Monday, July 09, 2007

The Children of Hurin

I just want to start this review by saying that I am a Tolkein fan. I look forward to reading The Hobbit to my son. I loved both the book and the movie versions of The Lord of the Rings. That being said, I'm less than impressed with The Children of Hurin (and yes, I know I'm misspelling that; I don't know how to do the accent over the "u").

I can understand, given the interest that all things Middle-Earth draw, why Christopher Tolkien would edit together these tales from the extensive back story that his father created for his tales. Die-hard Tolkien fans would probably devour these tales and spend hours or even days debating their intricacies. Sadly, it is those very intricacies that will make this book largely inaccessible to the general public.

Worse, the only reason why this book got published is because of the recent success that Tolkien has enjoyed. If an unknown fantasy author (such as myself) tried to publish this work, I'd be more than willing to bet that all they'd get is a stack of rejections.

Reading this book hammered home some valuable lessons when it comes to writing:

1) Show, don't tell! For the love of the Valar, Tolkien, stop telling and start showing! There were large sections of the story where Tolkien just summed everything up and didn't show us what happened. There was one passage, where Turin has an argument with an elf (I think the elf's name was Saeros, but I might be wrong), where he just told, told, told. I wanted to shake the book and scream, "You could show this scene so much better! Give me some descriptions, fer cryin' out loud!"

It leads me to wonder if Tolkien ever really intended for these stories to see the light of day. Perhaps if he had, he would have put a little more effort into fleshing out the scenes and making them a bit more lively. As it is, this read like an after-action report and not so much as an engaging story.

2) Careful with the names. Okay, it's a feather in Tolkien's cap that he created umpteen-million fake languages. It's absolutely mind-boggling to me that he invented vocabulary, grammar, and so on. But that also works against him. I got very frustrated more than once when I came across words that were basically strung-together consonants with a few vowels peppered between. I couldn't figure out how to pronounce those words and so I shuddered every time I came across them.

And also, I get that Turin moved around a lot, but for crying out loud. The man accumulated about a dozen names and switched back and forth between them regularly. I had to keep checking the glossary to make sure I was tracking with the story.

3) Don't assume too much. One of the real problems I had with this book is that it assumed that the reader was familiar with most, if not all, of the backstory of Middle-Earth. News flash: not all of us are. A lot of names and concepts got tossed around in the story that made very little sense to me. Once again, the glossary saved me because I could find a terse explanation of what those concepts or people were. But still, I shouldn't have to have a glossary to follow a story.

It's not that I didn't like the book. I did up to a point. But really, I don't think my enjoyment of Tolkien's other books was increased by reading it.

So if you're a die-hard Tolkien-o-phile, by all means, read this one. If you're not, save yourself the time and headache and give it a miss.


Olme said...
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Olme said...

"Once again, the glossary saved me because I could find a terse explanation of what those concepts or people were. But still, I shouldn't have to have a glossary to follow a story."

Ever read the Aeneid? Neither do I enjoy using the glossary all the time, but I actually thought that the CoH did a decent job of running it smoothly and informing the reader. Some parts were a bit confusing (geographically), that I did not like.