Wednesday 9 November 2011

A Doom-Laden Tale

A few years ago, I remember hearing the announcement that the last story of Middle-Earth had finally been released.  One can argue the truth of the statement, but there is no doubt, that at least here in Oxford, the release of The Children of Hurin by J.R.R. Tolkien was a big deal. I really don’t know why I didn’t buy it when it was first released, but I didn’t, and it soon faded from my memory. Recently, I found a very nice used copy in a charity shop for £3, snapped it up, and read it over the weekend. If you skip the rather extensive notes by Christopher Tolkien, then it’s a pretty quick read.
But is it any good?
Well, the short answer is yes, it is very, very good. But, when dealing with works of this magnitude, the short answer is rarely enough.  I have little doubt that there are many people, even Tolkien fans, who don’t like the story, perhaps even finding it unpalatable. It is a dark, doom-laden tale, the equal of any Greek tragedy. The hero of the piece, Turin, is a great warrior, but a man constantly undermined by a dark fate brought about by his own pride and stubbornness. If it were a longer tale, I think the constant dark cloud of death that follows Turin would have worn down even this willing reader, but two things drove me forward.
The first, and most important, is Tolkien’s language. Anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings knows that Tolkien was a master wordsmith and this work displays his skill like never before.  His command of the English language and the many languages of his own creation are what truly sets him apart, even from the other great writers of fantasy.  Once again, he uses his words to bring Middle-Earth to life with this tale of men, elves, and one really evil dragon.
Yup, by the time the tale is winding down, it has become a classic dragon-slayer story, and neither the evil of the worm, nor the cunning and courage of our hero disappoint.
Did I mention the book also includes a bunch of colour plates and pencil sketches by Alan Lee?
In the final analysis, The Children of Hurin is a must-have addition to the shelf of any serious fantasy fan, even if it isn’t likely to leave you feeling upbeat and positive.

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