The Children of Húrin

As I wait for Ama­zon to ship me the lat­est Tolkien release, The Chil­dren of Húrin, I find myself dis­agree­ing with sev­er­al reviews I’ve read, in terms of plac­ing this work in con­text with his oth­er stuff. The lede in the Wash­ing­ton Post review:

If any­one still labors under the delu­sion that J.R.R. Tolkien was a writer of twee fan­tasies for chil­dren, this nov­el should set them straight.

From the Salon review:

If you’re look­ing for the acces­si­bil­i­ty, lyri­cal sweep and above all the opti­mism of “Lord of the Rings,” well, you’d bet­ter go back and read it again.

This idea that Tolkien’s works are main­ly pos­i­tive, light-heart­ed adven­tures is so super­fi­cial that it dri­ves an ama­teur Tolkien schol­ar like me up the wall. If you judge Mid­dle-earth by the aber­rant text of The Hob­bit [a tale writ­ten for his chil­dren; inten­tion­al­ly dif­fer­ent from the actu­al Mid­dle-earth that was first put to scraps of paper dur­ing the First World War] then I can see where you’d get that idea. The film treat­ment of LotR was reworked so exten­sive­ly because the book was too bleak for mass appeal as a film.

Gal­adriel speaks Tolkien’s over­ar­ch­ing world­view when she says

Through the ages of the world we have fought the long defeat.

near­ly ver­ba­tim from his own words on his faith. More on that here.

Tolkien’s works are thor­ough­ly Mod­ernist in their tone and focus. This is some­what wry since much of the tone is tak­en from the most ancient North­ern tales. I think that the review­ers are right in point­ing out that The Chil­dren of Húrin is a bleak tale, but have made a mis­step in equat­ing it as excep­tion­al rather than stan­dard. Nits picked.

One Reply

  • As a fel­low Tolkien(ist?) I have to agree. I loved the movies for the visu­al­iza­tions but I real­ly thought that they could/should have done bet­ter with the sto­ry.

    I think the thing that some peo­ple find dis­turb­ing about a lot Tolkien’s writ­ings is that there is death and the dif­fer­ence between being a “good” guy and a “bad” is very blurred.
    I also think I have a soft­er spot for the Hob­bit though. I think that many of the cen­tral themes that Tolkien weaves through Mid­dle Earth are in there. The Dwarves want revenge upon an evil and in some mea­sure seek some redemp­tion, even though they are arguably not wor­thy of it until the bat­tle of the 5 armies. You also get a chance to see evil, greed, and cor­rup­tion. You get the pay­off but only on the deathbed. Of course I like fol­low­ing the oth­er char­ac­ters and not Bil­bo through it. In many ways he was more like Mer­ry or Pip­pin and less like Fro­do and Sam.

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