Summary (from Goodreads):
There are tales of Middle-earth from times long before The Lord of the Rings, and the story told in this book is set in the great country that lay beyond the Grey Havens in the West: lands where Treebeard once walked, but which were drowned in the great cataclysm that ended the First Age of the World. In that remote time Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in the vast fortress of Angband, the Hells of Iron, in the North; and the tragedy of Túrin and his sister Niënor unfolded within the shadow of the fear of Angband and the war waged by Morgoth against the lands and secret cities of the Elves.
Their brief and passionate lives were dominated by the elemental hatred that Morgoth bore them as the children of Húrin, the man who had dared to defy and to scorn him to his face. Against them he sent his most formidable servant, Glaurung, a powerful spirit in the form of a huge wingless dragon of fire. Into this story of brutal conquest and flight, of forest hiding-places and pursuit, of resistance with lessening hope, the Dark Lord and the Dragon enter in direly articulate form.
The earliest versions of this story by J.R.R. Tolkien go back to the end of the First World War and the years that followed; but long afterwards, when The Lord of the Rings was finished, he wrote it anew and greatly enlarged it in complexities of motive and character: it became the dominant story in his later work on Middle-earth. But he could not bring it to a final and finished form. In this book Christopher Tolkien has constructed, after long study of the manuscripts, a coherent narrative without any editorial invention.
The story of Túrin and Niënor is set during the First Age, well before the happenings of The Lord of the Rings, long before hobbits appeared on Arda, the Earth. As such, it shares a good deal of narrative style with The Silmarillion, in that it is part of a bigger epic that tells of the origin of Middle-Earth as we know it and seeds a conflict that will last lifetimes. For such a slim book, it has quite an epic scope. Notwithstanding the place of The Children of Húrin in Middle-Earth history, Tolkien chose to tell the bigger story through the lives of two simple humans, Túrin and Niënor, as he had done before with Beren, and with Tuor. Their key actions in the war against evil, against Morgoth, are due to a fate created by Morgoth himself. He cursed Túrin and Niënor to punish their father, Húrin, who was proud enough to stand against him and defy him.
The plot reveal itself could be spot from a mile, since it draws heavily from Anglo-Saxon epics and Greek tragedies, but it was still cool to see how Tolkien, with his classical education, had taken bits here and there to lay the foundations of a very complex universe. And it is still cooler to see the repercussions of this narrative (and the rest of the Middle-Earth universe) on fantastic literature. As an example, the fate suffered by Húrin is very similar some of the Chandrian lore from Patrick Rothfuss' The Kingkiller Chronicles.
The actual text of The Children of Húrin was composed from three different sources: two poems dealing with different parts of Túrin's life, and a narrative outline. While the editing work is mostly unnoticeable (which means that Christopher Tolkien is an awesome editor and obviously took lots of pains to see that his father work was restored with care), there is a distinct transition from the 'too-epic-to-care-for-individual-characters' to a more personal narrative, which I think is due to it coming from different sources. But this transition is seamless and does not feel forced or artificial at all.
Verdict: Not to be missed by any Tolkien fan, since the sad story of Túrin is referenced in Tolkien's magnum opus. Just one warning: keep tissues near. Even though the chapter titles give everything away, the death of certain characters fell like a blow on this reader.
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