Seeing the name “Tolkien” on the cover of a book is enough to arouse my interest. Sometimes known as a “Father of Fantasy”, J.R.R. Tolkien’s work has been popular since they were first published but are even more so now that the books have made the transition onto the big screen. His list of works is extensive; many of which, including The Silmarillion, were written by his son, Christopher Tolkien, using the notes he had transcribed before he passed away. Unbeknownst to me, his Middle-Earth works extended far beyond the commonly known Lord of the Rings novels to include a twelve volume history of his fictional world. As a subject of personal interest, I hope to read the rest of these books at some point in the future.
The Children of Hurin is, to put it bluntly, a tragedy. I can find very few other ways to describe it. Anyone hoping for a book like The Lord of the Rings where the characters are noble and likeable should be warned that this is not that book. In The Children of Hurin we follow Turin (son of Hurin, no surprise there) who was sent to live with the elves after his father was captured by the evil Lord Morgoth. The curse of doom that Morgoth cast on him and the rest of his family follows Turin all his life as he struggles to overcome the darkness and find the strength to oppose the power that stripped him of everything he loved.
As much as I tried, I could not bring myself to like Turin as a hero. I simply could not find anything about him to admire; there was hardly anything ‘heroic’ about him, except that he was what we call in the literary world a ‘tragic hero’. I went the entire book mentally shouting at this character, and several others, because of their stupidity, greed, and pride. To make a long story short, their decision making skills were far below that of any rational human being.
For those who may think otherwise, I did, surprisingly, enjoy the book. Even though the characters drove me insane they were well constructed and fulfilled a purpose in telling the story. I think it’s hard to write a character that everyone hates and maintain in them a flicker of hope so the reader keeps reading, waiting and hoping for them to change.
In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of any story is character development. That being said, I was concerned as I started this book for reasons mentioned above. As my agitation with the characters increased I started looking for reasons why Tolkien would choose to display them in this way. The reasoning I deduced was to show contrast and make the tragedy that much more profound. He does become the hero of legend in the end, but it truly becomes the tragedy that it is when even his great deed wasn’t enough to make up for the many poor decisions he made along the way. This rise in hope for his redemption became stark contrast to his eventual failure.