It’s a strange feeling hotly anticipating a new book, looking forward to reading it for the first time, all the while knowing exactly how it turns out.
The story of The Children of Hurin will not be a surprise to anyone who’s read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, since the bare bones of the tale of Turin Turambar are laid out there. But The Children of Hurin expands on that story, building a narrative framework upon it.
Again, those who are expecting a story in the style of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit will be sorely disappointed. This is not a fully fleshed-out tale full of dialogue. It reads a lot more like Homer’s Iliad or Beowulf. That’s not to say it isn’t accessible; it’s just … different.
Okay, enough of what it’s not.
The Children of Hurin takes place during the First Age of the Middle Earth, when the Elves were still in the full-flowering of their power and Men were strong and young, as a race. The locale is Beleriand, a land located to the West of the Middle-Earth we know of from LOTR (and connected to it as one continent), but which was later sunk beneath the waves in a great cataclysm.
The Great Enemy in this book is Morgoth, a fallen angel, an analogue of Satan. If you think Sauron was bad, he’s just a lieutenant to Morgoth here. In a C.S. Lewis analogy, Sauron would be “Screwtape” and Morgoth would be “Our Father Below.”
The nature of the fallen human condition is pared down to the essential elements and we see the fate of mankind absent the salvific and redemptive power of the Cross.
Morgoth is at war with the Elves (aka the Eldar) and the allies among Men (the Edain), a hopeless war because they are fighting a supernatural power without recourse to the divine assistance.
It would take too long to explain the whole background of the tale here, although Christopher Tolkien, the author’s son and the book’s editor, does a creditable job of it at the beginning, but it is clear that J.R.R. Tolkien intended this as the classic tale of the danger of hubris and how an all-consuming addiction to revenge and self-glorification, as well as a hair-trigger sense of the personal slight, can lead not only to one’s own downfall, but also to the destruction of everything that we love.
Pride before the fall