Interview with Adam Tolkien on The Children of Hurin (25.03.08 by Pieter Collier) - Comments

Today, 25 March 2008, we once again celebrate and remember Tolkien. Today is Tolkien Reading Day! On that day you should pick up any of Tolkien's works and dive in. Even better is to join your other Tolkien friends and go to a local Reading Event. That is what I will do this evening as well, and probably I will read a small piece from The Children of Hurin.

As already mentioned before, The Children of Hurin has recently been published in France. The French translation, Les Enfants de Hurin, proofs to be a very big succes and if I'm correct will become a bestseller in a couple of weeks time. There is also some media attention to the translation and also Alan Lee has done several signing sessions in France in support of the translation.

Now, L'express Livres has released an interview with Adam Tolkien, the grand-son of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Because the interview was conducted in French, I have provided a translation here.
Adam Tolkien

“Tolkien is not a business”
by François Busnel

By which turn of magic is one able to publish a new book by Tolkien thirty-five years after his death? The grandson of the author of The Lord of the Rings explains the genesis of The Children of Hurin, an assembly like a puzzle, written “in the spirit” of the master of heroic fantasy.

The Children of Hurin, which has nothing to do with a bottom of the barrel, is a great assembly, readable by all those who did not yet plunge in the universe of The Lord of the Rings and, for the fans, it delivers some of the keys to The History of Middle-earth. Outlined in the trenches by J.R.R. Tolkien, during the First World War, it appeared finally, thanks to the archaeologist work of his son, Christopher, and help by its grandson, Adam.
Adam Tolkien, 38 years, will not take up the torch, but agreed to tell under which conditions this text was returned to the light.
This interview makes it possible to understand why J.R.R. Tolkien cannot be reduced to an author of heroic fantasy, but is indeed a major novelist of the 20th century.

Q: When was The Children of Hurin originally written?

Adam Tolkien:
The first version of The Children of Hurin goes back to 1916, when J.R.R. Tolkien was a soldier at the Battle of the Somme. The Children of Hurin is undoubtedly one of the very first stories that he wrote and worked out. Then, he wrote it in a different version for what he regarded as his major work, The Silmarillion. However all the editors to which he presented The Silmarillion refused to publish it. My grandfather had just published successfully The Hobbit and the editors wanted a continuation, a tale about hobbits. Thus Tolkien started to write The Lord of the Rings

Q: So, the editor ordered The Lord of the rings?

Adam Tolkien:
Yes, indeed. Tolkien had not envisaged writing it. He completely gave up The Silmarillion, which represented his philosopher's stone. During close to about fifteen years, he was entirely devoted this ‘order’ and he was totally taken away by the worlds that he invented. After finishing The Lord of the Rings he returned to The Children of Hurin.

Q: The Children of Hurin resembles much more to The Lord of the Rings than The Silmarillion; so one can read it more easily: how do you explain that?

Adam Tolkien:
  This is because of the evolution of my grandfather’s writing. The Silmarillion is an epic tale and the style can be seen as biblical.

Q: Sometimes even hermetic…

Adam Tolkien:
  Perhaps, yes. But when he wrote The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien changed his interest towards the psychology of the characters. When he took The Children of Hurin up again, he had completely modified his way of writing. He was much more interested in down-to earth stories, the life of the characters and the evolution of the worlds which he had created.

Q: But he wrote three versions of The Children of Hurin?

Adam Tolkien:
  My grandfather wrote much, but was very disorganized. He wrote on everything he could lay hand on. For example, during the Second World War, on the back of papers of his pupils.
The first version, of 1916, is a relatively short work, and was published in The Unfinished Tales. In the 30’s, Tolkien made a second version, which was also short and can be seen as a synopsis of the tale. Then he started a third version in the 50’s. My father, Christopher Tolkien, made an assembly starting from these versions, and a lot of other fragments.

Q:  An assembly?

Adam Tolkien:  My father knew J.R.R. Tolkien and his work very well. Like my grandfather, he was professor of philology in Oxford. Then he worked for thirty years on the papers of my grandfather, to organise and publish The Silmarillion and the twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth, which retraces the development of this world and its myths founders. So he had a sufficient knowledge to carry out the assembly of The Children of Hurin, which, in addition, comprised of sufficient completely written parts so that he could do it without having to re-write anything.

Q:  Do there exist other unfinished novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, which could be “gone up”?

Adam Tolkien:
  There exist other tales, but which have much less body than this tale. My father always refused to make them in a coherent book and will undoubtedly never do so.  Moreover, neither will I. We do not want to make a business around the name of Tolkien.

Q:  But, if the novel was almost ready, why did it take thirty-five years after the death of J.R.R. Tolkien to publish it?

Adam Tolkien:
  Because my father initially worked on The Silmarillion, then on 12 volumes of The History of Middle-earth, according to the will of his father, who had named him as literary executor. Only in 1996 he started to work on The Children of Hurin. But he was not persuaded if he could turn it into a novel. Maybe, because he had become rather tired! Then the three films from Peter Jackson were released, which did not concern us directly.

Q:  How that?

Adam Tolkien:
My grandfather sold the rights in 1967 and we did not have any right to interfere. The simplest was thus not to worry about it. When the movies were released my father even stopped to work on any Tolkien related material for a long time.

Q:  What did you think of films?

Adam Tolkien:
My point of view is completely personal: I am not a big fan of these Hollywood adaptations. I very much like Peter Jackson’s early movies, but, considering the immense size of his Lord of the Rings project, I think that he lost the breath and the poetry of Tolkien. The decorations are very beautiful, because they are real, but the special effects were not there yet. You could really see them…
Me, I would have liked to see another thing, an environment like that of The Seventh Seal, of Bergman. It would have been interesting to make a series, which would have made it possible to develop a movie adaptation, without losing the breath.

Q:  To go back to The Children of Hurin. Is this a work of J.R.R. Tolkien or Christopher Tolkien?

Adam Tolkien: Both. My father did not add anything, but he published it, restored the connections between the stories, created logic, while deciding to privilege this or that version. The trade of the philologist helped him to decipher the old texts. But, if you take a good look at this book, one realizes that it is perhaps a pillar within the works of Tolkien: the tale of The Children of Hurin is briefly present in The Lord of the Rings and it is a very important element in The Silmarillion.

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