All your old T-shirts and bumper stickers inscribed “Frodo Lives” may have to be replaced.
Old Hobbits do die hard—but there are none even born yet in this reconstructed tale of Middle Earth during the Elder Days (i.e., thousands of years prior to events immortalized in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy). Begun in 1918, revised several times, never published (though a capsule version of its narrative appears as a chapter in the posthumously published volume The Silmarillion), this appealing yarn is very nearly vintage Tolkien. To be sure, Middle Earth is under siege early in its history. The reigning villain is Dark Lord Morgoth (Sauron is merely one of his lieutenants), a demonic sort who rules a huge northern fortress ringed by mountains and destroys his enemies through the focused power of his malevolent will—more often than not incarnated in the figure of Glaurung, an exceedingly nasty “dragon of fire.” Their vengeful energies seek out two inordinately plucky youngsters—stalwart Túrin and his beautiful sister Nienor—who share the curse pronounced on their father Húrin, an intrepid Elfin warrior who had brazenly defied Morgoth. The episodic narrative takes off when Húrin leaves his sister and their mother Morwen (a veritable Penelope patiently awaiting her Ulysses’s return) to undertake a series of adventures that involve him with a brawling band of outlaws, the memorable Battle of Unnumbered Tears against what seem innumerable hordes of invading Orcs—remember them?), a duplicitous dwarf who offers the “shelter” of his underground stronghold and a terrific climactic encounter with the…uh, inflamed Glaurung. Strong echoes of the Finnish epic Kalevala, the tales of Robin Hood, Homeric epic and the matter of Wagnerian opera charge the text with complexity as well as vigor. And introductory and textual notes provided by the volume’s editor, Tolkien’s son Christopher, add welcome clarification.
A fine addition to a deservedly well-loved body of work.