Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Reviewing a review

Since The Children of Húrin was published there have been many, many, many reviews of it, both formal and informal. I haven’t read it yet myself (on the waiting list at the library), but I’ve been tracking the comments which vary quite a bit. This review is one of the more interesting to me, on several levels.

"The Children of Húrin is packaged as a prequel to Lord of the Rings. It comes with lavish and lovely artwork by Alan Lee….and has its own trailer on the web. The action, however, takes place six and a half thousand years and one geological upheaval before Bilbo’s eleventy-first birthday. It’s a prequel in the sense that a book about Neolithic traders of the Dorset coast is a prequel to Persuasion."

Can I just say here and now that I love that last sentence, even while I disagree with it? Not entirely—he is making a valid point—but a book about Neolithic traders and Persuasion are separated by more than time. Húrin and LotR are part of the same vast mythology, created by one man. That’s not to entirely discount Boyce’s point: the two books are worlds apart in many ways. Perhaps a book about Neolithic traders of the Dorset coast by Jane Austen, would be a more apt example.
"It’s not supposed to be entertaining. There is no chance, for instance, of being surprised by the hero’s death when one of the chapters is called "The Death of Túrin." It is dry, mad, humourless, hard-going and completely brilliant."

Tolkien at his most…Tolkien-y.

But here’s where it gets really good:

"Tolkien is often paired with CS Lewis, but he disliked Narnia and worked hard to make sure that Middle Earth did not descend to allegory. Allegory makes fantasy dependent on real life. He wanted Middle Earth to seem separate and real. When he first started work on this story as a young man recovering from trench fever in Staffordshire [my note: he was recovering in Staffordshire, he hadn’t contracted it there], he was hoping to create a new British mythology that would replace wishy-washy Arthurianism."

*dances around* The guy gets it!! My head aches when I think of the countless people that insist, in the face of all the facts, on equating Narnia and Middle-earth. Much as I like Narnia, Middle-earth for me, thank you. And that is thanks almost wholly to that desire to make it “seem separate and real.” My only quibble here is that Tolkien’s mature vision was quite different from the earlier version. He didn’t regret that earlier enthusiasm exactly, but it was tempered with reality, at least on the surface.

"One of the things that distinguishes Lord of the Rings is Tolkien’s ability to suggest other stories yet untold, places yet unvisited."

I could be wrong, but I believe Tolkien himself says something about that somewhere or other. Something along the lines of, “The stories not told are sometimes the most fascinating.” Or maybe he never said it, or maybe someone else did. If anyone knows, tell me!

'Maybe it’s more than elves and hobbits. maybe ideas like the evil empire, and our current sense of a world in terminal decline, come also owe something to Middle Earth. It would be difficult to argue that his dreams of replacing our native mythology hasn’t come true, at least in part."

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