The Children of Hurin, by J.R.R. Tolkien

May 5, 2013 at 17:51 (Adventure, Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Highly Rated Books) (, , , , , )




In examining The Children of Hurin, the first question will be, “Is it any good?” while the second question will be, “Is there anything new or unique here?”

The answer to both of these questions is not all that simple. The Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion from which this story is assembled are both notorious for being difficult and labyrinthine tomes reserved exclusively for people who don’t get invited to parties. They are both very, very good, which answers the first question somewhat. Any reader who has gone through either one of those books will not find anything particularly surprising in The Children of Hurin, which answers the second question.

But there is something very valuable and very new in these pages. Christopher Tolkien (who edited together these fragments) has long been a target of scornful dismissal by many fans of his father’s work, but it is remarkable how seamlessly he has managed to collate the pieces of Hurin’s tragedy from the disparate sources available to him, and come out with something very much approximating literature.

The grandiose style that has been mistaken for unwieldiness by many readers of Tolkien’s miscellaney has been sanded and polished, and in the process of cutting Hurin’s family out from their tangled web of thousands of years of history there is much that has been either abbreviated or removed entirely. In fact, the peculiar thing about this book is that the very act of making it ‘more readable’ and ‘more accessible’ has in fact denuded it of helpful context for many readers unaware of the arcane details of Tolkien’s legends. Those deeply intimate with the history of the Noldor and Thangorodrim will find a clear and thrilling edition of a familiar story; those who have only read The Lord of the Rings will still be faced with the constant stumbling blocks of how this story fits in with the world they know. It is therefore interesting that the simplification of the books has consequently made the story more inviting for those who are already comfortable with the original versions.

“‘The shadow of my purpose lies upon Arda, and all that is in it bends slowly and surely to my will. But upon all whom you love my thought shall weigh as a cloud of Doom, and it shall bring them down into darkness and despair.'”

-The Children of Hurin

The most noticeable artefact from The Silmarillion stylistically speaking, is the rather grim absence of levity or mirth. This is a much harder story than Tolkien’s more famous works, and while that does not make it worse at all, it does make it different, and it will doubtless unsettle many readers. This setting also allowed Tolkien to explore more adult themes, and his characters here are much more driven by fear and by jealousy, by pride and by vengeance and by honour. Turin and Morwen, Beleg and Glaurung, are much more human and much less fantastical than the array of hobbits and men seen elsewhere; which is again a comment, and neither criticism nor praise. There is some difficulty in finding the focus of the story–for the grand millennial struggle against Morgoth is a background theme, and incidental to the plot. But in that, the smaller details and choices assume a wider significance than in the original editions, and a warmth which is difficult to set upon initially is brought out.

It is incredibly difficult to consider this book apart from the other forms in which it has already been published. Most readers who come across it will come across it because of their admiration for these other works. But those others who will have to painstakingly arrange the context (or do away with it entirely) will find a bitter but enticing fantasy story, expertly written and without any of the baggy and painful luggage that so much modern fantasy is encumbered with. Surprisingly satisfying to read, and one that even committed Tolkien-devotees might find themselves reaching for more often than they think.



  1. David said,

    An excellent summation. Of course I am only capable of reading the book as a fan familiar with The Silmarillion and various Lost Tales, and thus can’t quite tell how someone without that context would feel about the book. But I loved it and found that it did indeed focus the story for me. When I read the story of Turin nestled amongst The Silmarillion and other books, the details often got lost in my memory due to my mind being so packed with all the surrounding stories. This version sharpens the focus and brings out some deeper character development, I think. It’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but I certainly intend to return to it.

    Besides, it’s rare that we get a good illustrated book for adults, and Alan Lee’s paintings are just beautiful.

    • J. Holsworth Stevenson said,

      Indeed. Tolkien is a very different writer when he’s writing solely about the affairs of men. I find the troubles of Gondor’s last steward and the romance between Faramir and Eowyn starkly different from the rest of The Lord of the Rings. It’s tempting to wonder what The New Shadow would have been like, had he continued with it. Very similar in tone to The Children of Hurin, I shouldn’t wonder. In fact, perhaps Tolkien would have balked at the darker and harder tone of Hurin, had he not surrounded it with the glittering context of The Silmarillion.

      • David said,

        That’s an interesting thought; I’ve heard various analyses of Tolkien’s interest in tragedy throughout the Silmarillion and how the tale of Hurin’s family fits with his overall Christian worldview, but I’m inclined to agree that he probably felt more free to let that story grow especially dark because of the greater context he was setting it in.

  2. Lina Kinney said,

    Well, yes, I suppose I have chosen to make my rewrite a little less Tolkienesque in form but I haven’t completely abandoned the Professor’s examples. I think there will be many instances where you will see his weighty influence on my writing. But I decided I didn’t want the entire canon to sound like it was entirely 100% inspired by Tolkien for two main reasons: Firstly, the only reason I decided to go ahead and rewrite my old tale is because I came to the conclusion that my own historical fiction tale that I have been working on about the medieval Welsh princes needs to be better if I ever want any shot at publication some day (which I certainly do). I decided that I needed more practice so I decided to head to the more familiar waters of Middle-earth to improve my craft. I gave myself the go-ahead on this rewrite on condition that large swaths of it might be interchangable with my historical fic piece. Indeed, I plan on ‘robbing’ certain sections of the story and tweaking it a bit so that I can use some if it for my Welsh tale. Secondly, I want the characters in the tale to sound different from one another, which is something that I really failed to do in my earlier version. In other words, I am going to try and work on vernacular in character dialogue. For example, a character who is from Bree, at least in my opinion, might have a wildly different accent than someone who is from Tharbad. Also, I believe the royalty (especially in Arthedain, I think) would speak in the more archaic manner in every day speach more so than regular urban folk. I also want to bring just a bit more, umm….shall we say, ‘realism’ to my rewrite – a bit more in-depth details, I suppose. I also want to practice on writing love scenes, large scale battles and even just a smidgeon of scattered profanity (but not too much ). All of these will be included into my new story to some extent. I hope to begin posting soon! BTW, Celebrindir, are you currently writing your own Tolkien pan-fic piece?

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