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 thought on “The Children of Húrin

  1. 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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