September 1st 2007

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Stock market turmoil: consequences for Australia

2007 FEDERAL ELECTION: A green energy, green car policy

INTERNATIONAL ECONOMY: US debt crisis threatens world financial system

CANBERRA OBSERVED: How Kevin Rudd confounds his critics

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Rudd and Howard woo the Christian vote

LABOR PARTY: Emily's List - who and what are they?

WATER: A three-year moratorium on irrigation water-trading

QUEENSLAND: Revolt grows over forced council amalgamations

STRAWS IN THE WIND: The rat race in our region / India's shame / India's political limitations / Brumby's curse

DEFENCE: Australia in biggest Indian Ocean exercise

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: Amnesty International ditches its pro-life allies

UNITED STATES: US presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney



Books promotion page


by Julian Barr (reviewer)

News Weekly, September 1, 2007
New Middle-Earth epic casts its spell

by J.R.R. Tolkien

(London: HarperCollins)
Hardcover: 320 pages
Rec. price: AUD$49.95

J.R.R. Tolkien's works regarding the fictional universe of Middle-Earth are often mistakenly evaluated as modern fantasy novels. Nothing could be further from the truth. The chronicles of Middle-Earth were crafted by Tolkien as threads of a greater mythology. From the netherworld of this legend emerges the tale of The Children of Hurin.

Considering that Tolkien passed away in 1973, some could be forgiven for assuming that this meant the end for the Middle-Earth saga. Yet it has continued after his death through the combination of Tolkien's copious notes and the editorial industry of his son, Christopher.

Favourite legend

The most notable works published posthumously include The Silmarillion, the Unfinished Tales and more recently the Histories of Middle-Earth. Christopher Tolkien's labour of love has culminated in The Children of Hurin, an elaborate reconstruction of his father's favourite Middle-Earth legend.

Casual readers and those who are familiar only with Peter Jackson's cinematic adaptations of The Lord of the Rings may be well-advised to steer clear. Though it is an easier read than the posthumous works mentioned above, this saga relies upon prior knowledge of Tolkien's world. Even those adroit in Tolkien's imagined languages and peoples may find themselves wading into unfamiliar territory.

The brief appendices listing characters and geographical details are more than mere padding. They provide a much-needed reference for booklovers not forearmed.

Those who are seeking light reading may be disappointed. Tolkien paints a picture far bleaker than that of The Hobbit or even The Lord of the Rings. Absent is the overwhelming triumph of good over evil - the comeuppance for the antagonist Morgoth is rather embedded within The Silmarillion. Also missing are the moments of light-hearted whimsy or humour which permeate Tolkien's more famous works, though some readers may consider the exclusion of his pseudo-medieval poetry to be a blessing.

However, these factors do not necessarily detract from Children of Hurin's literary worth. The protagonist Turin is arguably Tolkien's most complex character, whose story arc recalls that of Sigmund from the Norse legend, Ring of the Nibelungs.

He is not motivated by a grand desire to overthrow the forces of darkness as Frodo was. Turin is driven by more universal desires for revenge and personal redemption. Yet his father, the titular Hurin, emerges as the text's ultimate hero. For refusing to bow to the evil Morgoth, Hurin is forced to bear witness to the ultimate destruction of his children.

Those seeking a historical context for the tale may point to World War II. No doubt Tolkien would disparage this conjecture with all haste were he still with us, but the identification of the sacrifice required for freedom from tyranny remains justifiable.

Though the density of Tolkien's vocabulary (in English and Elvish) may present a stumbling block to some, his use of epic metaphor is almost lyrical. The lucidity and cohesiveness of the text, despite being drawn from various different sources, are testament to Christopher Tolkien's editorial and research skills. Narrower in scope than The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien here weaves a narrative whose elegance, flourish and overarching tragedy will be familiar to an enthusiast of Homer.

Tolkien did not write for a commercial readership. Rather, his stories were written purely for the love of them. This publication brings both the positive and negative effects of this motive to the fore.

Those with only a passing interest in Tolkien and Middle-Earth will be baffled by its complicated nomenclature and prose. Conversely, those passionate for Tolkien's universe may rejoice, for here is an experience which may never be repeated: a new volume in which to lose oneself.

Supplemented by sumptuous full-colour plates from veteran illustrator Alan Lee, Children of Hurin is a worthy addition to Tolkien lore.

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