Monday, 18 December 2006

The New Tolkien Book

In 2007 the biggest and most important author in the history of 20th Century Fantasy releases his new book. This is an impressive feat, coming as it does thirty-four years after he died.

The Children of Hurin by JRR Tolkien is published by HarperCollins in the United Kingdom on 17 April 2007, with a cover by Alan Lee, the noted Tolkien artist who is responsible for both a lavish illustrated version of The Lord of the Rings and also worked on the movie adaption by Peter Jackson. A second edition of the book, which includes several full-colour illustrated plates by Lee, is released on the same day. The legend of Hurin and his children is a long-standing part of the Tolkien legendarium, first seeing print in The Silmarillion in 1977, although it was referenced in The Lord of the Rings (published in 1954). Tolkien actually wrote the very first version of the story in the late 1910s when he began work on the creation of Middle-earth.

The new version of the story has been coallated from several sources: a prose version of the story that Tolkien wrote called The Tale of the Children of Hurin, apparently in the 1950s and 1960s and included in the 1981 collection Unfinished Tales; a much earlier version, written not long after The Fall of Gondolin, the very first tale of Middle-earth that Tolkien wrote in 1917, and included in the two-volume 1983/1984 collection The Book of Lost Tales; and a poem in alliterative verse from slightly later. Most interesting is the fact that a lengthy 'new' section has been added focusing on the journeys of Hurin himself. This story was written by Tolkien but witheld from previous collections, and presumably forms the meat of the new narrative.

The new narrative has painstakingly created by Christopher Tolkien, who has edited and presented virtually all of his father's unpublished materials from The Silmarillion onwards, including Unfinished Tales and the twelve-volume History of Middle-earth series. His role in the construction of the new tale has been mildly controversial, since this is the first time since The Silmarillion that Christopher has assembled an actual story out of his father's writing (rather than presenting the extant story fragments with editorial commentaries) and, whilst JRR certainly intended that Christopher present The Silmarillion for publication following his death, no such intention is known with regards to The Children of Hurin. Nevertheless, Christopher Tolkien's well-known fidelity to his father's work and his frequent turning down of opportunities to 'cash in' on his father's success (by writing totally original Middle-earth fiction, for example) means that this is certainly not a quick-fire 'cash in' work in the vein of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson's ill-considered additions to the Dune universe.

The Children of Hurin will likely be one of the most intriguing and controversial SF&F releases in 2007, and it's not too far off either.

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