Of all the various tales of Middle-Earth that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote in addition to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, my favourite has long been his unfinished novel Narn i hin Húrin (“The Children of Hurin”), printed in Unfinished Tales.
There are two stories from the Middle-Earth backstory cycle that Tolkien wrote in various versions, both prose and verse, over and over and over again: the story of Beren and Luthien, and the story of Turin and the Dragon – the latter a grim tale of a doomed hero, drawing heavily on Norse and Finnish legends. (Picture an Elric story, but written by Tolkien.) Narn i hin Húrin is one of the many versions of the Turin story; but it is unique among the various Silmarillion-related works in being written in something much closer to novelistic style and detail than any other Middle-Earth material besides The Hobbit and LOTR. It really would have been another Middle-Earth novel if Tolkien had finished it. (One might say that if The Hobbit is Tolkien’s Rheingold and LOTR is Tolkien’s Götterdämmerung, then Narn i hin Húrin is Tolkien’s Siegfried and Walküre.)
Now comes the news (see here and here) that Christopher Tolkien, J. R. R.’s son, is completing the novel. Peter Jackson, are you listening?
It’s interesting to see Christopher Tolkien stitching together the various versions of the story to create one comprehensive whole. Several iterations of the Children of Húrin tale have previously been published either in prose or alliterative verse:
1977 in The Silmarillion as “Of Túrin Turambar”
1980 in Unfinished Tales as “Narn i Hîn Húrin”
1984 in The Book of Lost Tales, Part II as “Turambar and the Foalókë” and “The Nauglafring”
1985 in The Lays of Beleriand as “The Lay of the Children of Húrin”
1994 in The War of the Jewels as “The Wanderings of Húrin”
I’m definitely looking forward to reading the final synthesized narrative as a stand-alone volume. I suspect your Siegfried metaphor is quite apt.
And I think JRRT probably wrote about as many versions of the Beren/Luthien story. (But my favourite of those is Aragorn’s Tinuviel poem in LOTR.)
This seems an appropriate occasion to plug once again the Humphrey Bogart version of Lord of the Rings: download here.