Friday 18 July 2014

Review of The Simarillion audiobook, read by Martin Shaw, 1998


The Silmarillion: Of Turin and Tuor and the Fall of Gondolin.
Audiobook (on cassette tape) 1998.
Comprising unabridged segments from the 1977 Simarillion edited by Christopher Tolkien assisted by Guy Gavriel Kay.
Read by Martin Shaw. (Approximately 3 hours in total).

Rating - Three stars from a possible five.


I regard these tapes with a rather mixed attitude, due to my reservations about the 1977 Silmarillion.

On the plus side, Martin Shaw reads very well - with a powerful focus and a convincing pronunciation of the Elven language parts. Certainly, I found it much easier and more enjoyable to hear The Silmarillion read aloud, than I do to read it myself (which I almost never do).

In this sense, this audiobook serves a very valuable purpose.


But it does nothing to dispel my reservations about The Silmarillion - indeed it has extended and amplified them!

I now feel that there are profoundly alien elements in The Silmarillion, which are carried over from Tolkien's earliest days as an immature writer, when his work was of the natyire of pastiche: I am thinking particularly of the tales relating to 'the children of Hurin' and especially Turin.

I have previously written that I believe Christipher Tolkein made a serious error in leaving-out from teh conclusion of the 1977 Silmarillion the prophecy of Mandos of the return and final defeat of Morgoth, and especially concerning Turin's role at the end of time - thereby eliminating ultimate hope from the Silmarillion:


I reinforce this criticism, and would add that it is alien and almost monstrous to create a book which is about the utter destruction of hope: this is profoundly un-Tolkienian (if we assume that Tolkein true and deepest nature is seen in Lord of the Rings and the other mature stories such as Leaf by Niggle and Smith of Wootton Major).

It feels to me that the Tale of Turin - and the surrounding Children of Hurin material - is alien to the work of Tolkein - and was probably been passively and inappropriately carried over from the Finnish Kalavela 'rewrite' era of Tolkien's youth - and being retained in the Legendarium for sentimental rather than artistic or moral reasons.

The basic set-up of this story is totally at odds both with Christianity and with the way that Middle Earth functions as a whole; because the misfortunes are described as inescapably fated, and driven by Morgoth's specific malice towards Hurin.

This set-up has many, many problems!

1. It is not clear why Morgoth should have such a specific malice against Hurin and his family - when there were so many others Morgoth would plausibly have been equally or more likely to focus his hatred upon.

2. Morgoth (a picture of Satan) should not be able to affect the fundamentals of human fate by his malice; because Morgoth was almost nothing but malice - and if this malice is allowed to affect fate, then it makes resistance to him unnatural and futile; and makes Morgoth more powerful than Eru and the Valar.

3. Hurin, Turin and the rest should not be helpless against Morgoth's malice - when it is absolutely vital - in terms of the metaphysics of Arda - that they remain free to choose, to choose Good, and to escape Morgoth's will. But in this part of the Simarillion, fate is seen as evil, inescapable; and the humans like helpless puppets writhing and squirming against the strings which inexorably control them.

But this is monstrous - indeed blasphemous! - from the moral world which Tolkien created in Lord of the Rings; and indeed in many other parts of the Silmarillion.


So, whatever its virtues as a free-standing story, isolated from the Legendarium - the story of Hurin's children, and especially of Turin Turambar - are completely wrong from the perspective of Tolkien's mature works - and should not be included with them; and especially, should not be integrated with them!



Emily said...

Your thoughts on the Silmarillion are very interesting. I never looked at the Children of Húrin quite that way.

Do you think that, given more time, Tolkien would have written that story out of his tales altogether? I'm a little hazy on timeline, but I thought that the version that's published in Unfinished Tales was a later one--after Lord of the Rings was published.

I agree with you that the lack of hope in the Children of Húrin is very un-Tolkien-like. The story as a whole doesn't fit in with the rest of Tolkien's stories. The only one I can think of that's similar is the Mariner's Wife.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Emily "Do you think that, given more time, Tolkien would have written that story out of his tales altogether?"

I don't suppose that he would have written it out - but I think he should have done; because my feeling is that it was kept for what might be called 'sentimental' reasons - because its origins were so early.

I feel differently about the Mariner's Wife - partly because it is not 'canonical'. It seems fairly similar to Tolkien's other unpublished work in the 'modern novel' style such as Lost Road, or the Fourth Age attempt The New Shadow. these are in a'later' style than Hurin/ Turinn - a style he seems to have developed from 1936

BTW - I am not generally a fanfic reader, but a few years ago I stumbled across a superb Numenorean tale done in a convincing Tolkien style - and it has been good enough to provoke, and reward, several re-readings.

Emily said...

Thanks for the recommendation! I'll definitely check it out. I don't read a lot of fan fiction myself, but I do appreciate it when it's well-written.