An Audio-Book Review: Hobbits are Out of Stock, But We Do Have Petty Dwarves!


The Children of Hurin

By J.R.R. Tolkien (Edited by Christopher Tolkien)

Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.

Read by Christopher Lee

 

The Book:

I bought the American First Edition of The Silmarillion the day it was released. I was not particularly impressed although the book did expand on the stuff at the back of the third volume of The Lord of the Rings. I will admit that it had its interesting points and showed a glimpse into how much work Tolkien put in behind The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Although I think my favorite bit was the first chapter in which Tolkien wrote his own Middle Earth Creation myth. As an Archaeology student I recognized it for what it was, couched in terms of the Valar attempting to sing together but with Morgoth insistent on improvising. No one likes to be upstaged, not even the Valar. But then it got down to the main story and it was almost all descriptive narration and none of the delightful dialogue of his earlier and more popular works. It was like reading the Bible, which while enlightening in its own way is not my choice of escape literature. The story of Turin son of Hurin had its own chapter in The Silmarillion.

A few years later I bought a copy of the first edition of “Unfinished Tales,” although I know it was not on the day of its release… not close. This was a mix of stories cobbled together from Tolkien’s massive collection of notes and added still more to the knowledge readers had of Tolkien’s world duringt he First, Second and Third Ages. Due to its nature it had to be a collection of stories, but in it, the single chapter on Turin from The Silmarillion was expanded to a ninety-page story.

By this time my view of Tolien’s posthumous publications had grown somewhat jaundiced, but I could understand why they were being published; why stop milking a cow that was still producing? And I did buy a copy (from a remainder rack) of the first edition of Part One of The Book of Lost Tales. That was the last time I acquired any further books by Tolkien until I found The Children of Hurin in audio format.

So with some trepidation I started listening. At first my worst fears seemed to be realized. Not only was it a story I already knew, but it was being told in pseudo-Biblical manner, possibly to get the feeling that it happened long ago way back during the First Age. Then little by little the characters began to speak. And they seemed a bit stiff at first too, but eventually they seemed to come to life and we got the story of Turin, his sister and his mother while his father, Hurin, was held captive by the Dark Lord Morgoth.

It was a long and complex story and I have to admit I lost track of some of it from time to time. I cannot say how much of this was written by J.R.R. Tolkien and how much can be attributed to large-scale editing by his son, but I think the writing, if stiff and rather formal, was consistent, at least. MY suspicion is that most of the dialogue was that of Christopher, not J.R.R., but I honestly do not know. It is just that J.R.R.’s dialogue was looser and more conversational, which may not have been the case in his notes.

In any case, unlike the plethora of other posthumous Tolkien books, this one tells a whole story and not as badly as I had feared.

 

The Audiobook:

On first hearing Christopher Lee’s deep and resonant voice speaking the Bible-like passages at the beginning of the book I thought, Oh heck! Am I going to be able to listen to all of this? But once the characters were allowed their own dialogue, Lee’s exceptional vocal talents came to the fore and really took over the story. He put emotion into it where it was appropriate and modulated his voice to delineate each character in a professional and subtle manner. In truth, he read so well, that I think I would have been listening to him even had he just been reading the phone numbers of each and every Hobbit in the Shire.

The story? Well, it is passable. I have certainly waded through worse from Tolkien’s dead letter files, but it was definitely Christopher Lee who made this audiobook worth listening to.

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