Kind words heal and help;
cutting words wound and maim.Proverbs 15:4 (The Message)
The Children of Hurin live in the first age of Middle Earth – a time where the orcs and their allies have the upperhand. The orcs are slowly taking over. The elves live a long time, but often live with pieces missing, that the orcs have removed. They tend to live in mysterious towns that are hidden in the mountains or underground. They build wonderful structures – such as a stone bridge, that turn into liability, because they cannot be blown up when the orcs are coming (illustr. p .97). This book is about heroic vision, but heroic vision that doesn’t pan out, misunderstanding and suicide. It is a tragedy.
There is a good but mainly absent dad – Hurin. He has information that the bad guys want about the location of Gondolin – a special city only for elves (spectacularly illustrated by Alan Lee on p.32 ). He refuses to divulge even under torture. Hurin tells Morgoth – the evil Lord – “You are not the Lord of Men … Beyond the Circles of the World you shall not pursue those who refuse you.” (p. 65) To which Morgoth replies: “Beyond the circles of the World there is nothing. But within them, they will not escape me, until they enter into nothing.”
“You lie” says Hurin.
“You shall see and you shall confess that I do not lie” said Morgoth.
At this point, Hurin is chained to a chair of stone on a high place, where he is condemned to watch the rest of the book (illustrated on p 65) in time out. Morgoth curses him “with my eyes you shall see, and with my ears you shall hear, and nothing will be hidden from you.”
Hurin has three children -two daughters and a son. Turin is the oldest – and most of this book concerns Turin. But unlike Bilbo and Frodo who have wonderful adventures – Turin is going to have a bogus journey. The next born is a girl. Her name is Urwen, but she is called Lalaith, which means laughter because she laughs all the time (exact opposite of Turin). She does not make it past chapter one. She dies of a horrible childhood disease. Hurin and Morwen have one more girl – Nienor. She becomes a main character at the end of the book.
Hurin is a POW of Angband, Turin is nine years old, and his mom is pregnant. Turin’s mom, Morwen, decides that it would be safer if Turin was raised by King Thingol, overlord of the grey-elves – but she, against Hurin’s counsel to “Go Swiftly! Do not wait for me!” decides to stay put because she expected her husband to soon return. She “would not yet humble her pride to be an alms-guest, not even of a king. Therefore the voice of Hurin, or the memory of his voice, was denied, and the first strand of the fate of Turin was woven.”
The next bad thing happens to Turin when he is 20, and Saeros, an elf that is racist against humans, says something very mean to Turin. He critiques Turin’s long hair – something you don’t do in Tolkien books- He says “…there is no need to leave your head untended as a thicket of brambles. And maybe if your ears were uncovered you could heed better what is said to you”, and to make matters worse, Saeros says”If the Men of Hithlum are so wild and fell, of what sort are the women of that land? do they run like the deer clad only in hair?” At this point things get ugly. Saeros ends up dead, after trying to run away from Turin who is sticking a sword in his buttocks and yelling “Run, Run, mocker of women!…And unless you go swift as the deer I shall prick you on from the behind”
(p.89). Saeros attempts and fails a jump over some high rocks, and falls to his death. Turin feels like he will be tried for murder, even though Saeros’s death is not his fault, so he runs away from Doriath, and becomes the leader of a bunch of outlaws.
The journeys of Turin take him all over Middle Earth, and his mother and sister eventually decide to look for him. His sister does eventually finds Turin, who is then calling himself Turumbar – but they don’t recognize each other – and against advice they end up getting married. The book ends in tragedy.
All of this happens 6500 years before the Council of Rivendell. This book is not as consistantly as good as The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, but it is much better than most other fantasy books, and takes place in the same fantasy world of good and evil. Essentially this is a book of scraps of stories that Tolkien wrote over the years. His son, Christopher Tolkien, has cleverly put together these scraps of stories into a novel – and it works! It is 99% father Tolkien, and only 1% son Tolkien. It is quite a good book for a dead author. The magic of Middle Earth happens one more time – but in this one the bad guys win, and the heroic vision is not realized. This middle earth is more like our earth earth. There is a beautiful map and list of names, which I referred to constantly as I read the book. This book takes more effort to read than fiction written by living authors. I think it is appropriate reading for teenagers, but it is not a children’s story.
It would not make a very good movie – but it might make a very good game. There is a strong sense of place, and the battle between good and evil gives evil a slight edge. One of the reasons Frodo succeeds while Turin fails is that Frodo travels in a fellowship of good friends and takes advice, while Turin allows himself to be overcome by evil.