by MARTY DEMAREST & r & The Children of H & uacute;rin by J.R.R. Tolkien & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & I & lt;/span & must confess that I'm not up on my elven genealogy. I'll also admit that I don't know the difference between an elf of Beleriand and an ordinary elf. So I was nervous about my qualifications as a reader of The Children of H & uacute;rin, J.R.R. Tolkien's most recent posthumous book set in the land of the hobbits (and orcs and Beleriand elves).

The Children of H & uacute;rin resembles The Sagas of Icelanders more than a stand-alone book like The Hobbit or even a history like The Silmarillion.

H & uacute;rin has been massaged into a coherent narrative by Tolkien's son Christopher, and there is very little to suggest that the younger Tolkien messed with his father's work in any substantial way. Perhaps he should have. H & uacute;rin reads more like notes for an incomplete work than anything approaching a finished story.

More interesting than the book's family saga are the isolated set pieces: T & uacute;rin jumping on a table to avenge his mother, shouting "Not first will I die here!" before heaving his host into the face of a dinner guest. Or a dazzling suicide: "a flash of white swallowed in the dark chasm, a cry lost in the roaring of the river." Tolkien knew his iconology, and some of the Hurin's imagery is indelible.

Tolkien's use of the English language, unfortunately, ranges from the passable to the flatly biblical: "And when no one answered him, 'Come, say where is N & iacute;niel?' he cried." There are also emotions that get so caught up in Tolkien's convoluted expressions that it's hard to know what he means: " horror and fury his heart would not receive them, as a beast hurt to death that will wound ere it dies all that are near it."

Likewise with the mystical beasties. Tolkien's vague, glancing descriptions leave plenty to the imagination, but in a work as devoid of character as H & uacute;rin, I want more from my monsters than the simple label "fell."

What became most interesting about The Children of H & uacute;rin were the illustrations provided by Alan Lee, who also served as a major conceptual artist for The Lord of the Rings films. There aren't enough to make The Children of H & uacute;rin feel like an illustrated book, but there were enough to keep the child in me interested in H & uacute;rin and his ilk.

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