Thursday, May 24, 2007

Back to Middle-Earth ...

... Ed Pettit reviews The Children of Húrin: More about Middle-Earth before Frodo.

6 comments:

  1. Good review. I'm eager to get this book.

    I heard George Grant say the other day that modern literary scholars hate Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Do you know if that's true?

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  2. Very good review -- thoughtful, informative, and someone who obviously knows his Tolkien. He's clearly read the book ;-) . There has been a lot of rudeness about this book in the UK newspapers, of the "cashing in" accusation variety. Although The Times reviewed it favourably here, the Sunday Times slated it, as have other reviewers. Yet it has headed the bestseller lists in the regular and independent bookshops ever since publication. I think that something that has taken so long to produce can't be a marketing exercise, surely.

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  3. Thanks for the compliments. I really ENJOYED the book, as well, and I'm not sure that came through in the review.

    After finishing my writing I proceeded to read the many reviews of it. You can find some excellent insight into how Tolkien is perceived by critics in the Brian Appleyard piece in the London Times:
    http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article1613657.ece

    and the responses to it by Michael Drout on his blog. There are several entries in April:
    http://wormtalk.blogspot.com/2007_04_01_archive.html

    Thanks for reading,

    Ed

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  4. Yes, it did come through that you enjoyed the book, Ed.

    Another person who enjoyed it (I think) is my colleague Henry Gee, a Tolkien specialist (he wrote the book "the science of Lord of the Rings" and was a regular contributor to TORN). YOu can find a blog of Henry's at Nature Network (http://network.nature.com), read his novel at LabLit.com. I am not sure if he has reviewed Children of Huron but it would not surprise me if he had, somewhere.

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  5. Henry Gee4:52 PM

    Maxine directed me to the review (thanks Maxine ... and also for those kind words about The Science of Middle-earth), and I enjoyed it too.

    I have just finished The Children of Hurin myself and I am still wondering what to make of it. Much of it has already been published in Unfinished Tales, the bits and pieces that became The Silmarillion, and The Annals of Beleriand (published in The History of Middle-earth) so the book is to some extent a cash-in. However, as I have read all these things, sometimes many times, I'm probably not the target audience. The book seems aimed squarely at the reader of The Lord of the Rings who has read none of the Other Stuff and yet yearns for some more Middle-earth 'Product' (he said, cynically).

    What seems to be new is Christopher Tolkien's efforts to make it 'flow' as a story, which mostly work (although there are passages where you can still see the joins).

    I use the term 'story' rather than 'novel' for two reasons. The first is that it isn't really a novel but a novella - it's printed in big type, well-spaced and generously marginated, and with pictures, so it looks longer than it is. The second is that it follows few of the normal novelistic conventions, and this is why literary critics have been thrown by it (and by Tolkien in general). The style of heroic romance is entirely foreign to modern lit-crit, but the differences go down to quite small things. I have seen several instances in which critics comment on how they are confused by characters changing their names a lot (in the same mock-deprecating tones in whichc literati admit that they are hopeless at maths or science, as if that's a virtue). But name-changing happened a lot in heroic literature, myths and legends, in which the names attached to things were important. How typical of modern literati to strike such pretentious poses and yet forget the power of words, debasing them.

    What I liked most about The Children of Hurin was the language -- archaic and remote, but also tough, thrawn and muscular. Actually I shall take Maxine's hint and write about this more on my blog...

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