Tolkien novel published 34 years after his death

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 30 years after his death, a “new” book by J.R.R. Tolkien goes on sale on Tuesday which may well be the author’s last complete work to be published posthumously.

The front cover of J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Children of Hurin"in an image released by publisher HarperCollins on April 16, 2007. REUTERS/Alan Lee/Handout

Tolkien’s son and literary executor Christopher, now in his eighties, constructed “The Children of Hurin” from his father’s manuscripts, and said he tried to do so “without any editorial invention”.

Already told in fragmentary form in “The Silmarillion”, which appeared in 1977, the new book is darker than “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings”, for which Tolkien is best known.

“It’s not Harry Potter,” said David Brawn, director at Tolkien publisher HarperCollins, a division of News Corp.

The story is set long before “The Lord of the Rings” in a part of Middle-earth that was drowned before Hobbits ever appeared, and tells the tragic tale of Turin and his sister Nienor who are cursed by Morgoth, the first Dark Lord.

Brawn said the initial worldwide print run for the new book, featuring illustrations by Oscar-winner Alan Lee, was 500,000.

He told Reuters that Christopher, who does not give interviews, wanted to put the spotlight back on Tolkien’s writing after Peter Jackson’s hugely popular film trilogy based on “The Lord of the Rings”.

“The Hobbit” is also likely to be made into a movie.

“As publishers we’ve been through the most extraordinary time with the films,” Brawn said. “They created this parallel strand of publishing and exploitation and once we had gone through that we said, ‘How do we get people back to the books?’

“When I became Tolkien’s publisher ... one of the first files I came across was a proposal for ‘The Children of Hurin’, but it got buried.”


Brawn estimates that 150 million copies of “The Lord of the Rings” have been sold worldwide, 50 million of those since Jackson’s films were released from 2001, plus 50 million copies of other Tolkien works.

He tried to counter any impression that “The Children of Hurin” was an attempt to cash in on the Tolkien legacy, after the posthumous “The Silmarillion” was mockingly dubbed “The Sellamillion”.

“One of the things preventing ‘The Children of Hurin’ being published in recent years is that there will always be a slightly ungracious segment out there saying it is another ‘cash-in’,” Brawn said.

“I hope people don’t see it as a ‘cash-in’ as that was never the intention when publishing it.”

Hollywood studios are eager to buy the film rights of the new book, according to Brawn.

“We all want this first and foremost to enjoy life as a book,” said Brawn. “No one’s saying never to a film (but) the film rights are reserved by the estate. We want to see what reaction it gets and then let it run its course.”

Asked if it was fair to assume “The Children of Hurin” would be the last “new” Tolkien work to be published, he replied:

“I think it is a reasonable assumption. There are other tales in ‘Silmarillion’ that could stand alone in this manner, but none of them have attached to them this amount of developed text.”