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BS: New Tolkien

17 Apr 07 - 09:41 AM (#2027767)
Subject: BS: New Tolkien
From: beardedbruce

Review: 'New' Tolkien splendidly rewarding
POSTED: 9:05 a.m. EDT, April 17, 2007

Story Highlights• "The Children of Hurin" worthy part of Middle-earth mythology
• Book, compiled from Tolkien pieces, edited by son
• Work concerns a leader and curse on his children
By Bruce DeSilva
Associated Press

(AP) -- Six thousand years before the Fellowship of the Ring, long before anyone had even seen a Hobbit, the elves and men of Middle-earth quaked at the power of the dark lord Morgoth.

Hunted by easterlings and orcs, they fled to the fastness of Nargothrond and to the deep forests of Brethil and Doriath. Among them, a hero emerged. Strong and courageous he was, but foolhardy and impetuous. His name was Turin, son of Hurin.

His story, released today by Houghton Mifflin, is a publishing event: It is the first new book by the creator of "The Lord of the Rings" in 30 years. The publisher calls it the culmination of an effort to bring to the public the vast body of work J.R.R. Tolkien had left unpublished, and largely unfinished, when he died in 1973.

Tolkien began writing "The Children of Hurin" 99 years ago, abandoning it and taking it up again repeatedly throughout his life. Versions of the tale already have appeared in "The Silmarillion," "Unfinished Tales" and as narrative poems or prose sections of the "History of Middle-earth" series.

But they were truncated and contradictory. Outside of Tolkien scholars and Middle-earth fanatics, few read them.

These works were, after all, largely unreadable -- dense, hard to follow histories and legends of Tolkien's vast, imaginary world, crammed with complicated genealogies, unfamiliar geography and hard-to-pronounce names. Readers who took up such books hoping for another Rings saga or charming yarn such as "The Hobbit" abandoned them after a few pages.

"The Children of Hurin" is the book for which these readers have been longing.

It is the fruit of 30 years labor by Christopher Tolkien, the author's son, who has devoted much of his life to editing and publishing the work his father left behind. By meticulously combining and editing the many published and unpublished versions of the tale, he has produced at last a coherent, vivid and readable narrative.

Houghton-Mifflin has treated the work well, hiring Alan Lee, who won an Academy Award for art direction for "The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King," to create stunning color illustrations.

The story unfolds in a region far to the west of where Frodo and Samwise would later roam, in a land destined to be swallowed by the sea in the cataclysm that would end the first age of Middle-earth. But even then, it was an ancient land, filled with legends and half-remembered histories.

As the tale begins, Morgoth has destroyed a vast army of elves and men and taken one of its leaders, Hurin, prisoner. The dark lord tries to bend Hurin to his will, but the great man defies him. So Morgoth pronounces a curse on Hurin's children, Turin and his sister Nienor.

The first chapter resembles "The Silmarillion," dense and confusing enough to discourage casual readers. But stick with it and the story soon becomes readable and engaging.

Don't expect an uplifting ending like the one to "The Lord of the Rings," however. This is a gloomy tale -- Hurin's children doomed to failure by Turin's hubris and, of course, the curse.

The story is told in the archaic style to which Tolkien fans are accustomed, from a man who admired old Anglo-Saxon and Norse sagas. A sample:

"In this way, before the summer had passed, the following of Turin had swelled to a great force, and the power of Angband was thrown back. Word of this came even to Nargothrond, and many there grew restless."

The story is short by the standards of "The Lord of the Ring," covering just 259 pages, the rest of the book consisting of an introduction and appendix in which Christopher Tolkien explains how he went about his work. The details are unlikely to be of interest to the casual reader, but the bottom line is this:

Christopher Tolkien says that in reconciling the various versions of his father's story, he added no new material, save for an occasional transition. The words, he says, are virtually all his father's.

17 Apr 07 - 10:28 AM (#2027804)
Subject: RE: BS: New Tolkien
From: mack/misophist

Note that this new one is supposed to be rather 'darker' than The Hobbit; something I don't need in my life.

17 Apr 07 - 10:34 AM (#2027807)
Subject: RE: BS: New Tolkien
From: John MacKenzie

It was rather damned on Radio 4, and it was said a book on Norse Mythology might make a good primer if you intend to read this book.

17 Apr 07 - 10:45 AM (#2027813)
Subject: RE: BS: New Tolkien
From: Stilly River Sage

They spoke about this one on the BBC news last night, but I heard only the end of the story. I know a few Tolkien fans who will check it out.

Funny how a book is criticised just because the reader might have to work to understand it. The same seems to be true of film. If it's too much work to think about it or do some research to understand it, dismiss it out of hand. The Dumbing of America (and elsewhere).


17 Apr 07 - 12:12 PM (#2027870)
Subject: RE: BS: New Tolkien
From: Bee

I read both the Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales many years ago, and I didn't find them difficult, but a collection of interesting pieces that illuminated some of Tolkien's process - and I am no literary scholar. I'd worry more about how Christopher Tolkien managed to arrange the material to make a whole novel, however short, but I'm interested in reading bits I haven't previously seen.

17 Apr 07 - 01:24 PM (#2027935)
Subject: RE: BS: New Tolkien
From: Captain Ginger

I think this is one for the serious anoraks - as a piece of literature it seems to be little more than a pastiche.

17 Apr 07 - 04:44 PM (#2028134)
Subject: RE: BS: New Tolkien
From: fretless

Amazon U.S. has it for 40% off. I found the Simarillion disappointing, but I'm an optimist so I ordered this one despite that.

17 Apr 07 - 05:53 PM (#2028234)
Subject: RE: BS: New Tolkien
From: McGrath of Harlow

a book on Norse Mythology might make a good primer if you intend to read this book.

That's supposed to be an adverse criticism? We actually had a book on Norse mythology as a primer when I was at school.

17 Apr 07 - 05:55 PM (#2028241)
Subject: RE: BS: New Tolkien
From: John MacKenzie

Better order your copy then Kevin ¦¬]