Tolkien: The Children of Húrin

Author: JRR Tolkien (edited by Christopher Tolkien)
Genre: Fantasy – Middle-earth
Published: 17 April 2007, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pages (Hardcover): 313
Other Works: The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings

Picked by Joshua Rothe (Stitched Crosses series; WARS: The Battle of Phobos, Volume 3)

The Children of Húrin is a strange story. It is definitely a work that only a Roman Catholic could write. I do not say this with any derogatory intent to my fellow Christian kin. I am speaking of the harsh Romanist mentality that life-lessons are best learned hard and unapologetic if life is to be best served. The book’s aim appears to scare the listener into strict discipline, like a parent saying, “Listen to me, otherwise this could happen to you…”: a cursed life where one bounces from point to point with the knowledge (passive or active) that the shoe will drop…eventually. This is the hopeless fate of errant paths, Húrin warns.

Even more depressing is that the book reminds just why fighting evil is a thoroughly dangerous proposition.  There is, of course, no other choice for the godly man, but Tolkien seems to want to make his readers secure in the knowledge that this life is something of a burden (at the least) with the only hope being that those who are willing to stay the course against evil must (and will) be rewarded on another horizon. (Not that this message of hope comes from this particular story, but from The Lord of the Rings.)

Fans of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit should be warned that they will not find anything near the charm, heroism, or frivolity that is contained in either of those two principle works. The Children of Húrin is a dark tale of the sort that Bruce Wayne would read till the pages fell out. It takes place in the First Age of Middle-Earth, during a period when Morgoth (the mentor of The Lord of the Rings’ Sauron) was at the height of his rule.

It should be noted that Húrin is technically an unfinished work. His son (and the editor of the work) articulates in the introduction, “While I have had to introduce bridging passages here and there in the piecing together of different drafts, there is no element of extraneous ‘invention’ of any kind, however slight.” It may be that Tolkien had intended there to be something of a ‘happier’ ending, but given that Kullervo (a famous tragic figure from Finnish folklore), Oedipus, and Sigmund (from the Völsungasaga and made famous by Wagner) were the primary influences for the tale this cannot be known. (Afterall, The Lord of the Rings was also inspired by mythic Norse and Germanic tales.)

If one can glean any happy thought from this story it is in experiencing the vile Morgoth confidently declaring control over the fates of men and Middle-earth. Evil loves to purport this delusion that they are in full control of all ends. It rebels against authority while setting itself up as authority, proof that hypocrisy is the bedfellow of evil. Further, Húrin declares that we can be sure the only power villainy has is that which we give it. There is no mention of Húrin casting blame of his family’s situation at the feet of Ilúvatar (the Middle-earth representation of God). All indications by Tolkien is that the depravity that befalls Húrin’s children is not from any uttered curse of a dark lord, but a pronouncement of a condition that can be held at bay by consistent right action, valor, courage, and other virtues (at least within the setting of Middle-earth).

In the real world, this curse of original sin holds no damning power over those who have accepted the call to place their lives in Christ. Thus the right actions in this very real space against evil being works from trust in the Triune God and His Word through justified faith in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection for all.

Tolkien isn’t wrong in painting a picture of how we are hopelessly corrupted, and that detours and suffering in life certainly occur when we rebel against our Creator. Húrin is right to illustrate that we do not have the strength or wisdom to save ourselves from our flaws and sins. My concern with this story is that there is no salvation spoken, let alone had. It’s as if the story is saying, “Salvation is a moot point. It is best not to stray too far from the path at all.”

We will never know what JRR Tolkien’s full intent with this story was; given the high inspiration of his other Middle-earth works this one’s suffocating gloom seems somewhat out of character.

The Children of Húrin is a book wholly depressing, and yet I couldn’t put it down; it is devoid of inspiration, but its execution of story and setting is flawless. I read this story faster than any other Middle-earth adventure and found myself more deeply surrounded in the settings. Perhaps that is because the Húrin children–specifically their penchant to make flawed decisions–were easier to relate.

Highly recommended, with the caveat that it is best read with a KJV or ESV edition of the Bible close-by.

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