Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

It’s fair to say that I read a good number of books children’s books. Having kids of my own, I like to pilfer their shelves from time to time. In our house, we like to stock “the classics” as a sort of quality guarantee. Since children’s books became a genre there have been writers who have tried to cash in on the children’s market as a way to make a quick buck with little effort. Reading “the classics” means that you get the best books from every era without having to wade through the formulaic twaddle, most of which has mercifully been forgotten over the years.
It’s a different story with modern children’s books. Picking up a new children’s book means taking a chance on wasting your time, and the modern children’s book publishing machine loves tried and true formulas. After the success of Harry Potter we got books about schools for magical/mythological/specially talented kids who are sorted into groups based on their personalities. After The Hunger Games took off, we’ve have had m…

The Children of Húrin

Wednesday night I finally received my copy of The Children of Húrin in the mail. The Children of Húrin is the new book by J.R.R. Tolkien, culled from his notebooks by his son Christopher and presented finally in the form in which it was intended to be seen. The story has appeared before in a very truncated form in The Silmarillion, and so I already knew the basic plot. But as I began to read the book yesterday, I was awestruck.

Tolkien, like a great wizard, conjures the spirit of the long-forgotten antiquity of Northern Europe, and breathes new life into it, giving it flesh and bones, and making it walk. At times I glimpsed the shadow of the Volsungasaga or Beowulf rising to the top, but this is much more gripping, in a modern sense, and far more melancholy. I am still 50 pages from the end of the book, and I already feel safe in saying that The Children of Húrin rivals the tragedies of the ancient Greek playwrights, and stands as a stirring example of the potential for art and beauty in writing.

This book will certainly never rival the popularity of The Lord of the Rings, nor should it. The Lord of the Rings was Tolkien's magnum opus. But The Children of Húrin was one of the first stories Tolkien began, during WWI, and it establishes several things. The first is that Tolkien indisputably understood the worldview and mindset of the myth-shrouded age of Norse heroes far far better than Wagner, and was able to make it breathe the air of a Christian worldview as well. Secondly, Tolkien is the unchallenged master of the genre, and will never be touched by any of the cut-rate fantasy writers that ride his coattails to bestselling glory. Finally, I think it becomes increasingly clear that Tom Shippey's thesis that Tolkien was the greatest writer of the 20th century may very well be correct, surpassing even such esteemed canonical 20th c. writers as Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Orwell.

The Children of Húrin is highly recommended. It's style is terse, very much like the ancient sagas, but it is also a highly readable novel. If you can find time to spend a few hours with the ill-fated Túrin Turambar son of Húrin, you will not regret it.


Erica said…
*steals book and runs away*