The Lay of the Children of Húrin
The Lay of the Children of Húrin is a long epic poem by J. R. R. Tolkien which takes place in his fictional fantasy-world, Middle-earth. It tells of the life and ill fate of Túrin Turambar, the son of Húrin. It is written in alliterative verse and exists in several versions, but was never finished. The poem was published after the author's death by his son Christopher Tolkien in The Lays of Beleriand, the third volume of The History of Middle-earth.
As Christopher Tolkien records, his father said in a "later (and perhaps hesitant) statement"[T 1] that he began the Lay in 1918.[T 2] Christopher Tolkien states that it was likely composed mainly at Leeds before his father began working on The Lay of Leithian during the summer of 1925.[T 3] It was written in two versions. The first was written half on slips of paper and half on exam pages from the University of Leeds, then typed up and heavily edited. It was titled The Golden Dragon, then changed to Túrin Son of Húrin & Glórund the Dragon, and ran to 2276 lines.[T 4] The second version was titled Túrin, changed to The Children of Húrin.[T 5] The synopsis that follows is of version one.
Introduction, lines 1-104Edit
The poem begins with the story of Húrin, Túrin's father, defeated and captured in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Morgoth, the Dark Lord, was angry because Turgon, the High King of the Elves, had escaped the battle and vanished unconquered. Morgoth tries to persuade Húrin to act as his spy and get his other prisoners to reveal Turgon's location, promising him freedom, power, and wealth, but Húrin refuses. Morgoth punished him by chaining him to a chair atop the mountain, where Morgoth cursed Húrin's kin and gave Húrin magical sight with which to watch the curse unfold on his family.[T 6]
I: Túrin's Fostering, lines 105-558Edit
Morwen, Húrin's wife, lived in Dor Lómin with her son Túrin at the time of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. After the battle, "men unmindful of [Húrin's] mighty lordship" (line 111, p 8) took over the land. Morwen was pregnant, destitute, and unsure if her husband lived. After the birth of her daughter, whom she named Nienor (meaning Lamentation), Morwen sent Túrin to King Thingol of Doriath, hoping he would foster Túrin because Húrin was a compatriot of Beren. Túrin and his companions make the difficult journey to Doriath, nearly starving on the way, but are found by Beleg the hunstman, who guides them to Thingol. Thingol adopts Túrin as his own son, and sends messengers to invite Morwen to come to Doriath as well. But Morwen is still nursing Nienor, and she waits for Húrin, and above all is too proud to accept such charity, so she stays in Dor Lómin, instead sending the Dragon Helm of Dor Lómin to Thingol as a gift, which he gives to Túrin. Morwen's refusal to come to Doriath is counted as the first of Túrin's sorrows. Túrin had arrived at age 7, and stayed there for 12 years. After 7 years news from Dor Lómin ceased, and Túrin became a warrior, fighting orcs with Beleg. On the twelfth anniversary of his departure from Dor Lómin, an elf taunted Túrin at a feast for his unkempt woodsman's appearance, saying he left his mother too early, and implying the women of Dor Lómin were equally unkempt. Túrin, already emotional, cast a heavy goblet at the elf and accidentally killed him. Túrin ran immediately, thinking himself an outlaw, and so never heard Thingol's pardon. Túrin's departure from Doriath is attributed to Morgoth's curse.[T 7]
II: Beleg, lines 559-1338Edit
Túrin formed a band of outlaws that attacked orcs, elves, and men alike. When his men captured Beleg, who knew nothing about his disgrace, Beleg joined the band and convinced them to make an oath to attack orcs only. They became famous defenders of the elves, but one was discontent without as much loot as before, so he betrayed them to the orcs. They captured Túrin alive by Morgoth's command; Beleg survived, though badly injured and left for dead. Beleg was found by Thingol's messengers, who had come to find Túrin but brought Beleg back to Doriath to be healed. After recovering, he followed the orcs' trail into the dark forest of Taur-na-Fuin, where he got lost. He stumbled upon Flinding go-Fuilin, an elf escaped from Morgoth's mines. With Flinding's lamp and Beleg's skill, they made their way out of the forest and found the orc host again. That night, Beleg shot the wolf sentries in the dark and crept into camp. Túrin was drugged and bound in irons, so Beleg and Flinding carried him out of the camp. Beleg cut his bonds with his sword, but accidentally cut Túrin's foot; Túrin awoke, thought he was being attacked, and killed Beleg with his own sword before he realized what was going on. When Flinding lit his lamp and Túrin saw Beleg dead, he went still and mute for a full day. The orc host fled north at the unnatural storm that arose.[T 8]
III: Failivrin, lines 1339-2276Edit
When Túrin recovered from his stupor, he wanted to commit suicide, but Flinding convinced him to fight against Morgoth instead. They buried Beleg where he fell and began a journey southward, stopping at Lake Ivrin, where Túrin came to himself, finally learned Flinding's name, and sang an elegy for Beleg. Flinding led them southward to Nargothrond, his home, where he hoped to find Finduilas, the woman he loved and the daughter of the king. They survived the wardens and were at first questioned, but then welcomed at Finduilas's urgings. Túrin was welcomed into Flinding's family, the outer watches, and the council of the king. Finduilas fell in love with him, forsaking her love of Flinding. Túrin also fell in love with her, but never spoke of it out of loyalty to Flinding, but Flinding perceived the truth and both hated and pitied Túrin. The poem cuts off with mention of the orc hosts drawing nearer in the spring.[T 9]
In Mythlore, Jesse Mitchell argues that "there are two viable answers: [regarding the character of Turin being a simplistic caricature of what a hero should not look like] the Byronic Hero and the Absurd Hero."
|Cover artist||Alan Lee|
Subcreation as SynthesisEdit
Stephanie Ricker argues in Subcreation as Synthesis of Language and Myth, as J. R. R. Tolkien himself did, that the crux of Tolkien's Middle-earth was his love of myth and language, and that it was the meeting of these two loves that created Middle Earth. Tolkien uses this background knowledge of language, mythology, and religion to create a rich, interconnected, Mythopoeic world filled with orcs, goblins, elves, dragons, wizards, Hobbit, jewels, and rings. His Christian belief, mixed with his love of language, meant that much of his naming system was based on Old Testament naming conventions. This scholar uses the term Mythology to refer to, a "created narrative which expresses a deep, universal truth."
Mythology is the combination, synthesis, of myth and language. Language is a metaphorical thought were a word represents a thing. This is what interests Tolkien the most, and it is largely the reason why he created his world. Again, he bases this naming system, which is the crux of his world, on the naming conventions of the OT. In the Book of Genesis, man is given the power of subcreation (helping maintain the created world) through naming the animals. It is a reflection of moral order.
The name and essence of a thing are connected. The name is a metaphor for the thing. The thing is a representation of the name. The name of a person is literately that person. They are the name personified. Their personality, their essence, is irrevocably linked to their name. Using nicknames is a way of masking who they are in order to hide them from evil. Thus, one must be careful to name a child by their true name, the right name. Changing someone's name signifies a substantial change in that person, i.e. Gandalf the Grey being changed in The Two Towers to Gandalf the White.
Tolkien took inspiration for writing The Children of Húrin in 1914, in the trenches, based on a Finnish tale called the Kalevala. "Tiranne, Vainoni, and Kuruki, all names that are Finnish in sound and meaning, would later become Morwen, Niënor, Glaurung, names constructed from Tolkien's languages as his mythology developed." "In Sindarin, Húrin (Urin in the earliest manuscripts) means 'mind of vigor', and this name describes his character exactly." This is because Húrin doesn't flinch to fear, and holds onto his beliefs. "Túrin, a mind (suitable) for victory' and is remarkably similar to Húrin's name in sound as well as meaning." Morwen, Túrin's mother, means "dark maiden" possibly because of the darkness of her character.
A central issue and theme, as seen by Ricker, is the balance between fate, a name (which on the surface permenately defines you as seen above), and free will. After Lilaith, Túrin's sister, dies all laughter ceases and her name is no more. Her name means laughter. Morwen does not bow to Thingol out of her own pride. This greatly affects Túrin. He renames himself Neithan when meeting with the Outlaws. He changes his name to Neithan the Wronged because his true name does not fit his personality anymore, and the Wronged is added because he feels he can not escape fate.
Agarwaen, Túrin's new self-made name after accidentally killing his friend, expresses his true nature as he sees it, while also concealing his birth name. He meets an Elf maiden named Finduilas at this point in his journey. She, according to Ricker, represents the laughter that has been missing since his sister Lalaith died."The choices he (Túrin as a character) makes are the cause of his downfall, not his fate or the curse of Morgoth." Túrin renames himself Turambar to become master of fate. This name means Master of Doom. Doom, in Tolkien's works; means destiny, calamity, and judgement. He later renames himself Wildman of the Woods. He renounces all other names in favor of hatred and vengeance. Renaming himself is only hiding from fate instead of confronting it. Given a new and final name after death, Túrin Master of Fate Slayer of Glaurung, he overcomes his fate, but not his pride.
Master of Doom by Doom MasteredEdit
In Mythlore, Jesse Mitchell argues that "there are two viable answers: [regarding the character of Turin being a simplistic caricature of what a hero should not look like] the Byronic Hero and the Absurd Hero." Mitchell asserts that everyone, when reading Tolkien, looks for a hero or heroic things. (It is expected). The poetry in Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion is Tolkien's, while the prose in Children of Húrin is Christopher Tolkien's. There are two critiques that Mitchell argues against in his article, that is West and Camus, instead, he argues that his argument is one based on the story itself and nothing more or less. Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee possess Christian morals like Tolkien himself, and Pagan heroes such as Boromir and Túrin have a hope preoccupied with immediate good report and fame.
"Tolkien's fantasy speaks of the nature of the struggle against evil, the inescapability of involvement, the qualities of heroism, and the possibilities of real loss in that encounter. It also declares the viability of hope. The happy ending is meant to be taken very seriously."
Morwen represents home to Túrin. With family and home as with everything else he seems determined to learn everything the hard way. Túrin is a Byronic Hero in that he rejects king Thingol which represents his rebellion of will against unjust society. Mainly, his autonomy of will classifies him as a Byronic Hero. This garners sympathy even though in everything he does he is selfish. Túrin assumes responsibility instead of fugitive idleness, because of Beleg who only indulges his selfishness. Both Morgoth, in the Silmarillion and the entirety of the Cosmology of Tolkien's legendarium, is against the status quo of Illúvatar. Túrin, likewise, is against the status quo of the evil Morgoth. Morgoth, as Gothic Villain, is on the same plain as Byronic Hero (Túrin), though the Gothic Villain opposes the Byronic Hero. The Byronic Hero is instead not on the side of Good nor wholly on the side of Evil, who chooses to follow his own will and own Truth.
Túrin believes that he can do nothing to change his tragic destiny and fights against fate. His fanatical devotion to save his family is another mark against him as examplified in Finduilas. He finally realizes after everyone he loves has died, that he is the problem and that if he would just stop for a minute, everything might turn out better. Túrin finally realizes that the only way he can change fate and have freewill is in the way he dies. So, like Kullervo, he ends his life.
He gives himself names throughout the story that both hide his true identity and symbolize his downfall. "All of his self-applied names to this point have been symbolic; Turambar, however, is literal." So, he will Master his own Doom. Túrin is an Absurd Hero, such as Sissyphus [cite], only if his Doom was sealed from the start. The Byronic Hero is reactionary to Fate, whereas the Absurd Hero embraces it. By Mitchell's opinion, Túrin is a Byronic Hero.
Túrin and Aragorn: Evading, and Embracing, FateEdit
Croft begins by comparing Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings and Túrin from Children of Húrin. One character (Aragorn) is willing to step into his role, while the other (Túrin) tries everything he can to change fate.
Túrin's Name StoryEdit
Túrin becomes aware of using names to become someone else on his eighth birthday when his father nicknames him as "Heir to the House of Hador". He is conflicted by being both and heir and an exile. This conflict, coupled with his fixation on Morgoth, sends him on his journey. Túrin's fostering in Doriath is similar to Aragorn's fostering in Rivendell, Croft notes. Both are fostered to be hidden, and both await an inheritance. His new title of Neithan, the Wronged, positions him as guiltless despite his not caring one way or the other. "It is a form of logizomai, or giving a new name in the hope of changing the recipient to match."
He is nicknamed Dragon-Helm, a synecdoche, a part used to denote the whole. After the death of Beleg, he names himself Agarwaen, Son of Úmanth (Blood-Stained, Son of Ill-Fate). This is only a pseudonym.
"There are two more nicknames yet to come in this chapter of Túrin's life; first the Elves begin calling him Adanedhel, the Elf-Man, because of his elvish looks and bearing, and then the elf-maiden Finduilas falls in love with him and gives him another nickname: Thurin, the Secret. So during his stay in Nargothrond we find Túrin at his most polyonomous, overly blessed with four names in addition to his hidden birth-name: one given by himself, one by his enemies, one by the people he lives with, and one (uncomfortably close to his true name) by the woman who loves him."
His name is not his own, though he believes and truly wishes it to be, but it is a symbol given by all who have come in contact with him. It is a projection to the world writes Croft. At this point in the article she draws parallels between Túrin and Fëanor. If they both would have rejected themselves then their fates might have ended differently. Glaurung utilizes negative logizomai by calling Túrin's ways evil and giving him a list of "bad" names. Túrin finally changes his name to Turambar which in a way tempts fate as it is close to the accursed name Túrin. This change of name, and consequently identity, prevents anyone from finding him. He ends by defiantly mastering his own fate and killing himself.
Aragorn's Name StoryEdit
As a foster child in Rivendell, Aragorn was renamed Estel or Hope. In Rohan (Middle-earth) and Gondor he was named Thorongil ("Eagle of the Star"). Renaming is common in Tolkien's writings, as seen in the Council of Elrond. In Lothlórien, he is given the name Elessar. At this point he begins to grow into his kingly role. He is given many names later in Minas Tirith, but the one the people know him by and give him is again, Elessar Elfstone which is his regal name.
Túrin never embraces a new name until Turambar. He uses names to remake himself and doesn't acknowledge old ones except for Túrin. He can not let go of his past. Ultimately, Aragorn accepts and uses all of his names becoming more or less an anti-Túrin as Croft puts it.
- This list identifies each item's location in Tolkien's writings.
- Mitchell, Jesse (2010). "Master of Doom by Doom Mastered: Heroism, Fate, and Death in The Children of Hurin". Mythlore. 29 (1): 87-110 (article 7).
- Ricker, Stephanie (2009). "Subcreation as Synthesis of Language and Myth: The Power and Purpose of Names and Naming in Tolkien's The Children of Húrin". Explorations. 4: 35–61.
- Bratman, David (2016). "Tolkien's Subcreation". Tolkien Studies. 13 (1): 293–295. doi:10.1353/tks.2016.0028. ISSN 1547-3163.
- Croft, Janet (15 April 2011). "Túrin and Aragorn: Evading and Embracing Fate". Mythlore. 29: 155–170.