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.
Tolkien: I dont think anyone reading this would dispute the placement of Tolkien in the top ten. I know that M. Otaku will likely argue against his placement below the likes of Clarke and Wells. I believe that he is so adamant that Tolkien be higher because he agrees with Tolkien. M. Otaku agrees with Tolkien’s worldview, with Tolkien’s Christianity, and especially with his Catholicism. But I believe that while all the best novelists wrote in English 😉 M. Otaku seems to believe that all the best novelist must agree with him. I personally find that (unfortunately) some excellent novelists are not Christian, not even in mindset. But that does not rob them of their ability nor weaken the strength of their canon of novels. So, I will defend Wells and Clarke later, for now I will write briefly to explain why Tolkien is in the top ten, which novels are the real gems, and why he doesn’t rank higher for all the excellent philosophy and important conversations his characters have.
OK, I lied, I wont take much time to explain why he fits the top ten category. Anyone who writes such incredible novels as the lord of the rings, that even after being tortured and somewhat disfigured by a screenwriter comes out to be such incredible movies that everyone reading this has seen, undoubtedly has a place in any top ten list.
But, that said, his best novels are not the ones that he wrote to invent worlds to accompany the languages he made up. Not the ones that everyone know. Actually, his best are the ones that have nothing to do with middle-earth. There is a simple beauty to ‘Smith of Wooton Major’ that is, not absent, but dimmer in the LOTR trilogy proper. That and there is a high tragedy about the Silmarillion that falters in LOTR. In fact, even ‘The Hobbit’ does better on this score.
Yes, I am complaining about the fact that every major character lives in LOTR, even though they should, by rights, die. (No, I am not really counting Boromir, Denethor, Theoden, or Saruman…) I believe that this happens because Tolkien loved them too much and kept them around. To me, this is almost like keeping them around as undead. Also, having Frodo and Sam being rescued by Gandalf lowers Gandalf to a Deus ex Machina. No great battles were ever fought where everyone lives, something that Tolkien knew horribly well. In this he has done an injustice to his characters that he does not do in The Hobbit or the Silmarillion. Doing this minimizes the sacrifices of the people who actually did die (now I sound like all this really happened…) and makes all the individuals feel a bit like expendable riff-raff in retrospect.
The other reason I have put Tolkien so low was that, without the three LOTR, which he wanted to be one book, you have to scrounge for more novels that might elevate Tolkien further up. The Sillmarillion? Well, not really a novel, more like a collection of loosely related short stories… The Hobbit, yes. Smith of Wooton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham, though fantastic, both fit into a book the size of ‘The Dawn Treader’ so yes, the other part of my argument is the scarcity of novels.
Now, if we consider ‘The Lay of the Children of Húrin’ ‘ The Lay of Leithian’ (both unfinished) and all the assorted poetry in all his writings, I believe we could put Tolkien in the top 5 English poets. (Donne, Chesterton and (duh) Shakespeare would beat him, but Chesterton only by a hair.)
(Lastly, I think Tolkien would be horrified to hear of his novels being mutilated into straight up allegory… sorry M. Otaku when we make it through the list, we need to start in on these disagreements we have, they could be lots of fun…)