I imagine that Peter Jackson’s epic telling re-stimulated interest in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I’d be interested to see the numbers. What I think many people don’t realise is that the story depicted in there is a small part of the tale imagined by Tolkien over his long years.
The backstory of ages past forms a greater story than The Lord of the Rings itself, albeit told in less detail. Tolkien spent his entire life drafting fragments of stories and poems of this history, much of which has been posthumously published by his third son, Christopher Tolkien. The most recent, and most ambitious, of these is The Children of Húrin.
Small reflections of this greater tale can be seen in brief moments in The Lord of the Rings, such as:
For of Beren and Lúthien was born Dior Thingol’s heir; and of him Ewing the White whom Eärendil wedded, he that sailed his ship out of the mists of the world into the seas of heaven with the Silmaril on his brow. And of Eärendil came the Kings of Númenor, that is Westernesse.
The story of Beren and Lúthien is referred to in the Lord of the Rings due to the parallels between the relationship of Aragorn and Arwen. The Children of Húrin takes place in a similar time and covers a separate branch of the family.
Unlike previous works such as The Silmarilion and Unfinished Tales, which are a collection of short works that read more like history books, The Children of Húrin is a complete narrative seamlessly composed from a vast array of reference material. The result is a story that is dark and sombre where the Lord of the Rings is hopeful and sometimes even light-hearted.
For those who have read The Lord of the Rings and would like to continue reading works in the same vein, Children of Húrin can be recommended without reservation. It’s a great loss that Tolkien could not bring more of his works to completion, as the stories that survive are tantalising glimpses into the great imagination that he possessed and the entire worlds that existed in his head. We can but be thankful that his son has been able to construct such a collection of works out of the material left behind.