First Line (of the story): Hador Goldenhead was a lord of the Edain and well-beloved by the Eldar.
First, a quick summary…
Hurin is Mankind’s greatest warrior. He is captured by Morgoth, interrogated, and tortured. When he does not break, Morgoth curses Hurin’s family:
But upon all whom you love my thought shall weigh as a cloud of Doom, and it shall bring them down into darkness and despair. Wherever they go, evil shall arise. Whenever they speak, their words shall bring ill counsel. Whatsoever they do shall turn against them. They shall die without hope, cursing both life and death.
The story then focuses on the trials and tribulations of Turin.
The Children of Hurin, set some 6,000 years before the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, is not for everyone. Its sparse, dry style is more similar to The Silmarillion that The Lord of the Rings, and that alone will turn off casual fans of Middle Earth. The other, and much more prominent, characteristic that will drive some readers mad is the very structure of the narrative itself.
In the introduction (a wonderful look into the creation of this particular narrative), Christopher Tolkien details the processes involved in piecing The Children of Hurin together from his father’s notes. The story of Hurin and his children, Turin and Nienor, has been told in bits and pieces in several publications, including The Silmarillion, but this is the first time that it has been assembled into a single narrative. Unfortunately, the dedication that Christopher showed in remaining true to JRRs notes (he explains in the introduction that he made no changes to the texts other than a few grammatical and transitional edits) leaves this particular tale seeming a bit like a skeleton with no flesh.
The story itself is wonderful, but there is precious little of the “in-between” kind of detail that makes The Hobbit and the LOTR trilogy such entertaining reads. Instead, the narrative seems extremely passive in its action, focusing more on the summary of events and less on the actual events themselves. There are a few notable exceptions, such as the fall of Nargothand, but all in all I found the narrative to be slow and plodding with very little variance of pace.
Also, make no mistake about this being a Hobbit-esque “and they lived happily ever after” type of tale. This is a tragedy. It’s dark, it’s depressing, and tears will be shed. Where victory was tempered with sacrifice in LOTR, TCOH is about pride, sin, revenge, and destruction. In fact, there are at least two very different ways to look at the “hero” of TCOH (Turin, son of Hurin), and neither one relieves the overall feelings of finality and fatality encompassing the story.
This is, I think, one of the wonderful things about TCOH. It is a new look at the evil faced by the inhabitants of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. When put in perspective of his universe, TCOH adds a level of complexity to all of the stories, particularly LOTR. This is the type life that Aragorn and all the rest are fighting against. This is the evil that is threatening all the races of Middle Earth. No matter how strong the effort, no matter how courageous the struggle, Turin simply cannot break himself free from the shadow of his father and the curse leveled against him and his sister by Morgoth.
Another wonderful little surprise is the collection of illustrations scattered throughout the narrative by Alan Lee. They are, in a word, gorgeous. Lee achieved a wonderful balance with his detail. Rather than take a firm stance on exactly what something looks like, his illustrations aid the imagination rather than eliminate it from the reading process. Considering the sparseness of the narrative, this was, I think, an essential addition to the book and goes a long way in helping the reader envision both the action and the settings of the story.
So is The Children of Hurin worth the read? That depends, I think. If you are a fan of Tolkien’s extraordinary world-building talents, then I think this comes very close to being a must-read kind of story, especially if you’ve managed to read The Silmarillion. If you want an ultimately feel-good story with hobbits and honorable knights, then this probably isn’t a book for you. Regardless, The Children of Hurin is an important addition to the saga of Middle Earth, and Christopher Tolkien did a remarkable job in assembling a complete narrative from several different sources.