When J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin was published earlier this year, I got a copy strictly as a collectible. Tolkien in his non-scholarly mode always struck me as a third-rate writer with a first-rate imagination, and while there are inspired passages in The Lord of the Rings, I find the whole thing too baggy and unfocused to be a satisfying reading experience. The Hobbit is a pleasant enough story, but the other works don’t do much for me, and there isn’t enough espresso in the world to get me through The Silmarillion.
So when I opened The Children of Hurin — cobbled together from Tolkien’s papers by his son, Christopher — I found it closer stylistically to The Silmarillion than The Hobbit, which rendered it pretty much unreadable for me. But the just-released audiobook version read by Christopher Lee is a different matter entirely. Once you get through the drizzle of names and genealogies at the beginning of the story, the tragic narrative develops considerable momentum and power, and Lee handles the Elvish names and languages as though he grew up speaking them. Only hardcore hobbit-heads will get through the first disc, which gives us Christopher Tolkien reading his own preface and introduction in the same mumble-mouthed fashion as his sire, but I can recommend the rest to anyone who might want another trip to Middle-earth with a master narrator for a guide.
Houghton Mifflin should get on the stick immediately and commission Lee to narrate all of The Lord of the Rings. The current audio edition read by Rob Inglis is pretty lackluster stuff, and who wouldn’t want Saruman himself reading the whole epic?
Oh, and the video above? Let’s just say that with the way now clear for a film version of The Hobbit, with Peter Jackson producing and maybe directing, I thought I’d remind everyone of the high stylistic bar that’s already been set.