it's Neal Pollack. Even before Alterna-fucking-dad.

posted by COBRA! at 11:29 AM on April 23, 2007


If there's anyone on the planet that has no leg to stand on when it comes to self-indulgence, it's Neal Pollack. Even before Alterna-fucking-dad.

If I recall correctly, that afternoon he performed legless.

posted by Ethereal Bligh at 11:40 AM on April 23, 2007


well-played.
posted by COBRA! at 11:52 AM on April 23, 2007


Woah woah woah! Ripped it in two crosswise, or along the spine?
I can't believe that Neil Pollack, even if he had the help of Dave Eggers, and the staff of the Brooklyn Pirate Supply Store, and all of The Decemberists, could rip that book in half crosswise.
posted by Flashman at 11:56 AM on April 23, 2007


I don't know. I wasn't really there. Well, I was in town. And I was there in spirit, you might say.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:05 PM on April 23, 2007




I doubt anyone is still looking at this thread, but I've just finished Children of Húrin, and it's simply wonderful. The best of LotR and the best of the Silmarillion together... except it's rather short, and there are places where the source material that Christopher Tolkien had to work with was obviously lacking, so it appears a little fragmented. Nevertheless, it's excellent. Basically every line that anyone speaks holds the same gravity and 'badass' nature of the Morgoth quote above from the Salon review. And the final scene is just heartbreakingly poignant.

So, good book.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 3:09 PM on April 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


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