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The last and by far the darkest of J.R.R. Tolkien’s epics, The Children of Hurin, is now available for sale almost ninety years after Tolkien first set pen to paper. For those unfamiliar with the ancient history of Middle-Earth narrated in The Silmarillion, the story is the tragedy of Hurin Thalion ( “Hurin the Steadfast”). Hurin Lord of Dor-Lomin, was an ally of the Elf- Lords and the greatest warrior among men, whose unbroken defiance of the great Dark lord Morgoth brings horror and doom upon his family in the form of a terrible curse as Morgoth’s cruel will twisted the lives of Hurin’s children.

The axe-wielding Hurin is captured by Morgoth’s armies after singlehandedly slaying seventy trolls and assaulting Morgoth’s captain, Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, Hurin’s men having sacrificed themselves to permit the retreat of Turgon, the King of Gondolin. Brought face to face with the godlike Morgoth, Hurin is undaunted and spurns Morgoth; the enraged Dark lord binds Hurin to a seat in the high mountains of his fortress of Angband and through his power, permits Hurin to watch the doom that unfolds over the long years on Hurin’s children Turin and Nienor. It is Hurin’s son Turin, wielding an accursed black sword, who inadvertantly sets in motion the ruin of Doriath* the last great Elf-Kingdom of Beleriand ( the Westernmost part of Middle-Earth that sank beneath the sea at the end of the First Age) as well as suffering griefs akin to those of Oedipus.

Tolkien, who had been a soldier on the Western Front, began writing the story of Hurin in the shadows of a war that consumed most of his classmates and childhood friends. He never finished the story to his satisfaction, nor did he quite manage the Silmarillion either, both of which have been edited along with Tolkien’s voluminous papers, by his youngest son, Christopher Tolkien. It is interesting to contemplate how WWI impacted Tolkien’s thought as the First Age and the Wars of the Jewels in Beleriend represented a scale of grandeur and power lost and only dimly remembered by the Third Age and time of the War of the Ring. Frodo’s Middle-Earth represented a much diminished and fading world in Tolkien’s mythology, which had it’s fate sealed by the destruction of the One Ring.

As terrible as Sauron appears in The Lord of the Rings, he was a shadow of the power and evil of his former master Morgoth. While Sauron had his One Ring, the whole world – which Morgoth defiled during the moment of creation – was as Christopher Tolkien has written, ” Morgoth’s ring”. This brings into the mix Tolkien’s religious convictions and Christian mythology regarding Satan’s rebellion in paradise and subsequent status as “the lord of the world”. And like Satan, Morgoth and Sauron are eventually “cast out” through ” the doors of night”.

My perception, being familiar with various versions of the story, is that The Children of Hurin will be purchased but not much enjoyed by, the casual Tolkien fan, particularly Americans who are fond of happy endings. There are no happy endings here; Hurin and Turin, much less Nienor, do not even have, properly speaking, the hubris of Greek heroes who bring destruction upon themselves.

Instead it is visited upon them by a foe far beyond their power to reach, only to defy to the end.

* Blame for which is shared by Thingol, King of Doriath who coveted a Silmaril, the disasterous results of which are told in a separate epic The Lay of Beren and Luthien. And prior to that, the malign oath of Feanor and the doom on the Elves for the Revolt of the Noldor.

6 Responses to “”

  1. Sean Says:

    love this post!

    i have CoH on order with Amazon…

  2. Strategist Says:

    The Children of Hurin is on my reading list as well, after I finish reading Simon Armitage’s translation of ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’, which is very good.

    Mark – your paragraph about happy endings, or lack of, reminded me of ‘Beowulf’, and the Norse sagas, in particular ‘The death of King Hrolf Kraki’ in which the king and his warriors go down fighting against overwhelming odds, and the foretelling of Ragnarok in ‘The Prose Edda’. I remember reading somewhere that Tolkein was strongly influenced by the Norse acceptance of fate and their belief in the unlikelihood of happy endings, either in one’s own life or at the end of the world.

  3. mark Says:

    Hi Strat,

    You are correct. Tolkien internalized a lot of these concepts even as he studied the languages and mythologies. I believe he had some kind of group that read the Elder Edda in the original in the 30’s

  4. Lexington Green Says:

    The impact of World War I on Tolkien’s thinking and writing is under-appreciated.

    He is a unique mix of (1) memoirist (so much of LOTR is a memoir of his prewar life, mountain climbing in Switzerland, war experience — a fantasy that was really an autobiography), (2) spiritual reflection, from a strongly orthodox Catholic viewpoint, and (3) deep knowledge for the epics of the germanic peoples, Saxons, Icelanders, etc. There are other elements, but these three predominate.

    I suppose I will have to buy this book … .

  5. mark Says:

    HI Lex,

    There is a bio out on Tolkien’s war experience – can’t recall the author or the exact title.

    You’re right, Tolkien had a very conservative Anglo-Catholic ( is there any other kind) mindset. Most ppl don’t realize that it was Tolkien, with quiet argument, who converted C.S. Lewis to Christianity from atheism. More or less Tolkien, by inspiration and example, launched Lewis writing on the two subjects for which he became most famous.

  6. Batocchio Says:

    Thanks. I remember reading the Turin story in an early form in The Silmarillion. It was clearly one of the tales dearest to Tolkien’s heart.

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