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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