Words of majesty in Mid­dle- earth mu­sic

Ce­cilia Dart- Thorn­ton The Chil­dren of Hurin By J. R. R. Tolkien HarperCollins, 320pp, $ 49.95

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

The world was fair, the moun­tains tall, In Elder Days be­fore the fall Of mighty kings in Nar­gothrond And Gon­dolin, who now be­yond The West­ern Seas have passed away — J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

IT was with great ex­cite­ment that I re­ceived the most re­cently pub­lished work of my favourite au­thor of all time, J. R. R. Tolkien. To think that once again I held his words, un­read, in my hands was thrilling.

Wor­ri­some, too, in a way, for th­ese were not purely his words: they had been edited by his son Christo­pher, be­cause this story of Mid­dleearth’s Elder Days, The Chil­dren of Hurin , was un­fin­ished at Tolkien’s death.

What if, dur­ing the edit­ing process, the son’s ad­mirable and lov­ing pedan­ti­cism had spoiled the free- flow­ing style of the fa­ther’s writ­ing? As it turned out Christo­pher’s edit­ing was mag­nif­i­cent.

If you are hop­ing for an­other The Lord of the Rings , do not look for it in The Chil­dren of Hurin . Tolkien wrote in three dif­fer­ent voices: one for his chil­dren’s sto­ries, an­other for The Lord of the Rings and a third for his heroic tales. In approach, The Chil­dren of Hurin is sim­i­lar to the tales found in Tolkien’s The Sil­mar­il­lion : dark and tragic, writ­ten in won­der­fully epic lan­guage, yet less close and per­sonal than The Lord of the Rings. It is pro­duced in a for­mal style spring­ing di­rectly from an­cient lit­er­ary tra­di­tion and rich with words in­her­ited, un­changed, from Old English.

The moral val­ues in­her­ent in the old sagas are here, too. In choos­ing this mode, Tolkien was de­lib­er­ately be­ing faith­ful to the mind­set of clas­sic tales such as Le Morte d’Arthur and The Chil­dren of Uis­nech .

With­out know­ing some­thing of The Sil­mar­il­lion and the style of an­cient sagas and leg­ends, it is hard to fully ap­pre­ci­ate The Chil­dren of Hurin and im­pos­si­ble to un­der­stand it. Those who view it purely in the light of mod­ern lit­er­a­ture will be un­just in judg­ment.

En­hanced by Alan Lee’s del­i­cately evoca­tive il­lus­tra­tions, this beau­ti­ful, dark tale un­folds, trans­port­ing the reader to a place of pure in­ven­tion, Mid­dle- earth.

As in Tolkien’s great­est work, the land­scape it­self is a char­ac­ter. The plot of The Chil­dren of Hurin is wide- sweep­ing, bril­liantly con­ceived and in­tri­cately in­ter­wo­ven.

Turin, son of Hurin, is a be­liev­able and ex­tremely flawed char­ac­ter. We have all seen men like Turin, trou­bled, prone to sud­den anger, yet ut­terly com­mit­ted to some­one or some cause. De­voted to his mother, torn from her at an early age and re­spond­ing sav­agely to any in­sult against her, he is dan­ger­ous and wild on the out­side, ten­der hearted within. The reader feels sym­pa­thy for Turin, but never lik­ing.

He is com­pletely lack­ing in judg­ment and so­cial skills, hu­mour­less and para­noid to boot. His courage is ex­tra­or­di­nary, though one sus­pects this has some­thing to do with dis­re­gard for his own life, born of the con­vic­tion that it is bet­ter to be re­spected than to breathe.

In this tale it is not money but pride that is the root of all evil. Pride, re­venge, cru­elty, vi­o­lence on a grand scale; it is all there in this new vol­ume — yet also ‘‘ beauty that pierces like swords’’.

An aching sense of loss, too, is ever- present. Phrases such as, ‘‘ he re­mem­bered the Hid­den King­dom, and he seemed to hear the names of the flow­ers of Do­riath as echoes of an old tongue al­most forgotten’’ strike a chord, as if we, too, have all lost some­thing rare and won­der­ful. Yet the feel­ing is bit­ter­sweet, never hate­ful.

There is also the con­stant sense of im­pend­ing doom: ‘‘ Then they came near to death, for win­ter came cold from the north, but not so light was Turin’s doom.’’ Tolkien favours, per­haps in­stinc­tively, the com­pelling words that have de­scended un­changed from Old English: win­ter, north, death, bit­ter, cold, mist.

Do not be daunted by Tolkien’s labyrinth of in­vented names. Treat them as a feast of sen­sory de­lights; mu­sic to the ear and ( to some, at least) beau­ti­ful in print. The labyrinthine path is il­lu­mi­nated by stir­ring turns of phrase: ‘‘ the light of the draw­ing of the swords of the Noldor was like a fire in a field of reeds’’, ‘‘ his el­ven sight saw far off a dust and the glint of steel like stars in mist’’.

Now, like Tolkien, I shall make a pro­nounce­ment of doom, for none shall ever con­jure names more beau­ti­ful, or words of such strange power, and his like shall never more be known. Ce­cilia Dart- Thorn­ton’s latest novel, Fal­low­blade, is pub­lished this month.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.