An author’s talent may never be more obvious than when they continue to release new works after they’ve died. Many authors’ works continue to be sold after their deaths, but the fact that a book never before seen can be released after the departure of its author was a thought entirely alien to me until I realized that one of my favorite authors seemed to have published from the other side of the grave.
Thirty-four years after J.R.R. Tolkien died at the age of 82, his son published an edited version his work as The Children of Húrin. Christopher Tolkien writes, “In this book I have endeavored to construct, after long study of the manuscripts, a coherent narrative without any editorial invention.”
The Children of Húrin is the most recently published member of a family of tales that take place in J.R.R. Tolkien’s mythic Middle-earth. A more abbreviated version of the story is found in The Silmarillion in the form of a single chapter entitled “Of Trin Turambar.” This newest book adds layers of details, depth, and development through the expansion of the tale from a thirty-five page chapter to a two hundred fifty-nine page novel.
Like Tolkien’s other works, it is a tale of lore involving men, elves, dwarfs, and dark forces. That being said, The Children of Húrin is very different from its predecessors in both focus and theme. Whereas works like The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings draw into focus the epic struggle between good and evil wherein good ultimately prevails, Tolkien chose in this novel to focus on the dismal plight of a brother-sister pair in a time thousands of years before the shadow of evil was to be lifted.
The Children of Húrin is incontestably a tragedy. It recounts the lives of Túrin and Niënor, offspring of Húrin, who is held in bondage by the Dark Lord Morgoth. In an attempt to break his will, Morgoth sends a curse upon Húrin’s two children that follows them throughout the pages of Tolkien’s novel.
A conversation between the young Túrin and an elderly friend, Sador, in the opening chapter of the book provides the most poignant expression of the novel’s theme. Sador, a former soldier who had returned to his forested homeland after growing wearing of the warrior’s life, had maimed his right leg through an unfortunate mishandling his woodsman’s axe. “But alas!” he told Túrin. “My love of battle was sated… and I got leave to come back to the woods that I yearned for. And there I got my hurt; for a man that flies from his fear may find that he has only taken a short cut to meet it.”
I found this novel highly enjoyable and easy to read; consuming it proved to be a cool splash back into the pools of fantasy fiction that I reveled in as a child. The Children of Húrin’s tragic nature rendered the experience entirely unique and ultimately involving. No Tolkien collection is complete without it, but I would also recommend this novel to any lover of tragedy or lore.