The "Reconstruction" of Tolkien's Children of Hurin:

J.R.R. Tolkien's The Children of Hurin is scheduled to be published next spring, according to this Boston Globe article (hat tip to my Amherst College classmate David Lobron). Because Tolkien, who died in 1973, never finished the book, the published version is based on a manuscript "reconstructed" from Tolkien's notes by the author's son Christopher Tolkien. Some scholars are critical of this approach:

``I think that word `reconstructed' is a warning sign," said William Pritchard, an English professor at Amherst College and biographer of poets Robert Frost and Randall Jarrell. ``You don't want a `reconstruction' by a member of the family of something a genius wrote. It induces skepticism in the wary reader."

I took a class with Professor Pritchard as an undergraduate at Amherst, and he clearly knows far more about literature than I do. Nonetheless, I think he is wrong in this instance. Christopher Tolkien is not just any "member of the family," but is a major expert on his father's work who has devoted much of the last thirty years to studying it. Back in 1977, he prepared the published version of his father's The Silmarillion, which provides the mythological background to The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings. Although The Silmarillion is not as impressive a work as The Lord of the Rings, it is still extremely interesting, and few Tolkien fans or scholars would argue that we would be better off without it. There is every reason to expect that Christopher Tolkien will do an equally good job of putting together The Children of Hurin, and that he will do his best to carry out his father's intentions.

The result will not be as good a book as might have emerged had J.R.R. Tolkien lived to finish it himself. But it will still reflect Tolkien's style and ideas, and will almost certainly be a lot better than nothing.