Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Tolkien at the University Bookstore

So, Tuesday night Janice and I went up to Bellevue to attend the Event the University Bookstore there was hosting for the release of THE CHILDREN OF HURIN. We had no problems with traffic and in fact arrived early enough for a look around at the books, not having been to that branch before. Had a nice chat with Duane, the event organizer, and although turnout was light there were some familiar faces there: Shelly (a fellow clarinetist -- see previous post) and Allen (from Mithlond, our local fantasy reading group). Both Allen and I signed up to take a stab at reading aloud from the new book, along with three other people. I did my best, but must admit that in places the Elvish defeated my best efforts; when it came his turn Allen put his acting experience to good use. The whole thing only lasted about an hour, but I was glad we came. In addition to seeing friends and having a nice chat with a fellow Tolkien enthusiast I hadn't met before, there was a surprise bonus: those who took turns reading got a bookplate signed by Christopher Tolkien and Alan Lee, as well as a poster of Lee's cover art. V. nice.

And then yesterday my copy of the book itself arrives from England. For those of you who haven't seen it yet, this is essentially the full version of the NARN, sizable excerpts from which were published in UNFINISHED TALES. It does not include other related works, such as "The Wanderings of Hurin" (published in HME XI) nor "The Second Prophecy of Mandos" (ibid, HME V p.333) but sticks to the main story of Turin and, to a lesser extent, his sister. So we finally get one (and alas only one) of the 'Great Tales' told at full length by Tolkien when at the height of his powers. I've seen one clueless reviewer who was particularly irked by the opening paragraph, which describes Turin's grandfather. He (or she) has obviously never read a saga, which always begins a generation or two back to set the scene before moving forward into the hero's arrival on the scene.

For that's what THE CHILDREN OF HURIN is: a full-length prose saga, with the generational sweep, dark tone, terse prose, character interaction, and fateful exchanges typical of the great sagas: this is more akin to NJAL'S SAGA or HEIDREK'S SAGA or HROLF KRAKI'S SAGA or above all to the VOLSUNGA SAGA than to the novel tradition of the last three centuries. As I think Richard West was the first to point out, while the Turin story drew its core plot from THE KALEVALA it takes its tone and mood instead from THE VOLSUNGA SAGA -- that is, the story of Sigurd, a doomed hero who does great deeds. When I first read the NARN, as presented in UNFINISHED TALES, back in 1980, the story struck me as Shakespearian in its tragedy (not surprisingly, I was reading all of Shakespeare at the time), how the deaths and disasters become inevitable because the doomed hero refuses to turn aside or change his course. Now, with a lot more reading under my belt in the years since, it's easier to see its affinities to the saga tradition instead. E.R.Eddison, who wrote a saga himself (STYRBIORN THE STRONG [1926]) would have loved it.

More later.


current reading: THE CHILDREN OF HURIN by JRRT, ed. CT [2007]; BEHIND THAT CURTAIN by Earl Derr Biggers [1928], FINDING GOD IN THE HOBBIT by Jim Ware [2006]

current anime: LE CHEVALIER D'EON

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