The Lord of the Rings looks and feels (and reads) like a mythological epic. One of the more prominent reasons for this is that there is a vast amount of history and lore referenced throughout the book(s) and the films that makes the world more feel more complete than most tales of fantasy (this is called Tolkien’s Legendarium). The Hobbit, which is about to finish up it’s final film, is one of the better known “histories,” but there are a myriad of books that look much further back than the Third Age. After finally reading The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, I wanted more. The Children of Húrin was my first step into a larger mythological world, and boy was it good… in a dark, brutal, I-might-have-had-an-existential-crisis-at-the-end sort of way.
The Children of Húrin plays out like a Greek tragedy with Túrin, a child of Húrin, playing the role of the tragic hero. In Aristotle’s Poetics, Aristotle (see: Philosophy 101) shares that the hero of a tragedy should evoke a since pity or fear stemming from the hero experiencing misfortune through no fault of his own, other than some error in judgement. In this story, Húrin, who is the lord of the House of Hador, is defeated in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears and taken to Angband, the stronghold of the dark lord Morgoth (Sauron’s predecessor). Morgoth desperately wants to know where the Doriath, hidden city of the Elves, is located, but he is unable to break Húrin. As recompense, Morgoth placed a curse on the children of Húrin that evil would befall them throughout their lives, and imprisons Húrin on a throne at the peak of Thangorodrim so that he may watch as the curse plays out.
Húrin was married to Morwen. Together they had two, later three, children: Túrin, Laileth, and Nineal, who was born after Húrin was captured and after Túrin was sent away to Doriath when his father did not return from the Battle of Unnumbered Tears.
At this point the story shifts from the imprisoned Húrin to Túrin. Fearing Morgoth’s wrath, Morwen sends her son to Doriath, but in her pride would not go (it’s also important to note that she was pregnant at this time). Upon his arrival, Thingol, the lord of Doriath, took Túrin as his fosterling and raised him as his own son. As he grew older Túrin became a mighty warrior who wished to reclaim his land.
Please note: there will be minor spoilers in the following paragraph, but I will do my best to not give away the biggest twist in the story. However, it is important to note how this story ends in the context of a tragedy.
Túrin is shown to be a courageous and valiant warrior responsible for many great deeds, even the slaying of Glaurung, a dragon of Morgoth’s. However, we also see Morgoth’s curse at play throughout the story through a series of events that get progressively darker as the story moves forward. During his journey he is responsible for the death of friends and family, as well as the fall of cities and kingdoms. Towards the end of the book he is also directly responsible for the death of his wife, sister, and unborn child, which culminates with Túrin throwing himself on his own sword in anguish, thus completing the curse of Morgoth.
I said this book was dark, right? I spent about five minutes just staring out the window trying to wrap my head around this book. However, if you enjoy the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit, this is worth a read. But be warned, there is no happy ending in this tale. It is a solid, but very bleak read.
The book was released to mostly positive reviews, being called “completely brilliant,” and a “darkly beautiful tale.” Although it was given a scathing review by the pinnacle of journalism, Entertainment Weekly, for being “awkward and immature.” Quick note: Entertainment Weekly’s front page currently has a piece on both Kaley Cuoco’s new hairstyle, as well as Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea’s remix of “Booty.”
What I am trying to say is, I completely disagree with this assessment. The Children of Húrin can feel a bit unfinished, which is because it was an unfinished story. Tolkien began this book in 1910, but never finished it himself. Instead, it was finished posthumously by his son, Christopher Tolkien, who used his father’s notes and other writings to complete the story. There are also times when the dialog can feel a bit stiff, especially when it comes to the multitude of names and places, but ultimately this a book steeped in myth and tragedy, written by an author who understood myth and tragedy. Fans of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, high fantasy, and tragedy should give this a read.