First and foremost, I think I have to give some background knowledge as to where this post is coming from. I am one of those stereotypical Tolkien fanboys. I love Middle Earth, I love the world Tolkien created – the characters, the languages, the races, the maps, the history… yeah… pretty much the whole thing. I love the Lord of the Rings, I devoured The Silmarillion, I constantly find myself on One Wiki to Rule Them All and the nerdness goes on.
So from the depths of my Tolkien Nerddom I took “The Children of Húrin” – one of the “unpublished” Tolkien stories/books. (For those who don’t know, there are a few works of Tolkien that was never published in his lifetime, but only later put together and published by his son.) My previous experience with one of these works was The Silmarillion, and it was one of the most enjoyable literary experiences I ever had, so my hopes were high. Unfortunately though, the experience that I had with The Children of Húrin was not merely unpleasant… it was downright bad. I have put some thought into why this is, and will try to summarize it here:
The Children of Húrin is a tragedy… an epic tragedy. The story follows the protagonist, Túrin, on his journey through a life of depression, pain and ultimate sadness. Túrin is the son of Húrin, a man. Húrin was a valiant warrior who kicked some serious ass against the forces of Morgoth at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. But alas, Morgoth captures Húrin after the battle and starts torturing him, because, you know, that is what evil want-to-rule-the-world demon creatures do. In spite of the torture though, Húrin still defies Morgoth, and this really ticks off the dark lord. It ticks him off so much so that he ends up cursing the offspring of Húrin, dooming them to a life of tragedy.
From this backdrop of the curse of Morgoth we now follow the life of Túrin from boyhood to manhood. Túrin flees and lives with the Elves in Doriath where he later becomes a very strong warrior. He gains renown for his skill and cunning, but every time that things start looking up and you think he is going to settle and become a king, then tragedy befalls him.
The worst part of the “tragedies” that keep on befalling Túrin, is the fact that almost all of them are technically self inflicted. He is stubborn as hell and his pig-headed nature causes all his slip-ups. His life changes from one where he is kind of a prince, raised by the Elven king, to one of a wondering criminal. He goes somewhere, kills some orc, gets some renown, and then ends up like, killing his best friend or something. He then falls into a pit of despair and self-loathing, and wonders aimlessly to the next part of Middle Earth to become depressed there and the cycle continues.
The story grows to a climax when he finally finds a soulmate to settle down with for a life of normality, only to find out that he ended up marrying his own sister without knowing it. After slaying a dragon (because he is kind-of a hero still) he almost dies and his wife-sister finds out how they are related, she throws herself off a cliff, killing herself and their unborn child. When Túrin wakes up, he commits suicide as well.
My first thoughts:
Yeah, that just about sums it up… terrible right? Hence my take on this post. I think the one thing that I learned through this experience is that I definitely don’t like tragedies. I was grabbing a Middle Earth novel and wanted to see the good guys win, the bad guys lose, the ultimate evil overcome and the uncrowned become king. What I got instead was the opposite. Maybe the problem here was my expectation all along, I don’t know, I just know that I could not enjoy the book, at all. The story was so depressing that it left me feeling a bit nauseous when I was done.
I know that there are (as always) talks going around about making a hollywood movie based on The Children of Húrin… but honestly I hope that never happens. Should a movie be made I will be caught in a massive dilemma – do I give in and watch yet another Middle Earth entertainment piece because I love the world? Or do I not watch it because I actually hate the story?
Anything good in it?
Well, yes. It’s Middle Earth and it’s Tolkien. This story builds up nicely from what you know about Middle Earth and fills in blanks left in The Silmarillion. If you tackle this work from an academic perspective then you might still enjoy bits of it. I think that if Christopher butchered his dad’s original works and took out all the depression, then I might have thoroughly enjoyed the book. But I guess that’s like saying you have to take out all the sugar from cake to make it taste good… probably a futile exercise.
There is some good adventure in the wilds, some good fights, some good world building. But all those are tainted by the curse of Morgoth. If anything, I guess that Tolkien was extremely successful in his goal, what he produced was definitely a tragedy of epic proportions.
So there you go, don’t say I didn’t warn you. I know many people who don’t mind tragedies, so if you are one of those then maybe you can still enjoy this book. I, however, am not a tragic person, and could not enjoy this book at all.