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  1. A Brief Defence of The Children of Húrin

    Over on the Tolkien Society Facebook page, someone recently asked the question of which should be read first: The Silmarillion or The Children of Húrin. This is a question I personally have no strong opinions on: it seems to me that either way can potentially work just fine, and the most important considerations will depend on the reader, rather than on general principles. What struck me in the responses was how many people were insisting on The Silmarillion (some as a well-explained personal opinion, but many just as a general rule). One common reason offered in support of this was fuller 'information' to be found in the other book.

    While I have no issue with anyone recommending one reading order or the other, this particular reason seems a little misguided to me, partly because it runs precisely counter to Christopher Tolkien's express reason for publishing it, and to his father's probable hopes for the nature of the work. Christopher Tolkien himself explained his reasons for publication in the preface:

    'It is undeniable that there are a very great many readers of The Lord of the Rings for whom the legends of the Elder Days (as previously published in varying forms in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-earth) are altogether unknown, unless by their repute as strange and inaccessible in mode and manner. For this reason it has seemed to me for long time that there was a good case for presenting my father's long version of the legend of the Children of Húrin as an independent work, between its own covers, with a minimum of editorial presence, and above all in continuous narrative without gaps or interruptions, if this could be done without distortion or invention, despite the unfinished state in which he lefts some parts of it.' (CoH, p. 7)

    The daunting nature of The Silmarillion is thus an express reason why having this as a standalone story might be desirable: insisting too strongly on reading The Silmarillion first undermines this potential advantage. One implication, in fact, is that reading The Children of Húrin first might be a good idea (for some readers) as a sort of gateway to The Silmarillion.

    Christopher also notes that his father probably intended the work to be able to be read on its own terms:

    'It thus seems unquestionable, from my father's own words, that if he could achieve final and finished narratives on the scale he desired, he saw the three 'Great Tales' of the Elder Days (Beren and Lúthien, the Children of Húrin, and the Fall of Gondolin) as works sufficiently complete in themselves as not to demand knowledge of the great body of legend known as The Silmarillion.' (CoH, p. 10

    There is, I think, a real artistic point in all this. While it's absolutely true that The Children of Húrin has a real place in the wider Legendarium, and things in it can be the more significant for know the broader context, such 'information' isn't really the point. The Silmarillion isn't (just) a dry book of lore, but meant to be a work of art in itself. So is The Children of Húrin. It's a dramatic and tragic tale, with an immediacy of emotion, action, and significance that doesn't depend on the reader having any particular legendary or historical context.
    Last edited by Lord of the Rings; 19/Feb/2017 at 09:18 PM.
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  2. Athelas_H's Avatar
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    #2
    I disagree with you LotR. I tried the CoH before the Sil and found it too depressing so I gave up after two or three chapters and picked up the Sil. Because I knew of some of the stories in the Sil (such as Beren and L'uthien) I was eager to read to those parts of the story and this kept me going through the dry parts. After I had read the Sil, then knowing the nature of CoH turned back to it and enjoyed it in itself having had a taste of it in the Sil.

    As I recommend to first time Tolkien readers, the order I suggest to them is thus:

    1. The Hobbit
    2. tLotR
    3. The Sil
    4. CoH

    beginning with the 'easiest' first building up to more difficult works. But with the publication of Beren and L'uthien later this year, my order is changed thus:

    1. The Hobbit
    2. tLotR
    3. B and L
    4. the Sil
    5. CoH

    or even

    4.CoH
    5. The Sil

    This is because I feel the nature of B and L to be closer in temperament to TH and tLotR, although it has no hobbits. It is a good stepping stone from hobbit works to the larger Legendarium because it is not as dry and humourless as the Sil and CoH.
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

  3. I disagree with you LotR. I tried the CoH before the Sil and found it too depressing

    I don't think we do disagree! As I said, I have no strong feelings on the reading order as such -- my post is asbsolutely not a recommendation to read CoH first, and I expect that there are plenty of readers who will prefer to tackle the Sil first, for various reasons ('mood' is one that I hadn't thought of, but I suppose it's another possible factor). I do also think there are indeed plenty of reasons someone might prefer CoH first ('style' being an obvious chief factor), but the details are going to vary from reader to reader: I have no general recommendation to offer at all about the order.

    What I object to is simply recommending the Sil first on the specific grounds of 'lore' or the like, which seems to be an oddly common viewpoint.
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  4. Athelas_H's Avatar
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    #4
    Ok, sorry that I misinterpreted your point. I just felt reading your post that you seemed to lean towards CoH.

    Yes, I agree about the lore viewpoint being common. But what's most important when you read a book? Do you like it or not. So I feel that mood is a chief deciding factor for many readers, I often recommend books on the basis that I enjoyed it and think that they will too.

    The style of CoH is confronting in the 21st century; people want the fairy-tale ending where everyone lives happily ever after and CoH does not deliver on this. I often think of the lack of success a film adaption of CoH would bring because it is a tragedy. We are not living in Elizabethan England where tragedies are a common occurrence in entertainment. We live in the world of I want it good, I want it now, so I should have it my way and be happy.
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

  5. I dunno - the 21st century has also seen George R.R. Martin rise to the top of fantasy bestsellers, so I think there's a taste for the 'dark' these days.
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  6. NoneSoHumble's Avatar
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    #6
    Though it's a different sort of dark with GRR Martin - except for the apocalyptic Valyria settings, all the "dark" in the stories are man-made. With Tolkien you have Melkor delegating his "dark" to his maiar, dragons, orcs, then maia to ringwraiths and men. It's the kind of god-induced evil that no one is directly responsible, and in turn, people can do little about it.

  7. That is also certainly true, NoneSoHumble​.
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  8. Athelas_H's Avatar
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    #8
    Good point LotR, I didn't think about that.

    I also see your point NoneSoHumble. It's worldly darkness for a worldly world in which so little people believe in God.
    Even if you're only a boy you can fight like a girl. ~ EA <X3

  9. longxcore12's Avatar
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    #9
    So this is an interesting question, and off the top of my head I would have said Silmarillion for the same reasons as everyone else. However, reading your post, I can understand that too. I would still say Silmarillion first though, and I base this on my own personal experience.

    I read the Silmarillion because the Lord of the Rings made me hunger for more, and I wanted to learn everything I could about Tolkien's world. So I picked up the Silmarillion, and it was wonderful, but I found myself asking even more questions than before, wanting even more.

    I was never super interested in the story of Hurin much the first time I read the Silmarillion, so I read Unfinished Tales, and read the first Lost Tales (still trying to read through the rest of the histories). But the second time reading through the Silmarillion, I became fascinated with what was given on Hurin and Turin. That's when I picked up Children of Hurin.

    So basically, I didn't really care about the Children of Hurin until I got a little taste of them in the Silmarillion, which tied that story to the rest of my journey through Middle Earth.


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  10. Yup, I think every reader will be different. Many will find the grand sweep of The Silmarillion appealing, while others may find it difficult going and appreciate the more novel-like style of The Children of Húrin. I've usually tried to tailor my recommendations to the individual -- this isn't the sort of thing where a one-size-fits-all answer is going to work.
    It is laden with history, leading back into the dark heathen ages beyond the memory of song, but not beyond the reach of imagination.

  11. Saranna's Avatar
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    #11
    No indeed; I've seen so many posts on the Plaza from less experienced readers who find the Silmarillion daunting, that I strongly support Christopher Tolkien's standalone versions of the great tales; they make the tales more accessible to more people.
    Remembering halfir by learning more each day

    Death comes to all
    But great achievements raise a monument
    Which shall endure until the sun grows cold.
    George Fabricius, 'In Praise of Georgius Agricola'

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