Of Elves and Men

The Children of Hurin

by JRR Tolkein

hurin

‘ “You say it,” said Morgoth. “I am the Elder King …. The shadow of my purpose lies upon Arda, and all that is in it slowly and surely to my will.” ‘

The story of Hurin’s children dates from around 1920 – or earlier – long before Tolkein conceived the plot of Lord of the Rings. It was one of three novel-length stories that were part of his unfinished Book of Lost Tales. Whilst predating his master work by three or four decades, it is set within the scheme of the Tolkein mythology many thousands of years before Frodo Baggins set out on his adventure to destroy the Ring of Power.

If you are a fan of LOTR, you will recall that Elrond speaks of the Elder Days and about the first alliance of elves and men. Elves, even if not quite immortal, live for a very long time indeed and Elrond has apparently personal memories of another great war – before Sauron and before the Ring.

Well, Hurin of the present story happens to be the brother of Elrond’s (human) great-grandfather. He goes to war against Morgoth, the great enemy of the time, and is captured and imprisoned. Morgoth curses all those whom Hurin loves and predicts they ‘will die without hope, cursing both life and death’. So you’ll see this Morgoth, like Sauron after him, is not a very nice creature.

‘As the time lengthened the heart of Morwen grew darker for her son Turin …. for she could see no hope for him better than to become a slave of the Easterling men …’

Most of the book concerns Hurin’s son, Turin. When their land is devastated by Morgoth’s orcs after Hurin’s capture, Morwen, Hurin’s wife sends her small child to live with the elves. He grows up elf-like in stature and courage but because the shadow of Morgoth’s curse hangs over him he ignores wise counsel and goes his own way. Hiding his true identity behind a series of other names, none of which protect him from his destiny, Turin travels among outlaws, dwarves and elves, seeking his lost father. In inflicting no more than minor hurt to the servants of the Dark Lord, he spurns and deals death even to his friends.

After many years, Morwen sets out with her daughter Nienor to look for Turin. But the dragon Glaurung comes, bringing the hatred, spite and twisted words of his evil master. It casts a spell on Nienor. In the end, Turin too has to face the dragon, whom he defeats, but at terrible cost. We know The Children of Hurin will not end happily but, even so, the tragic conclusion takes us by surprise.

‘Then Glaurung, feeling his death-pang, gave forth a scream, whereat all the woods were shaken … and the watchtowers were aghast.’

If you’re looking for a stylish, well-rounded and well-plotted epic like LOTR, or even fairy tale adventure like The Hobbit, The Children of Hurin is not for you. But if you are fascinated by Tolkein the writer and the man, read it. Both background and themes will be familiar, and it has all of Tolkein’s poetic language.

Like LOTR, The Children of Hurin comes with family trees, a map and appendices explaining how the story came to be written and edited. Oh, and it’s beautifully illustrated!

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