02 August, 2007

munkey's eye view


Six thousand years before hobbits ever heard of magic Rings, the gloomy, beautiful tale of Tolkien's most tragic hero is played out.

While billed by publishers and the media - inevitably trying to capitalise on the legacy of popularity inspired by Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films - as a "new" Tolkien work, Narn I Chîn Húrin (The Tale Of The Children Of Hurin) was actually conceived in 1918 - one of the first stories by the man who would come to define the fantasy genre. In fact, this is by no means even the first publication of the tragic tale; several forms of the story have been available in print for decades. However this edition marks the first time the various versions of the saga of Túrin Turambar
- Tolkien's great, ancient anti-hero - have been compiled and edited together into a seamless and cohesive narrative. As such, the book is as much the work of tireless editor Christopher Tolkien, as it is that of his more famous father.

The Children Of Húrin is set amidst the struggles of Elves and Men against Morgoth - the first, and more terrible, Dark Lord - and his monstrous cohort Glaurung the Dragon. Túrin son of Húrin is born into a world overrun by Orcs and grieving over devastating losses in battle. Because of the heroic deeds of his father, Morgoth has placed a curse on Túrin's family. After his mother, in fear for her son's safety, sends him away to live with an Elven King, Túrin grows to be a mighty warrior, but constantly feels the weight of destiny upon him. Through his heroic deeds and determination to escape his fate, he only tangles himself more tightly within Mogoth's curse, and unleashes more unthinkable tragedy on himself and those he loves.

There is little humour in this world of bleak legend - no chortling banter between amiable hobbits or crotchety dwarves to lighten the dangerous, sorrowful landscapes of this war-ravaged world. Drawing largely on Tolkien's own love of Scandinavian and Greek folklore, this is a tale aching with the forlorn gravitas of true ancient mythology. The language - archaic and at times unwieldy - adds to the air of authenticity. While self-contained, this story is inescapably a fragment of something much larger. Laden with references to other events, characters and places from the pre-history of Middle-Earth, Túrin's tale is a prime example of the richness, complexity and consistency of Tolkien's created world, which has yet to be equalled by any other fantasy author.

While the creators of this publication have endeavoured to make the story accessible to even the most casual reader of The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, the truth is that this is impossible. Set several millennia before Tolkein's more famous works, most of the significance of The Children Of Húrin will be lost on readers who don't have at least a cursory interest in the more distant history of Middle Earth. There is no denying that this is a profound and beautiful tale in itself, but the context and relevance of events will escape many. On the other hand, this edition may serve as a well-placed stepping stone for those who have enjoyed the famous trilogy, and wish to delve further into Tolkien's somewhat dauntingly expansive back-catalogue.

Featuring the gorgeous - somehow fragile looking - illustrations of Alan Lee, The Children Of Húrin is not for the casually curious, but is a dense and moving journey into the epic and exquisite world J.R.R. Tolkien created.

(out of 5)



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