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No more Mr Shire guy

Flashes of Tolkien’s magnificence stand out in The Children of Húrin - his ‘unfinished’ work, writes Nandita Sengupta.

india Updated: May 07, 2007 17:48 IST

The Children of Húrin
J R R Tolkien
Illustrator: Alan Lee
Publisher: HarperCollins
Price: Rs 495 Format: Hardcover
Pages: 292

Reading Tolkien is a ritual. And, as with anything precious (ah, Gollum), I toy and tarry before I allow myself to read. For there are distractions, intended ones that are delightful and colourful — the map, the illustrations, the list of names, the genealogies, the verse.

Without getting into the story, I know Turin Turambar, Húrin’s son, has nine names, each one loaded with meaning and rash adventure. I linger over the illustration of Men on eagles flying into the hidden city of Gondolin. I trace Turin’s helmet, the Helm of Hador I will learn later, and wonder at its tale.

For, in any Tolkien read, nothing exists without a history and a half. And in chasing these tales, the wealth of symbolism of every place and character, of the swords and the dragons and the exotic creatures, we discover
Tolkien. The narrative, thus, is only one part of the play that is set off in the reader’s imagination.

The Children of Húrin is really two books. The primary narrative is, as expected, rich, powerful, desperate, urgent — the story of Turin Turambar and his sister Nienor. This is easily one of the few Tolkien tales that linger on the growing years of a young boy, away from his parents — his mother, a stoic, proud Morwen, has stayed back to give birth to Nienor and his father, Húrin, is held captive by Morgoth.

The second book lies in JRR’s son and literary executive, Christopher Tolkien’s offerings — the preface, the introduction, the appendix. He presents the backdrop, his struggle to piece the narrative together from unfinished manuscripts.

In this attempt to connect the dots, however, the narrative loses some of J R R’s mesmerising touch: of leaving matters untold, of hinting at tales beyond the immediate story. But don’t let that interfere with the sheer pleasure of reading Turin’s tale. Turin is bestowed with all the goodness and foolhardiness that Tolkien clearly believes are Men’s most obvious features. His life is woven on a fabric of guileless candour, grit and impassion, where he is quick to smoulder, easy to love and difficult to live with.

That it all stems from the evil web of Mordor is reiterated all too often — in the dragon Glaurung’s tongues of fire, in Turin’s choice of sword, in Elven talk. Yet, it is Glaurung, at the end, who simply states the truth and wreaks havoc on
Hurin’s children.

Flashes of Tolkien’s magnificence stand out, starkly etched against rather tame passages, which presumably are Christopher Tolkien connecting the dots. But these impressions fade as the story gathers momentum. Turin’s decisions, his rejection of counsel, his actions, almost glance by, without touching the core of what is a beautiful non-tragic character.

For, in spite of his suffering, there’s no regret. There’s no desire for constancy. In fact, the quieter parts of his life are dealt with swiftly, almost like intervals that have little bearing on the tale.

There’s no complexity in Turin, the names he’s given and the names he takes, ironic at times, at others portents. There’s no question that this tale wilt be loved. But with the story over, I yearn to read JRR’s patchwork form of The Children of Húrin — unfinished as he left it.

First Published: May 07, 2007 17:20 IST