Thursday, May 24, 2007

Oh The Greek Tragedy Of It All..

I just completed reading The Children of Hurin, it's the latest work of J.R.R. Tolkien to be compiled and released by his son, Christopher. All in all, it's a rewarding read - almost like a "click here to zoom" link on an Internet map. The Children of Hurin is a "zoomed in" version of the tale of Hurin as found in The Silmarillion, adding detail (and expanding the knowledge of Turin's tragic life).

As the subject reads, this book reads like a Greek Tragedy (complete with incest borne of ignorance and people showing up repeating the theme of the tale, which is that the Children of Hurin seem to be unable to accept wise counsel), so it's not a "good book" in that is makes the reader feel happy for reading it. There is no real moment of "tragic triumph" at the end of the book (as there is at the end of ROTK) - this book is just sad, but it's sad with a point and that's what makes it rewarding. If you can stomach a book that has very little hope (any tale that begins with the "Battle of Unnumbered Tears" isn't going to have a surplus of this), yet manages to point the reader towards hope, then go out and this book.

If you happen to be a nerd and/or a geek, then you might also find the appendix to be fascinating. As someone who has grew up in a world where The Hobbit, LOTR, and The Simarillion, were all freely available it's hard to belive just how much Tolkien edited the stories over and over and over again just so they could give his world some back-story. The Children of Hurin was originally conceived as an epic poem, for example, but was abandoned after reaching 5000 lines. In prose form, this particular story morphed over the years, so that key events kept shifting in the narrative. Even with all of his massive notes and editorial comments, Christopher had trouble figuring out what "really happened" in the myth, and found that he was required to add some material to tie various chunks together.

I find this fascinating because we know beyond the shadow of a doubt when Tolkien wrote the tales that make up the Simarillion (of which Hurin is one), and the mystery of his inner-most mind regarding why he edited these tales in verious places will forever be cut off from us. Is it any wonder why Bible Scholars are so confused as to how the books of the Bible came to be in their present form (and OT more so than NT)? Actually, reading some of Christopher's difficulties in putting together a cohesive text from his father's notes makes me rejoice that we've got any Biblical texts in existence - and yet we do. That's just cool.

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