J. R. R. Tolkien (1892–1973) started Húrin in the 1920s, but when The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings took off, the Oxford professor abandoned the story. Now Christopher Tolkien, his son and literary executor, has combined various drafts to reconstruct the tale that precedes Sam, Frodo, Gandalf, and Aragorn by about 6,000 years. In Middle-earth, Morgorth, the original Dark Lord (Sauron’s master), imprisoned Lord Húrin following a disastrous campaign by Elves and Men to topple Morgoth’s forces. Húrin’s young, cursed son, Túrin, flees to an Elven kingdom, where he comes of age with his sister. Once he leaves the kingdom, however, he becomes a proud, bloodthirsty warrior—and the battle between good and evil marches on.
Houghton Mifflin. 313 pages. $26. ISBN: 0618894640
"What makes the story so readable, besides Tolkien’s elegant writing, is the way Túrin’s benign and heroic decisions bring misery and destruction to those around him. … The story stands by itself as a monumental achievement of imagination." Dan Miller
"There is grand, epic storytelling and a reminder, if one was needed, of Tolkien’s genius in creating an imaginary world that both reflects and deepens a sense of our own mythic past, the now-forgotten battles and legends that gave birth to the Aeneid, the Old Testament, the Oresteia, the Elder Eddas and the Mabinogion, Beowulf and Paradise Lost." Elizabeth Hand
"For those who already love Middle-earth, The Children of Húrin will be a chance to return there. For others, it may be an opportunity to question some deeply rooted assumptions and to learn that literature that rejects the canons of modernism and realism can nevertheless have great emotional power." Michael D. C. Drout
"Some advice for non-Ringers: Skip the preface, the intro and the pronunciation guide. Don’t try to grasp the genealogy tables and appendix. Enjoying the arcane stuff comes later. Go right to the story. It’s a well-told, dramatic tale." Deirdre Donahue
"Húrin is like Grimm’s Fairy Tales on steroids, dark, and sincere almost to a fault. None of this is necessarily a bad thing. It’s simply a matter of readers preparing themselves for a narrative that’s archaic and, to modern sensibilities, far from user-friendly." Ethan Gilsdorf
"The Children of Húrin will thrill some readers and dismay others, but will surprise almost everyone. If you’re looking for the accessibility, lyrical sweep and above all the optimism of Lord of the Rings, well, you’d better go back and read it again." Andrew O’Hehir
Shorter versions of Húrin first appeared in The Silmarillion (1977) and Unfinished Tales (1980); finally, fans of Middle-earth can read this fine addition to Tolkien’s fantasy oeuvre in entirety. Húrin, illustrated by Alan Lee, is a dark, tragic tale. Readers expecting the good-trumps-evil trajectory of Lord of the Rings will instead discover Túrin, a complex, tormented antihero, and Tolkien’s bleak, darker side. (Think dragons over hobbits.) Critics mostly quibbled with the accessibility of the work. Influenced by Greek tragedy, as well as Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian epics, Tolkien wrote Húrin in lyric prose that some thought archaic. Still, notes the Washington Post, "Years from now, when our present day is as remote from men and women (or cyborgs) as the events of the First Age were to the Council of Elrond, people may still tell tales out of Middle Earth. If so, The Children of Húrin will be one of them."