Yours truly finds it hard to review a book like this. The Children of Hurin unrolls a beautifully tragic story. Yet, tragic beauty is not something I typically appreciate in literature–especially not as much as this blog’s co-author, Thomp D. James. (That Euripides sometimes gives the audience a happy ending makes him my favorite of the Three Athenian Tragedians.) With The Children of Hurin, like in your classic Greek tragedy, our hero, Turin, has many noble qualities twisted by tragic flaws–melancholy and pride in this case. These two faults drag him down from every happy circumstance he finds and lead to his demise.
I learned about Neil MacGregor when I saw his name in the History Book Club catalog. Searching for his name in the local library did not bring me the same book, but I was intrigued by the title Germany: Memories of a Nation. Reading the memoirs of Heros von Borcke, a famed Prussian cavalryman who served under Jeb Stuart, brought to my attention how little I knew of Germany’s history between Charlemagne and the Renaissance and between the Renaissance and World War II. With the thought that this book would help fill in those gaps, I plunged into it.
One of the considerable problems with writing a history of Germany is that Germany only first existed as a state in 1871 when Otto von Bismarck brought about unification. Prior to this point, the land we refer to today as Germany existed as a federation of states known as the Holy Roman Empire. Though having a ruler, the Holy Roman Empire, the individual states often pursued their own political and economic goals. How does one create anything like a comprehensive history such a loosely united principalities?
I’ve gotten halfway through The Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien and edited by his son Christopher Tolkien. So far it exudes a style and mood at variance with other works of Tolkien. It feels more like a Greek tragedy or Viking saga: it has the style of the latter and the tragic flaws of the former. None of Tolkien’s eucatastrophe is present therein, unless we count the happy death of Androg, who died a better man than he lived. If it were not for this happy death, I should doubt that the famous Tolkien really wrote the story. Little else relieves one from the heavy sense of sorrow hanging over the action.
Joy or even humor is missing from the work. Tolkien’s major work, The Lord of the Rings, can get pretty dark at times, but its characters defy their desperate circumstances with joy, humor, or even glory. Boromir’s death lost some of its sting by the exuberant courage of his last stand. Homely humor from Samwise Gamgee brightened up Sam and Frodo’s trek through Mordor. How about the orc slaying game played between Legolas and Gimli at the desperate Battle of Helm’s Deep?
Suhren’s memoirs, Teddy Suhren, Ace of Aces: Memoirs of a U-boat Rebel, stands as a very interesting, but all too short, German submariner’s reminiscences of the Second World War. Suhren’s real first name is Reinhard. His nickname Teddy comes from his days in basic training, when his comrades noticed that he marched like a teddy bear. And so, the name stuck. The officer in charge of his training remarked to Suhren later in the war that he succeeded in training many thousands of young men, but Suhren was the one recruit in whom he did not succeed! Despite his lack of polish, Suhren excelled in his U-boat training, became one of Admiral Karl Dönitz’s best U-boat captains, and was promoted out of the boats to be a section commander in Narvik, Norway during 1942.
Suhren’s promotion occurred just when the Battle of the Atlantic turned against the U-boats. For this reason, Peter Cremer’s U-boat Commander is a much more compelling memoir: in warfare which claimed the lives of 75% of German submariners, Cremer became one of only two captains made in 1942 to survive the war. Cremer’s memoirs also contain far more detail about the difficulties posed by Allied destroyers and anti-submarine planes and the progress in U-boat technology.