Thursday, August 21, 2008

book review: The Children of Hurin


Having stuck with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with its numerous names and locations the slimmer Children of Hurin does not at first look like much of a challenge. Add to that the illustrations that are peppered throughout the book by J.R.R.Tolkien and you half expect this to be digested in an single sitting.

It might have been but what made it difficult was getting the head round the family trees and the maps that are helpfully included in the appendixes. There is a story there, about a cursed king and his son and daughter, but it takes time to emerge.

The fact that Tolkien is one of the greatest story tellers is not in doubt but he does make it difficult for a reader that is not necessarily prepared to go into the sort of depth and detail he obviously revels in. It reminded me of those people who not only loved the Lord of the Rings films but had to own the director’s cut and squeeze every minute out of that world.

As a more casual reader it’s a challenge sticking with it. After an introduction by Christopher Tolkien that shows quite clearly how dedicated the son is to his father’s work and vision, you get into something that starts slowly. Even when the basic facts have been established the problem with characters that rove around the place is each new land requires a detailed explanation and the family trees and strings of names come out again.

In the meantime the son wrestles with the curse that prevents him from resting in the kingdom of the elves and takes him out to seek a challenge from the dark Lord that keeps his father chained and captured. The challenge is finally met by a dragon that is slain in a battle that is not finished before the cruel hypnotic beast has informed the son of Hurin that he married his own sister by mistake. Both the children of Hurin end up taking their own lives and the father is released powerless and broken.

That was not quite the ending I was hoping for and although of course the idea that good triumphs over evil is not always a given it does leave you feeling rather cheated when that scenario is not played out. In terms of sparking an interest in the world of Tolkien this might work but the better place to begin is The Hobbit and then the trilogy.

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