I’m finally back into a mostly-regular routine, and that includes getting started on my self-imposed book list. Top of the list are three J.R.R. Tolkien titles that I bought almost a year and a half ago for my birthday, and haven’t gotten around to. Last weekend I began The Children of Húrin.
First, a little history. It took Tolkien more than a decade to create the world of Middle-Earth and write what we know today as The Lord of the Rings. In the course of this massive project, he created many races of people and wrote complex histories for them. He wrote their languages. Elvish may look and sound like gibberish, but it has rules and vocabulary and grammar just like any language spoken today. The majority of these tales didn’t make it into the trilogy, but they’re vitally important in influencing those events. Some are referenced in the appendices, but not every detail is included.
The events in The Lord of the Rings occur in the Third Age of Middle-Earth. The Children of Húrin predates these events by thousands of years, occurring in the First Age. The book reads more like a history than a story, at least, stories like I’m used to reading. But the history itself is fascinating, and has helped to expand my understand of the later stories.
Probably the most shocking for me is that Sauron is not the ultimate evil in the world. Sauron began merely as a servant of Morgoth. Morgoth is the central “villain” in The Children of Húrin, as his evil spreads and he attempts to conquer the Men of the North. Morgoth himself is one of the Valar, the beings who created the world, making him essentially a god. His evil grows too large, and the remaining Valar step in to overthrow him and bind him in chains.
I’ve also always wondered about the elves fleeing Middle-Earth. Why are they leaving? Why now? Where are they going? Why will they be safe there? Most of those questions are answered in this book. Turns out, the elves didn’t originate in Middle-Earth. They appeared there in the far east, and were summoned by the Valar to come west to the land of the gods. Here, the elves branch into several categories, which I won’t go into detail on. Basically, some went, some went and later came back, and some refused the summons and decided to stay. I’m unclear as to why all of the elves eventually leave, unless their continued absence from the Valar causes their powers to weaken.
Much of this information I learned from the preface and introduction to the book, written by Tolkien’s son, Christopher. It seems when he died he left several incomplete manuscripts behind. Christopher Tolkien is working to fulfill his father’s wishes that these stories by published in their entirety, and is attempting to publish them with little editorial work, preserving his father’s words and voice.
Talk to me in the comments. Are you familiar Tolkien’s more obscure works?