Reading the New Tolkien

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Posting will be sparse for a couple of days while I deal with my responsibilities as a tech conference-goer.

In the meantime snack on my review of the “new” book by J.R.R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin, stitched together by his son Christopher out of various manuscripts he left behind. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to love it — I’m more of a Narnia guy anyway — but it’s hard not to get a charge out of being back in Middle Earth, especially in the First Age, when the elves were more of a presence in the world, and everything feels a little wilder and rougher.

It’s a short book — the page count is padded out with lots of notes and charts and illustrations (by Alan Lee, nice Blakean grey-tone stuff) – and you don’t get the kind of deep characterization that you see in Tolkien’s longer works. It’s also incredibly sad and dark: the good guys have consistently bad luck with misunderstandings and accidents, and the hero isn’t like Frodo at all, he’s more of a Boromir-type, proud and touchy and irritable — he’s always flying into a rage and killing somebody by accident. (I always thought of Tolkien as a sad, bookish guy, but he was sure drawn to some angry, violent protagonists.)

There were moments when I got bogged down in the minutiae of his fictional geography and made-up genealogies, which are so elaborate that they threaten to overwhelm the action in places. But then a balrog would pop up and whip somebody to death and I’d be all, right, yeah, awesome.