Jun 8 2007, 11:13pm
I just noticed that in my first preliminary review of Children of Hurin I called it "arguably the most depressing material in all of The Silmarillion"! So okay, yeah, I guess it could seem depressing. Or at least "arguably" depressing. But I think it is most depressing when it is least moving.
I think a dry summary of the Godfather trilogy or The Book of Job or Blues songs or the last chapter of LotR could seem depressing too. What saves them from being depressing is the emotion and the art, the characteristics that distinguish them from dry histories of violence and tragedy and loss.
The local news is depressing. The news on 9/11 was beyond depressing. The movie United 98, however, is uplifting and cathartic, even though we know from the news that it ends badly, and the movie pulls no punches. Great tragedy gives us an outlet for our feelings, and heals our depression.
Although it can be hard to convince people of that, sight unseen. Lots of people here the summary of tragedies and refuse to read or see them because they sound depressing. Well yes, the summaries do sound depressing. But the summaries leave out all the art. The song "Strange Fruit" is a graphic description of lynched bodies hanging from a tree. Pretty depressing, no? But when Billie Holiday sang that song, it became a best seller. That's why Johny Lee Hooker sang "The blues a healer, all over the world."
Tolkien aimed for this kind of high tragedy in Children of Hurin. Unfortunately, he did not achieve that target throughout the tale, so yes, some of it is just depressing, or even just puzzling. But other parts I find quite moving, and therefore not depressing. Sad and infuriating, but not depressing. (Not very scary, though, perhaps because I had a hard time identifying with the characters in peril.)
Maybe I am jumping the gun a bit, since our discussion starts next week, but this is more of an overall comment, and a follow-up to my previous comments. I wonder if my big-picture assessment will be the same 18 weeks from now?