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.