You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Children of Húrin

Reading Tolkien's The Children of Húrin is like returning to a group of old friends. Yet the friends have changed over the years. The Middle-Earth in this book is the First Age, but the story is woven through snippets of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. The style is much less ornate than the former, and much more detailed than the latter. In some ways it is more accessible than either.

Húrin is a lord of men who goes to war against Morgoth, the evil lord of the First Age. He is joined by other men and elves, including the elven king of the hidden city of Gondolin. Morgoth manages to defeat them and enslave Húrin. When his wife doesn't hear from him, she sends their son Túrin to live with the elves in the forest of Doriath. There he is fostered and becomes a powerful warrior. He leaves when he has a fight with an elf whom he ends up accidentally killing, though the elven king Thingol forgives him after he leaves.

Túrin becomes an outlaw and leads a band of ruffians. When his elven friend Beleg finds him and tells him he can return to Doriath, he refuses. They stick together and fight orcs with the outlaws. Eventually the orcs rout the band and capture Túrin. Beleg follows them close to Morgoth's lair before he is able to find and release Túrin. But Túrin is dazed and accidentally kills Beleg in his confusion. Another escaped elf takes him to the hidden elven city of Nargothrond. There he becomes a leader and convinces them to build a bridge across the river. This turns out to be their undoing as the orcs are able to cross the bridge into the city and destroy it. Glaurung the dragon helps them destroy the city and toys with Túrin before letting him go.

Meanwhile, his father's lands have been overrun by men who follow Morgoth, and his mother and young sister, whom he has never met, face trouble. They travel to Doriath where they discover that Túrin has left long ago and hasn't returned. They insist on traveling to Nargothrond to find him, but are driven away by Glaurung, who kills most of their companions. Túrin's sister Nienor loses her memory and is rescued by the men of Brethil. There, Túrin finds her after having visited his homeland and not finding his family. He is entranced by Nienor, though neither of them have a clue that they are related. They end up marrying, and soon after Túrin decides to fight Glaurung as he makes his way north. He succeeds in killing the dragon but is wounded, and when the dragon in its dying throes tells Nienor that she has found her brother, she throws herself off a ravine. When Túrin discovers what has happened, he kills himself with his blade.

There are many details that one would expect in a story about Middle-Earth. There is Túrin's special blade, forged by the elves; there's his dragon helm, legacy of his father's; there are lots of battles, though none are described in great detail. The story is told is a heroic/mythic style. It is a quick read, though it doesn't have quite as deep characterization as LOTR. As a travelogue, it is a great way to visit the mythic places of the First Age, especially Doriath and Nargothrond. There is always a sense that there is a bigger world out there, or that there is a lot more to the story that is abbreviated. The narrator explicitly says at one point that only a small part of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears will be told, that part bearing on Húrin.

Through Húrin his children are cursed, and everywhere that Túrin goes he brings doom. Of course, this may just be the nature of the dark times and his willingness to be at the forefront of the battles against Morgoth. For the most part, the story is a dark one, though there are some bright spots, such as the killing of Glaurung. I think it shows an important part of the vast history of Middle-Earth, one that most fans of LOTR would be interested in reading. I enjoyed it a lot. A.


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