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J.RR. Tolkien's Children of Hurin:

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Children of Hurin is now in print, and I just finished reading my recently arrived copy. Since Tolkien died in 1973, this book is actually a "reconstruction" by Tolkien's son Christopher Tolkien, working from his father's extensive unpublished notes and story fragments. I blogged about the debate over the "reconstruction" back in October, in this post. I think that the resulting book vindicates my prediction in the earlier that:

There is every reason to expect that Christopher Tolkien will do an equally good job of putting together The Children of Hurin [as he did with the earlier reconstruction of The Silmarillion], and that he will do his best to carry out his father's intentions.

The result will not be as good a book as might have emerged had J.R.R. Tolkien lived to finish it himself. But it will still reflect Tolkien's style and ideas, and will almost certainly be a lot better than nothing.

The book does indeed "reflect Tolkien's style and ideas." From just reading it, I would not have guessed that it was "reconstructed" as extensively as we know it has been. In many ways, the book is an expansion of the telling of the same story in the Silmarillion (where it is entitled "The Tale of Turin Turambar"). However, Children of Hurin broadens and deepens the tale and develops the characters better. To me, the most important difference is that the expanded version makes it much clearer that the hero suffers more from his own hubris and overly aggressive tactics than from bad luck or "fate." The story also emphasizes Tolkien's view (perhaps influenced by his experiences in World War I) that waging war against evil often requires time and patience, avoiding both premature defeatism and premature large-scale offensives.

The book is not without some shortcomings. But, overall, it is an impressive achievement by both J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkien. Anyone with any interest in Tolkien's work should definitely read it. And, no, the Tolkien family and their publishers didn't pay me to write that:).

David M. Nieporent (www):
Those of us who are Tolkien fans would read a shopping list if he wrote it (well, I would), so your recommendation isn't needed -- but it is appreciated. I think I'll hop over to Amazon now.
5.3.2007 5:59am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
Well if it helps, many of Tolkien's manuscripts were written on the back of old shopping lists.
5.3.2007 7:28am
Billy Budd (mail):
I think I agree with Ilya, for the most part. Children of Hurin definitely wasn't as good as the Lord of the Rings (nor was it even close), but it was cool to be able to get to read another Tolkien book.

One really wonders what this book would have been like if Tolkien himself had actually written it. Like the Silmarillion, it seemed a lot more like a history book than a fiction novel. I think both books really lacked a lot of the character, flair, and wit that Tolkien put into the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. Which makes sense; as they existed before Tolkien the Younger reconstructed them, they were probably just historical notes. But I imagine that if Tolkien had actually wanted to publish them, he would have added a lot more to them. Which kind of makes me wish the Tolkien the Younger (or someone else) would tackle the project of really trying to build on the Tolkien works, rather than just trying to faithfully reproduce the written words that Tolkien left behind.
5.3.2007 10:02am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The story also emphasizes Tolkien's view (perhaps influenced by his experiences in World War I) that waging war against evil often requires time and patience, avoiding both premature defeatism and premature large-scale offensives.

This is Tolkien's view? Or is some highly politicized neo-con post-modern distortion of Tolkien's "view"? The only "evil" Tolkien saw was industrialism and the abandonment of some fantasy world of a peaceful pastoral England. I don't think he viewed the senseless slaughter of World War I (especially as a non-combatant in that war who experienced the end result of industrial slaughter first hand) or the evil it unleashed on the world as proof that waging war against evil requires time and patience.

Gee Ilya, weren't you blaming communism (and by association most working people) for most of the evils of the twentieth century just the other day? Don't try and recruit Tolkien into your crusade. If his writings show anything, it his experiences in World War I demonstrated he wanted nothing to do with the twentieth century.
5.3.2007 11:25am
Bob from Ohio (mail):
JF Thomas: You must have read a different Tolkien than I have. There is an anti-industry theme (Shire, Ents) but good v. evil and the costs/risks of fighting evil is a much more overriding theme.
5.3.2007 11:43am
John Armstrong (mail) (www):
In many ways, the book is an expansion of the telling of the same story in the Silmarillion (where it is entitled "The Tale of Turin Turambar").


And in The Lays of Beleriand (HoME IV) in various rough forms as "The Lay of the Children of Húrin". And in the Unfinished Tales under its proper title as "Narn I Hîn Húrin".

I've already seen five different versions of it, all "reconstructed" by Christopher to some extent or another. Of course I'll buy it again 'cause I'm a sucker like that.
5.3.2007 11:45am
John Armstrong (mail) (www):
Billy, the Silmarillion was never supposed to be a novel. I wish people would stop moaning that it's not LotR when it was never intended to be.

Tolkien was a philologist first and foremost, not a novelist. His main belief was that language any mythopœsis are very tightly bound. The Silmarillion grew out of his attempts to write a mythology to go with his constructed languages, and mythologies are not novels!
5.3.2007 11:50am
Billy Budd (mail):
Armstrong,

Yes, I know that Tolkien was really into creating languages and myths and all that. I just wonder whether he really would have published them in the form that Christopher Tolkien published them. Lord of the Rings contained a lot of myths, langauges, etc., but it wasn't written like the Bible: It was written like a series of novels. My guess is that if Tolkien had wanted to publish some of the stories in the Silmarillion, he would have added a lot more to them than Christopher did. Children of Hurin is a case in point: It's a lot less ... rich ... than the Lord of the Rings. There's just not as much good stuff there. I'm not saying it's bad. I'm just saying that if Tolkien himself wanted to publish a book based on that story, he would have added a lot more. And I wish that others would try to do the same: try to add to the Tolkien manuscripts, rather than simply faithfully printing them. But perhaps this is too much to ask, and I should just wait for someone else to come along who is as entertaining as Tolkien, but who has created their own universe.
5.3.2007 12:08pm
Ilya Somin:
Gee Ilya, weren't you blaming communism (and by association most working people) for most of the evils of the twentieth century just the other day? Don't try and recruit Tolkien into your crusade. If his writings show anything, it his experiences in World War I demonstrated he wanted nothing to do with the twentieth century.

This post combines ignorance of communism, ignorance of what I wrote, and ignorance of Tolkien. Unlike you, I do not associate communism with "most working people" or blame the latter for the crimes of the former (which are indeed extensive enough to account for a hefty proportion of the evils of the 20th century). Tolkien's ideology was different from mine, and I have never claimed otherwise. He was a traditionalist conservative, not a libertarian. However, he did hate communism and socialism, as we know from his letters and from the fact that the "Scouring of the Shire" chapter of the Lord of the Rings is a thinly veiled critique o socialism, and the quasi-socialistic policies of the post-WWII British Labor Party government.
5.3.2007 12:11pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
good v. evil and the costs/risks of fighting evil is a much more overriding theme.

And what was the evil? It lacked a corporeal body. It was an uncaring industrial menace that only cared about destroying everything that was beautiful, pastoral and peaceful. Sauron's works were always accompanied by rape of nature. And when the races uncovered or succumbed to evil (e.g. the Balrog), it was always because they were digging deeper in the ground for riches, building bigger cities, or seeking more power.

In Tolkien's world, the way to fight evil was not to stage even bigger battles and kill even more people. It is achieved by the heroic efforts of a humble hobbit by destroying the product of industrial might.
5.3.2007 12:14pm
Ilya Somin:
In Tolkien's world, the way to fight evil was not to stage even bigger battles and kill even more people. It is achieved by the heroic efforts of a humble hobbit by destroying the product of industrial might.

Actually, there are several large battles in the Lord of the Rings without which the hobbits would not have been able to accomplish their quest. There are also several large and bloody (but in Tolkien's view necessary) battles in the Silmarillion. Tolkien certainly hated war, but he also recognized that it is sometimes a necessary evil.
5.3.2007 12:17pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
All the battles in The Lord of the Rings were nothing but holding actions. Sauron could not be defeated by all the armies of the men, elves, and dwarves combined. Unless the ring was destroyed, all was lost. Conversely, without the ring, Sauron was powerless.

If didn't learn that from the book (something I figured out when I first read it in fifth grade), then you are pretty damn dense.
5.3.2007 12:19pm
Ilya Somin:
And what was the evil? It lacked a corporeal body. It was an uncaring industrial menace that only cared about destroying everything that was beautiful, pastoral and peaceful. Sauron's works were always accompanied by rape of nature. And when the races uncovered or succumbed to evil (e.g. the Balrog), it was always because they were digging deeper in the ground for riches, building bigger cities, or seeking more power.

Tolkien was not a big fan of industrialization. But it is wrong interpret his work as saying that evil is mostly reducible to "industrial menace[es]." "Seeking more power" is a better encapsulation of of Tolkien's view of evil, than "industrial menace."
5.3.2007 12:21pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Unlike you, I do not associate communism with "most working people" or blame the latter for the crimes of the former (which are indeed extensive enough to account for a hefty proportion of the evils of the 20th century).

Sorry if I mistook your hostility to May Day as an international labor day as a condemnation of the labor movement as nothing but stooges for the communist party. And I have yet to meet a libertarian (either with a 'l' or 'L') who is not extremely hostile to unions and the concept of organized labor in general.

And I certainly do not associate communism with most working people. But that is certainly what I took as the tone of your May Day posting.
5.3.2007 12:26pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Tolkien was not a big fan of industrialization.

That is the understatement of the thread.
5.3.2007 12:28pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
But it is wrong interpret his work as saying that evil is mostly reducible to "industrial menace[es]." "Seeking more power" is a better encapsulation of of Tolkien's view of evil, than "industrial menace."

But I think it is clear that he believed one led inextricably to the other.
5.3.2007 12:39pm
Mr. Bingley (www):
Not at all. I think it's clear that he thought hubris in any form, be it in men seeking power or in over-zealous dwarves seeking more mithril, is what allowed evil to flourish.
5.3.2007 1:27pm
jebbbz (mail):
"Spengler" at Asia Times Online has a review with some links to other writings of his on Tolkien (hope I don't mess up the link:



http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/ID24Aa01.html

FWIW, I read Spengler but have never read any Tolkien. I thought some Tolkien readers would find this interesting.
5.3.2007 1:36pm
jebbbz (mail):
"Spengler" at Asia Times Online has a review with some links to other writings of his on Tolkien (hope I don't mess up the link):



http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/ID24Aa01.html

FWIW, I read Spengler but have never read any Tolkien. I thought some Tolkien readers would find this interesting.
5.3.2007 1:37pm
J.G. Ballard (mail):
And what was the evil? It lacked a corporeal body. It was an uncaring industrial menace that only cared about destroying everything that was beautiful, pastoral and peaceful. Sauron's works were always accompanied by rape of nature. And when the races uncovered or succumbed to evil (e.g. the Balrog), it was always because they were digging deeper in the ground for riches, building bigger cities, or seeking more power.

It figures that it would be a Tolkien thread that would get me to create an account. I just had to chime in.

Ilya's original post was about the Children of Hurin. And the "evil" in this tale is most definitely corporeal. Although Morgoth was a Vala "spirit," he constructed a physical form as a dark lord to rule in Middle Earth.

Further, despite indication in Peter Jackson's films to the contrary, even Sauron (at the time of the LoTR) had a physical form. Gollum even commented upon the fact that Sauron had only four fingers upon the hand from which the One Ring had been cut.

Although Tolkien was definitely ecologically minded (and even a bit of a Luddite), I agree that the major theme throughout the Silmarillion (and thus the Children of Hurin) is the struggle with evil.
5.3.2007 1:39pm
Orielbean (mail):
I think his points of good vs evil had more to do with keeping an open mind as to who was good and who was not. This repeats just as frequently as the other themes mentioned here.

The duality and duplicity of Saruman, Grima Wormtongue, Smeagol, Boromir, and Boromir/Faramir's dad were the things that actually threatened the "good" far more than the obvious evils. The Balrogs, Goblins, Urukhai, Trolls, Massive Armies of Sauron, etc - they were always dealt with by the heroes with confidence and clear solutions in the stories, even when they clearly knew that they did not have superior industry or numbers.

Gandalf doesn't think twice to go up against the big demon, but he doesn't know how to keep Boromir's sticky fingers off the ring... Oliphants and Trolls are combated effectively, but the two healthy hobbits can't sort out Smeagol until the bitter end. That seems to be the clear overriding theme of how Good has to deal with Evil.

When the Evil shows up with its game face, the armies of Good work hard to be there, as they know what their job is (most of the time) But when the corruption from within is present, it throws them into disarray almost every time.

I am not seeing the topic mentioned in this thread; the one regarding a clear reducible threat by industry as the single view of evil; what I see more is that corruption of good is what leads to evil, with the obvious Uruk-hai coming from men examples, or the examples of "do nothing" such as Boromir's Dad (can't remember his damn name).

Perhaps in Saruman's war machine where he is tearing down the forests? But when otherwise are we seeing this? Is it only in industry's exclusion from the "good" people - Aragorn is a ranger, elves live in natural harmony, hobbits have the rural Shires? We can see it a few times, but nothing as obvious as the corruption examples or the defeat-from-within examples. It is far more about rotten apples than angry looms. Wasn't Sauron serving one of the corrupted fallen angel/demigods?
5.3.2007 1:41pm
KeithK (mail):

In Tolkien's world, the way to fight evil was not to stage even bigger battles and kill even more people. It is achieved by the heroic efforts of a humble hobbit by destroying the product of industrial might.

Actually, in the end it's not the heroism of Frodo that wins the day any more than the battles won by Aragorn. These aspects are necessary but in the end Frodo fails in his mission. He reaches the Cracks of Doom and finally succumbs to the lure of the ring. It's only by the grace of God (Eru, Illuvatar) that the quest succeeds through the agency of Gollum. Tolkien's letters make this quite clear.
5.3.2007 1:50pm
KeithK (mail):

I'm just saying that if Tolkien himself wanted to publish a book based on that story, he would have added a lot more.


Tolkien very much wanted to publish the material that became the Silmarillion. The problem was there was no market for it. at the time. He knew this and as a result didn't spend the time it would have taken to deepen all of the First Age stories (Turin, Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin, Beren and Luthien). Remember, he wasn't a full time writer. He was an Oxford professor who was far from well off and often had to take additional work at the University to make ends meet.

It's too bad the Professor couldn't have somehow taken a hefty advance on the millions Middle Earth has made for his estate.
5.3.2007 2:04pm
spectator:
I applaud the effort to capture and define that evil, elusive spirit of the age that Tolkien despised in a blog comment thread, but it bears remembering that far greater minds have tried and failed. The Popes, clumsily naming it 'Modernism', have written volumes upon volumes against this evil, but it still escapes the gaze, let alone the grasp.

How much easier it is to understand its negation, The Shire.
5.3.2007 2:06pm
Mr. Bingley (www):
Thanks for that link, jebbbz
5.3.2007 2:09pm
Zathras (mail):
Keith: "Tolkien very much wanted to publish the material that became the Silmarillion. The problem was there was no market for it."

An even bigger problem was that Tolkein was extremely reluctant to pronounce any of his writings as finished. Even TLOTR might not have reached the bookshelves if C.S. Lewis hadn't goaded him into doing so and letting go of the work.

Ian Shippey has a couple of very good books on the philosophical implications of Tolkien's work. The chapters on evil in particular are very good at explaining how Tolkien's concept of evil parallels the Christian dichotomy between Boethian (evil as an absence) and Manichean (evil as an actual presence) evil, since both concepts are pervasive in the book.
5.3.2007 2:27pm
Zathras (mail):
Sorry--that's Tom Shippey, not Ian.
5.3.2007 2:28pm
Mark Field (mail):

Boromir/Faramir's dad


Denethor.
5.3.2007 2:43pm
Felix Sulla (mail):
All fine and dandy, but what would Tolkien have made of the U.S. Attorneys scandal? ;-)
5.3.2007 3:00pm
Dan Hamilton:
He would have shaken his head and said that it was Politics. Political appointes fired for political reasons. Ho-Hum.

He was an Oxford Don he knew political infighting first hand that would make Democrats and Republicans look like school children.
5.3.2007 5:39pm
TDPerkins (mail):
He was an Oxford Don he knew political infighting first hand that would make Democrats and Republicans look like school children.


Well that's on the nose. Yours, TDP, ml, msl, &pfpp
5.3.2007 11:32pm
karrde (mail) (www):
I feel like a latecomer to this thread.

Mr. Thomas, you say

I don't think he viewed the senseless slaughter of World War I (especially as a non-combatant in that war who experienced the end result of industrial slaughter first hand) or the evil it unleashed on the world as proof that waging war against evil requires time and patience.

I don't want to quibble with your point, I want to ask a question to make sure I understand you properly:

Was Tolkien a non-combatant in World War I?

He took up the rank of 2nd lieutenant in the 13th Lancashire Fusileers. He was a signal officer, and not a grunt...but he did carry a service revolver, which Wikipedia claims is now kept at a museum.

Since he served in the trenches, and was wounded in service, I wouldn't call him a non-combatant. But you can if you wish.
5.4.2007 9:55am
J. F. Thomas (mail):
Was Tolkien a non-combatant in World War I?

That is my mistake. It was always my understanding that he was in the ambulance corps. I was mistaken. I must have been thinking of someone else. I certainly didn't intend to belittle his service. My great grandfather died on the Somme. It was a horrible battle.

And technically he wasn't wounded, but succumbed to a service related illness that kept him from the front lines for the rest of the war.
5.4.2007 2:25pm
James H:
I remember C.S. Lewis's praise for The Lord of the Rings, that it was not an allegory, and Tolkien's own comments on the matter, that avoiding allegory had been his intent. But perhaps neither Lewis nor Tolkien were as perceptive as J. F. Thomas.
5.6.2007 12:17am
Lev:
Is Osama bin Laden Sauron? And Zawahiri King of the Nazgul?

Who would be Gandalf? Hitchens?
5.6.2007 1:03am
jam:
That Tolkien did not write an allegory is something I wish I could sit down and discuss with him and Lewis. isn't all fantasy/fiction allegories? Isn't language allegorical, after all, the sounds we make to represents objects are not the objects themselves.

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is, simply put, an allegory of redemtion.
1) There is class of people who live lives blissfully unaware of a danger looming.
2) Another class of people are aware that there is something dangerous and evil but rather digg deeper into the Earth and stay busy and uninvolved.
3) Another class of people who are sold out to the evil and are complicit in the evil's advance.
4) Another class of people are aware of the evil and are doing their part to combat and oppose the evil.
5) And there are a class of people, very few, who are at the front lines fighting the evil and warning others to fight, for the fight will come regardless.

The evil is the devil, the flesh and sin. It cannot be defeated in our own strength. We are called to do our part but it is not in our power to defeat the devil.

As Gandalf answer to Frodo's lament of his burden:
So do all who see such times, but that is not for them to decide -all we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

Jesus is the returning king. And He will take the throne nd evil will be defeated. Which class of people are you?
5.6.2007 10:20am