Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Tragic Legacy – The Children of Hurin

Tolkien is considered the father of “High Fantasy” or fantasy stories based on the model of epic quests to save the world (as opposed to “Low Fantasy” or a series of adventures where the main character is more out for themselves). He created a vast detailed world that obviously resonates today not only to readers and writers, but the public at large now that “The Lord of the Rings” movies have come and gone.

So when more of his work comes to light, there plenty of fantasy fans who start salivating. This was the case for “Children of Hurin”, a work that was created from several different accounts written by J.R.R. Tolkien and compiled by his son. Reading the introduction you get a feel for the reason why the story was compiled in the first place – Tolkien felt that it was a key part of the world he created. It didn’t have the vast mythological view of “The Simarlillian” (a work I have yet to be able to get through, despite my love of mythology). And it wouldn’t be like the adventurous duo of “The Hobbit” or “Lord of the Rings”. Instead this fell somewhere in the middle, a solid hero legend.

For the most part you can’t tell that the work was a fusion of different sources. Tolkien does a good job of creating a linear flow to the work and smoothes over the rough patches with minimal interference. My only issue was the first chapter in which the amount of Tolkien-esque names was hurtling at me fast and furious and the whole chapter came across like an info dump. But after that chapter, the story got rolling and was very interesting. It was a solid mix of wanderings, chases, escapes, battles, love and doom.

Doom plays a huge role in the story and in the end makes the book feel very melancholy. Even “Lord of the Rings” has a feeling of sadness to it (what with the elves leaving and everyone running off to the Grey Havens at the end), but the final words of the book and the movie were with Sam, and he seemed to give you comfort that everything was all right.

“Children of Hurin” doesn’t go for the warm fuzzies. It’s main theme is about fighting fate and how fate or Doom if you prefer is too strong to completely break from. But the Doom in this case is powered by the malicious soul of Morgoth (the god-like being who was Sauron’s master). Once Morgoth sets his will against you there is nothing you can do to stop it. The protagonist, Turin, isn’t completely aware of this doom, but as we follow him we see its affects again and again. Still Turin does his best to live a life that he can be proud of and one that does a lot of good (even if it also causes a lot of harm). The story is an epic tragedy in a way, but one governed by the will of Morgoth – now the will of Turin.

How does this tie to “Lord of the Rings” especially since it happen centuries before the more famous story? It actually tells you more about the One Ring. Morgoth doesn’t even need a ring to impose his will. He merely thinks of cursing you and you are cursed. This focused malevolence is made very clear in the book and gives us an idea of how his servant Sauron could create the Ring. The focusing of the will of Sauron into the Ring is much like what Morgoth did in this story.

That said, I think Tolkien fans will find a lot to like in the book. It’s not one I may revisit often, but when I’m in a melancholy mood, or just looking for a Tolkien fix shorter than Lord of the Rings, this will be an easy one to pick up.

What did you think of “Children of Hurin”? What do you think of J.R.R. Tolkien? What do you make of the idea of fate or Doom? Do you ever address that idea in your stories?

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