Review: The Children of Húrin

The Children of Húrin The Children of Húrin by J.R.R. Tolkien
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

9/25/2019: This is a repost for the Tolkien Blog Party 2019. 

Id also like to highlight this essay, which I think is pretty insightful — it will make more sense if you have read the book, however:

Children of Húrin Is Not Relentlessly Depressing (I KNOW IT DOESN’T LOOK GOOD, BUT HEAR ME OUT) — by Lintamande

(I am on Tumblr but not very active there. If you’d rather not click the link, here is the important bit:
It’s a hard sell, but I’m going to try to make the case that a) the characters in Children of Húrin have unprecedented-for-Tolkien agency over their choices and leverage to live their values, and b) they go ahead and do that and save tons of lives as a result, and c) this fits into the rest of the legendarium as a testament to the human spirit in the darkest hour, one that sustains their people until the War of Wrath and influences their ability to fight there.

12/22/2018 – I finished reading for the 2nd time.

1/17/2019 – My thoughts on reading this again:

This time I read the physical book, which includes illustrations by Alan Lee. They’re all great, but I would have liked to see more of them. (I know Jenny Dolfen has done some of the scenes that Alan Lee skipped, like Turin and Beleg.) I still think that reading this on its own more or less works, but The Silmarillion surpasses it for me, because its most iconic moments make it overall the better book, even though it has parts that are far more dry than this book.

The conversation between Hurin and Morwen in Chapter 1 is one of my favorites: a quiet scene full of foreboding, with some great dialogue.

Chapter 2 of this book is an abbreviated version of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears; the part that is left out covers what happened to the forces from East Beleriand. In a nutshell, what happened is exactly what Morwen was afraid of in chapter 1, that is, the Noldor were betrayed because the doom of Mandos was not done with them yet. And the traitors were the same people who occupy Turin’s homeland in this book. 

Some of Turin’s character flaws are things he has in common with his mother. Her pride certainly leads her to some bad decisions of her own. However, Turin’s refusal to listen to the advice of Ulmo, the only one of the Valar who still gives advice to the Elves and Men in Middle-earth, is not really something I can see Morwen doing. And he does this after Ulmo’s blessing on the waters of Ivrin restored him to sanity! Because he is incapable of taking a hint, apparently. I think Beren is a really interesting foil for Turin, as someone who made better choices in similarly difficult circumstances. Tuor in The Fall of Gondolin is harder to evaluate because he is less fleshed out as a character than either of them.

Chapters 6-9, the chapters that cover Turin’s time with a band of outlaws and his attempts to reform them into the good kind of outlaws, definitely remind me of both the Robin Hood legend and the Rangers of the North in The Lord of the Rings. I can see why some readers lose patience with Turin; the really frustrating thing about him is that his better qualities rarely make as much of a difference as you would hope, while his bad decisions are disastrous.

***
my first review, written Dec. 2015:
A quick note on the format – there are no illustrations in the ebook, as there are in the print version, and the maps are hard to read in this format. (However, I already have copies of The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales so I could look at those maps.) I read this as an ebook from Overdrive, with my public library account.

The Children of Hurin collected a story that had already been previously published into one volume. The story is a longer, much more detailed version of the “Turin Turambar” chapter of The Silmarillion, and tells the story of the curse that Morgoth, Sauron’s former boss and the Middle-earth equivalent of Lucifer, put on Turin’s family. The style is a bit simpler than that of The Silmarillion, so it might be helpful to a reader who is interested in tackling that book but having a hard time with the style. Of course, the other problem people have with The Silmarillion is that it’s really depressing — and this is a version of one of the darkest tales in that book. Many elements of the story are inspired by the Volsunga saga and the story of Kullervo from the Finnish Kalevala.

Lord of the Rings blends Tolkien’s different approaches in The Silmarillion and The Hobbit, but I think most people who love LotR lean in one direction or the other. LotR is my favorite of Tolkien’s works but The Hobbit, although I like it, hasn’t made as deep an impression as The Silmarillion. I don’t consider LotR comforting exactly … but even though it has a very qualified happy ending, it’s still a happy ending, in that it does make an emotionally convincing argument that suffering will ultimately be vindicated.

And yet these stories (The Silmarillion and COH) make it clear that Tolkien understood that reaction better than he gets credit for, which is satisfying. I cried a few times, but not at the very end – having read most of it before, I found that the disturbing part was waiting for the end.

Turin is a pretty exasperating character – he’s arrogant and makes some really terrible decisions – but I have a lot of sympathy for him anyway. Tolkien goes into much more detail about his childhood here than in The Silmarillion, Morwen has some of same flaws as Turin, but I like her too. Nienor gets more of a role in this version than in The Silmarillion, which I like. She’s a bit more sensible than Morwen, and very much her father’s daughter. I kind of wish there was more about her, but I like what there is.

I have read the Volsunga saga, but don’t really have anything to say about its influence on this story. I really like medievalist Michael Drout’s comment on this connection, though:

“I think that at least one impulse in Túrin is to tell the story of a dragon slayer who isn’t some kind of Nietzchean/Wagnerian ‘ubermensch’ (a piece of evidence, I think, is the inclusion of a dwarf named Mîm). Tolkien detested the kind of heroism that Wagner drew out of the Nibelungenlied and the Völsungr Saga: the hero who is superior in some existential way to everyone else and thus somehow deserves to crush everything in his path. By taking the physically most powerful hero, the original dragonslayer, but putting him under the curse of Morgoth and showing how he suffers, Tolkien approaches the Sigfried story in a very different, and more humane, way.”

There are connections with other legends as well.



Published by Beth @ Beth's Bookish Thoughts

This blog is for my thoughts on reading. A couple of my friends on GoodReads have blogs, so eventually I decided to start one myself. I hope to get involved in the book blogging community and become a better reader and writer! I am not accepting copies of new books for review, but I would be interested in new editions or new translations of classic authors. Find me on Upwork (as an editor) in the profile link. From September 2018 to October 2020 I blogged at Blogger.

5 thoughts on “Review: The Children of Húrin

  1. What a great quote on the Wagner connection! I haven't watched Wagner's whole Ring cycle, but I studied it a little bit in college. That is really one thing that makes Tolkien stand out: his heroes' weaknesses, whether they're moral or physical or both.

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  2. Yes! I have the Nibelungenlied on my reading list, and whenever I get to it I would be interested in knowing more about Wagner and his interpretation of the myth.

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  3. This is sitting unread on my shelf still, but you've made me look forward to it a lot more than I had before! Thanks for contributing this to the party — I love all the posts about Tolkien's less-renowned works!

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  4. I've been rereading the Silmarillion and I've gotten stuck in the Hurin chapter. I have to take it in small doses of gloom but I have only a few pages left so there is hope that I'll get through it. I like what you say about Tolkien making a purposeful contrast to Wagnerian heroes. That helps somewhat (stories about supermen who crush everything in their path are boring, if not so depressing.)

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  5. I wish I knew more about Wagner… a research project for someday. I think reading CoH might make that chapter of The Silmarillion a better experience, but it's still pretty dark either way.

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