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Return of the king of Middle-earth: J.R.R. Tolkien

'Children of Húrin,' a posthumous release, is for hard-core devotees.

"The Children of Húrin," the "latest" book from the long-deceased fantasy author J.R.R. Tolkien, raises some interesting questions about originality in fiction, mostly because the novel is edited from incomplete manuscripts by the author's son, Christopher Tolkien. In fact, the basic story of "Húrin," which takes place in Tolkien's Middle-earth about 6,000 years before the events of "The Lord of the Rings," has already appeared in "Unfinished Tales" and "The Silmarillion," both compiled posthumously. But no matter. With the publication of "The Children of Húrin," we now have a definitive version of one of Tolkien's earliest "backstories." That story concerns Túrin and his sister Niënor – the children of Húrin. They've been cursed by Morgoth, a baddie who's warring against the elves. He's also punishing them for Húrin's defiance, and sends the wingless dragon Glaurung after them. Begun in the 1920s, years before Tolkien wrote "The Hobbit" and "Rings," "Húrin" bears the mark of a beginning writer still unsure of his voice: whether to copy the high-style of an archaic tall tale, or attempt a more psychologically satisfying novel, like "Rings." As it is, readers may not identify with the characters in "The Children of Húrin" or tolerate the bygone diction, even if they're wowed by the heroic exploits. Grade: B–