FA 473 – 501
*So, this book was published in 2007, rather late in the game of Middle Earth books. There are lengthy notes in the book talking about its composition; they are, in fact, so lengthy and convoluted that I really couldn’t follow them very well at all.
*Essentially, the story of Turin, son of Hurin, was first released in The Silmarillion way back when; it was, like all the stories in the Silmarillion, a sort of thumbnail sketch. Then later, in The Unfinished Tales, Christopher Tolkien published a longer and yet incomplete late draft of the expanded story that Tolkien had been working on for years, off and on.
*This book came about when Christopher Tolkien decided that the story of Turin is one of the most significant in the history of the Elder Days and that it deserved a fuller treatment. So, he took the Silmarillion version, the Unfinished Tales version, and a ton of rough drafts (that I think are at least partially included in the 12 volume History of Middle Earth) and essentially put them all together to create a text that would tell the entire long story of Turin in only J.R.R.’s words.
*After we read this book, we’ll go back and hit the versions published in the Silmarillion and the Unfinished Tales too and possibly make a few notes about changes in the texts and all that.
*While this timeline tends to ignore rough drafts, ie. Most of the stuff in the History of Middle Earth, since it’s mostly published unedited, it does include some stories that are not included elsewhere. In this instance however, this timeline has chosen to include both the ‘final’ version of this story, The Children of Hurin, and the two rough draft versions, presumably because The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales are sort of seen as being integrated and official texts, whereas all the rough drafts in History of Middle Earth are mostly non-integrated and have never been considered official.
*And with that, I’m afraid our time is up.
*Actually, one more thing. I sort of envision this whole project as reviewing these things and talking about them for those of you that have read them and are familiar enough with them to enjoy my idiosyncratic take on these stories. However, I also view this thread as sort of being a summarizing of these stories for those who may have always sort of thought they’d like to read all these old stories, but just never motivated themselves to do so. So, I think this should be pretty clear from the reviews I’ve done thus far on the Quenta, but since this is it’s own standalone novel and actually a really, really good one, I just want to warn you that I will be spoiling this novel completely in this review and summarizing the entire plot, all the way to the end. So, if you really think you want to read this book, be warned. And you really should definitely read this one; it’s brilliant.
*So, according to this timeline, The Children of Hurin takes place from FA 473 to FA 501.
*The book, it should be noted, is illustrated very beautifully by Alan Lee, who anyone familiar with the LotR DVD extra features will know very well.
*The first image in the book is a full color image of Hurin and Huor flying into Gondolin on the backs of two eagles. It’s probably the second best picture in the book.
*And Chapter I, The Childhood of Turin, starts with that story; we’ve already covered that whole story in the Quenta Silmarillion, but it gets retold here, mostly as it was told there.
*It then moves into new material by talking about Hurin and his wife, Morwen, and their two children, Turin and his sister, Urwen.
*Morgoth’s chemical warfare, smoke and fire and such, comes to Dor-Lomin where Hurin and his family live, and both Turin, at the age of five, and his three year old sister Urwen fall grievously ill. Turin recovers, but Urwen dies.
*A great bit where Hurin takes up his harp to sing a lament, but so stricken with grief is he that he cannot even express it in music.
*Turin makes a fast friendship with a lame servant named Sador. Turin, being a nice kid and all, names him “Hopafoot.”
*In an early conversation between Turin and Hopafoot Cassidy, the theme of the book is established.
*Sador tries to explain to Turin that the fate of men and the fate of elves are different; elves are fated, of course, not to die, while death is the ultimate fate of all men. Turin asks, “What is fate?”
*This entire book is bound up in the idea of fate and our ability, or perhaps our inability, to effect or escape the fate that is ours. It’s a resonant idea, of course, and certainly a huge part of the kind of epics that Tolkien is purposely mimicking. It’s, of course, also a huge part of film noir, one of my very favorite genres.
*So, just prior to Turin’s eighth birthday, Beren & Luthien do their whole stealing one of the Silmarils thing and inspire what’s-his-face to try the big offense. We’re leading up to The Battle of Unnumbered Tears, which we just talked about.
*There’s a beautiful scene between Hurin and Morwen; Hurin knows he’ll be called up to go and fight in the battle and he’s hopeful, but realistic. He urges Morwen to flee with Turin at the first sign that Morgoth has been victorious.
*Astonishing prose alert, as Hurin and Morwen end their conversation about the upcoming battle: “That night Turin half-woke, and it seemed to him that his father and mother stood beside his bed, and looked down on him in the light of the candles that they held; but he could not see their faces.” Oh, God, that’s absolutely heartwrenching.
*Chapter II, The Battle of Unnumbered Tears essentially just retells the story exactly as it is told in the Quenta. It deletes some passages that don’t have to do explicitly with Hurin’s group, but everything progresses as we already know.
*Chapter III, The Words of Hurin and Morgoth, is an expanded version of the end of the chapter about Unnumbered Tears in the Quenta. It tells of the conversation between Morgoth and Hurin after Hurin’s capture; Morgoth, of course, tries to get Hurin to talk to him about Gondolin, since Hurin’s been there and Morgoth is obsessed with Turgon. Hurin won’t and so, as we know, Morgoth binds him to the stone chair and curses him with the ability to see through Morgoth’s eyes and hear through his ears.
*In the conversation however, Morgoth also pronounces a curse on Hurin’s children; it is this curse, this fate, this doom, that Turin will spend the body of this book wrestling against, fleeing from and ultimately succumbing to.
*Chapter IV, The Departure of Turin begins as Morgoth sends Easterlings in to take control of Dor-Lomin. The leader, a man named Brodda, takes a relation of Morwen named Aerin, to be his wife and because of this and also because Brodda is sort of afraid of Morwen, she is mostly left in peace, though the rest of the people are put in slavery.
*No news of Hurin makes it back from the battle, so Morwen and Turin are unsure of his fate. There’s this Astonishing Prose Alert:
* ‘Then I think that he is dead,’ said Turin, and before his mother he restrained his tears; ‘for no one could keep him from coming back to help us, if he were alive.’ ‘I do not think that either of those things are true, my son,’ said Morwen.
*Chilling, because, of course, Morwen is right and this insight cuts to the very heart of the horrific hell in which Morgoth holds Hurin.
*Morwen also is pregnant during this period. She decides that she has to send Turin away, as Hurin had counseled her, but she doesn’t think she can make the journey because she is pregnant.
*So, with two guides, Turin, now about nine probably, sets out on the long journey to safer quarters. He stumbles into Doriath and gets lost in the Girdle of Melian. Beleg, an elf of Doriath, finds him and his guides and takes them to Thingol and Melian.
*It should be noted that Beleg is out hunting when he stumbles across Turin. You may recall, a Vala was hunting when he discovered the elves. And Finrod was hunting when he discovered that men were crossing the mountains into Beleriend.
*Bottom line, if people didn’t go hunting in Middle Earth, wouldn’t nothing get done.
*So, Turin finds favor with Thingol and he’s taken in as a foster son and all seems to be well. Thingol brings out the Dragon-Helm, a helmet worn by one of Turin’s grandfathers, not that I could tell you which one . . . Haldor or something. Haldor Goldenhead? It’s insignificant. He promises the Dragon-Helm to Turin when he is of age.
*So, nine years pass in relative quiet for Turin. Messengers are sent by Thingol to check on Morwen and Turin’s new sister, Nienor. They’re doing as well as could be expected. Beleg and Turin form a fast friendship. Tension, however, begins to build because an elf named Saeros dislikes all men and therefore hates Turin because he’s so favored by Thingol.
*In a truly great tie back, it’s revealed that Saeros hates men because Saeros is best friends with Daeron; Daeron was the elf that was in love with Luthien before she fell in love with Beren. Ergo, Saeros hates men.
*At the age of seventeen, Turin claims the Dragon-Helm and, along with Beleg, he leaves Doriath to start essentially carrying out a campaign of guerilla warfare against the Orcs that are still sort of rampaging through the land. He sort of wages a war of attrition and sneak attacks against the Orcs for three years.
*After these three years, at about twenty or so, Turin returns to Doriath and instantly gets in a kerfuffle with Saeros. He strolls into a council meeting and accidentally takes Saeros’ seat.
*Saeros, hilariously, retaliates by throwing a comb at Turin and telling him that he needs to comb his hair. When Turin shrugs this off, Saeros falls back on the ol’ Yo Mamma So Stupid standby and intimates that if the men from Hithlum can’t even comb their hair, the women from Hithlum probably just walk around naked all the time.
*Classy guy, this Saeros. He then gets a nice mouthful of broken teeth.
*Mablung, a somewhat important character, is a friend to both Saeros and Turin and he cautions them to lay off each other. They, both being level headed and sensible people, take his advice and the rest of the book is basically just everyone palling around in Doriath completely safe and at the end everyone is happily reunited and Morgoth chokes on a chicken bone and peace returns to the whole of Middle Earth.
*Hahaha, actually, no, they start trying to murder each other the very next day. Gotcha!
*Anyway, Saeros attacks Turin in an ambush of sorts, but Turin still bests him. He disarms him, disrobes him and then forces him to run through the woods totally naked by continually poking him in the rear with his sword.
*Seriously, we need a movie of this.
*Mablung and other elves pursue, but Saeros and Turin are too fast for them. After a mad dash through the woods, Turin stops as they come to a crevice, but Saeros is so terrified that he tries to leap the crevice, slips on the other side and splatters himself all over the rocks below. Oh, man.
*Great image there for the movie; naked elf sprawled all over a bunch of rocks in a gently flowing river.
*Mablung arrives and sort of places Turin under arrest. Turin says, no thanks, he’ll just leave. Turin is so offended that Mablung thinks he purposely killed Saeros that he declines to inform him that it was an accidental death. Turin leaves Doriath, an exile.
*There is a great bit of dialogue when Turin bids Mablung “farewell,” and Mablung responds, “Fare free, for that is your wish.”
*Mablung informs Thingol of the events, but Nellas, a friend of Turin’s from his childhood pops up and tells her story. She happened to witness Saeros’ illfated leap and testifies that Turin had indeed stopped pursuing him before he took the leap. Thingol reverses the exiling of Turin.
*Beleg sets out to find Turin and bring him back. And at this point we get a significant moment; the sword Anglachel is revealed as the sword Beleg chooses from the armory to take with him. And for the first time in Middle Earth, a weapon will become a character in and of itself. Anglachel is as significant to this story as Anduril (is that right?) was to Aragorn’s story.
*Anglachel, you see, has a dark history, some might say a curse. It was made by Eol, the dark elf. You remember him, right? Fathered Maeglin with Turgon’s sister, Aredhel; followed them back to Gondolin and killed his own sister and was then executed by being thrown off a cliff? Yeah, that little ray of sunshine. Good times with that guy. Good times.
*This is a perfect example of how this universe is supposed to work. This book only really mentions that the sword has a dark history and that it was made by Eol, husband to Turgon’s sister. It doesn’t go into the rest of the story; it’s not necessary that you know the rest of the story. So long as you know that the sword is kind of cursed, you understand the rest of this story.
*However, it makes it feel even more mythic when you DO know the whole story of Eol. This is what the expansions of these stories Tolkien worked on were about; to make these things ever more and more mythic.
*So, it adds to Eol’s story and also to Hurin’s story to realize that, in some way, his malevolent spirit lives on in Anglachel, a weapon that will carry out some utterly vile deeds over the course of this novel.
*It improves this book a great deal to be aware of just how evil and twisted Eol was and of his horrible death; likewise, if, after reading this book, I went back and read Eol’s story again, it would make his death feel quite different to realize that his influence would continue to spread like a cancer in the person of this sword.
*So, in Chapter VI, Turin Among the Outlaws, Turin gets among some outlaws.
*Anyway, he quickly rises to become their leader, hilariously, by murdering everyone who stands in his way.
*Beleg at last tracks him down among the outlaws, after over a year of searching. He has a great entrance:
* “And while they were in the midst of this debate, suddenly a grey figure stood before them. Beleg had found them at last.”
*Anyway, I’m skipping the details about how Turin kills the leader of the outlaws and how exactly Beleg finds Turin, but I should mention an outlaw named Androg as he is a significant character.
*I know these things go long and I’m sorry. I try to sort of hit the highlights, but there are so many highlights and everything is connected.
*Beleg arrives while Turin is gone on a scouting mission and this Androg character doesn’t trust him. Androg ties Beleg to a tree for three days with no food or water, but then Turin arrives and recognizes him.
*Turin decides not to come back to Doriath; he’s found his own home with these outlaws. Beleg returns to Doriath, rather heartsick.
*Holy crap! Lembas bread!!
*A great passage about Beleg: “Then Beleg departed from Menegroth and went back to the north-marches, where he had his lodges, and many friends; but when winter came and war was stilled, suddenly his companions missed Beleg, and he returned to them no more.”
*Chapter VII, Of Mim the Dwarf, introduces Mim, a Petty-Dwarf, whatever that is. The Petty-Dwarves founded Nargothrond years before Finrod discovered it and set up his secret hideaway there.
*Anyway, Turin and his outlaws bump into Mim and his two sons. Androg looses a couple of arrows, but the two sons escape. Mim is captured and Turin convinces him to lead them to his hideaway as ransom for his life. He does so and the outlaws have a new hiding place.
*Sadly, one of Mim’s sons was actually hit by Androg’s venture shot and he has died before Mim could arrive. Mim places a curse on Androg that if ever he picks up a bow again, he will die from bow shot himself.
*Androg then curses Mim that he too will die from a bow shot.
*Mim then Triple Dog Curses Androg that his pants will fall down at least once every day.
*Mim is a fabulous character; hard edged, unlikable, somewhat sociopathic. Tolkien really nails this character perfectly. He’s angry, menacing and bound to Turin and his outlaws only by his oath.
*Beleg finds Turin again; he couldn’t stay in Doriath while his best friend was wandering the world. He has come to stand with him and not to leave him and also to give him some lembas bread Melian gave him.
*Turin has a great apology/welcome back speech: “I wonder, friend, that you deign to come back to such a churl. From you I will take whatever you give, even rebuke. Henceforward you shall counsel me in all ways, save the road to Doriath only.”
*So, Mim actually likes Turin a lot, though he doesn’t care for any of the others. Now that Beleg has returned, Mim becomes jealous of the way Beleg has supplanted him in Turin’s affections. Tension builds.
*In Chapter VIII, The Land of Bow and Helm, Turin dons again the dragon helm and rides out against the Orcs, encouraged by Beleg’s return. The outlaws become more organized, stronger and more determined to strike mainly at the Orcs.
*During a skirmish with Orcs, Androg takes up a bow and fires it. In that same battle, he is struck with an arrow. They carry him back wounded and Beleg is able to heal the wound. This pisses Mim off even more since, essentially, it appears that Beleg just superseded Mim’s curse on Androg.
*During this period, Turin is getting into his early twenties, I guess, and people are starting to flock to him from all over, so frightened are the Orcs of him. A nice little village type thing gets thrown together on the outskirts of his hideaway. They all live happily ever after. The end.
*Hahahahaha, oh, no, they don’t either. Actually, Mim sells them all out to the Orcs, apparently getting just really tired of all these people cluttering up his living room and then they nearly all die. Gotcha again!
*So, anyway, Mim’s deal with the Orcs is that they kill everyone, except Turin and Beleg. He wants them to let Turin go and leave Beleg bound for him to deal with.
*So, I think Children of Hurin should probably be split into two movies and I think the first one should end here with this great Last Stand/Alamo kind of battle between Turin’s outlaws and the Orcs. They slowly progress up the hill until Turin, Beleg and ten others are left; they form a circle around the standing stone at the top of the hill and take some names. Finally, however, the Orcs keep two thirds of their deal. They finish off the outlaws, stake Beleg out on the ground and carry Turin off a prisoner.
*Mim sharpens his knife and gloats. God, I’d love to see this character on screen.
*So, he’s preparing to start torturing Beleg when Androg shows up, horribly wounded, but able to attack Mim. Mim flees and disappears from our story. Androg frees Beleg and then dies.
*End of the first movie. Bam! I think this would be the eighth movie in total. You watch me; I’ll have the entire history of Middle Earth divided up into movies by the time I’m finished.
*Beleg then sets out to rescue Turin. He runs into Gwindor, an Elf that was captured during the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. He’s been slaving in the mines, but he’s finally managed to escape.
*Great line: “But Beleg would not abandon Turin, and despairing himself he aroused hope again in Gwindor’s heart.”
*So, Beleg and Gwindor manage to sneak into the enemy’s camp at night, kill all the sentries and spirit the bound and unconscious Turin away.
*Once safe a distance away, Beleg tries to cut Turin loose of his bonds, but the bloodthirsty and duplicitous Anglachel reveals its curse. The sword slips in Beleg’s hand and stabs Turin in the foot.
*This rouses him from his stupor and, believing himself attacked, he grabs the sword from Beleg’s hand and, without taking the time to realize who it is, kills him.
*I saw this in my head, just the way I’d want it in the movie. Turin would need to go into a kind of frenzy, stabbing Beleg again and again and Gwindor would collapse onto the ground and start scrabbling away in terror and then the moon would pass from behind a cloud and Turin would see the face of Beleg and he would just drop to the ground. And then we’d cut to Gwindor, pressed up against a rock or something, sobbing. And then we’d cut to the blade of Anglachel slowly turning the black color it will retain through the rest of this book.
* “Thus ended Beleg Strongbow, truest of friends, greatest in skill of all that harboured in the woods of Beleriand in the Elder Days, at the hand of him whom he most loved; and that grief was graven on the face of Turin and never faded.”
*Okay, so Gwindor finally convinces Turin they need to move and the two of them head back to Gwindor’s home, which is Nargothrond, established by Finrod and ruled by him until Finrod perished on the whole Beren & Luthien expedition. Now ruled by his brother Orodreth.
*A pivotal moment . . . in fact, so pivotal that I think maybe the eighth movie should last until THIS moment actually, instead of ending with Turin’s capture. As they set out to Nargothrond, Turin inquires in Gwindor has any news of Hurin. Gwindor says that he did not see Hurin during the battle, but during his time in the mines, he heard that Morgoth had laid a curse on him and his offspring. Turin replies, “That I do believe.”
*So, it’s at this moment that Turin actually becomes aware of his status as a being fated to destruction and suffering. At this point, then, his resolve to overcome his fate begins in earnest. So, yeah, actually, I think that moment of Turin realizing he’s under a curse should be the way the eighth movie ends.
*So, yes, what we just saw was:
*MOVIE #8: The Silmarillion: The Broken Land – from Hurin’s binding on the stone chair to Turin’s discovery of his curse
*Upon arriving in Nargothrond, Turin passes himself off as Agarwaen, son of Umarth, meaning Blood-stained, son of Ill-fated.
*So, Turin and Gwindor end up in a love triangle with this elf-girl named Finduilas. Turin loves her and she loves Turin; Gwindor loves her and she kind of wishes she loved Gwindor.
*During this period, Gwindor lets slip to Finduilas of Turin’s true identity and we get the following statement of the theme of the book:
*Now when Turin learned from Finduilas of what had passed, he was wrathful, and he said to Gwindor: ‘In love I hold you for rescue and safe-keeping. But now you have done ill to me, friend, to betray my right name, and call down my doom upon me, from which I would lie hid.’ But Gwindor answered: ‘The doom lies in yourself, not in your name.’
*So, Turin lives in Nargothrond for five years and then suddenly messengers arrive from Cirdan’s people. Cirdan, recall, found some small sanctuary on an island just off the coast after Unnumbered Tears.
*Anyway, Ulmo, the sea Vala, has appeared to Cirdan with a message.
*The message is this: “Say therefore to the Lord of Nargothrond: Shut the doors of your fortress and go not abroad.”
*Turin scorns this advice and says, “If in truth the Lord of Waters would send us counsel, let him speak more plainly.”
*Can you get more plain than “Shut your doors and don’t go out?”
*Shut the doors of your fortress and go not abroad. Yeah, that could mean ANYthing.
*So Turin convinces Orodreth that it means they should go out to battle against Glaurung the Dragon who’s been roaming about again.
*They get soundly trounced, Orodreth and Gwindor both die and Turin speeds back to Nargothrond, but Glaurung gets there ahead of him.
*We’ve seen Glaurung in action before; a couple hundred years ago, he had a brief skirmish with some Elvish archers and then in the Battle of Sudden Flame, he played a major part. Unnumbered Tears he also participated in and was wounded by a dwarf king.
*But now, he speaks, “by the evil spirit that was in him,:” Hail, Son of Hurin. Well met!
*So, Glaurung sort of hypnotizes Turin and sends him back to Dor-Lomin, seeking his mother while Glaurung burns out Nargothrond and sends the Orcs away with all the Elves, including Finduilas, helpless captives.
*Besides the color pictures that are scattered through the books, there are also black and white line drawings. The best one of those closes this chapter; it’s an image of Turin, reflected in Glaurung’s eye. Literally, as Tolkien would have it, held by the Dragon’s eye.
*Turin returns to Dor-Lomin, to find his mother and sister gone and their house looted. He meets up again with Hopafoot, beards Brodda in his den, kills him, discovers from Aerin that Morwen and Nienor travelled to Doriath a year prior. In the chaos of him killing Brodda, a fight breaks out between the enslaved people and the Easterlings that rule over them.
*Turin tries to get Aerin to come with him back to Doriath to find his mother and sister, but Aerin gets off a great line, “The snow lies on the land, but deeper upon my head.”
*So Turin leads a group of slaves into the woods while Aerin sets the town on fire. Turin splits off to head back to Doriath and the slaves entreat him to return with help so that all their people can be freed.
*Anyway, Turin decides that if Morwen and Nienor are in Doriath, they’re safe, so he’d better go try to rescue Finduilas first. On his way he falls in with the People of Haleth, a group of men who are trying to stave off the Orcs from their farms and homes.
*One of them, Dorlas, who will be important in the climax of the book, tells him that they came on the Orcs with the prisoners from Nargothrond and that when the Orcs saw them coming, they slew all the prisoners immediately. Finduilas “they fastened to a tree with a spear.”
*So Turin visits her grave and renames himself there Turin Turambar, Turin Master of Fate. He stays with the woodsmen of Haleth, determining to protect Finduilas’ grave, since he failed to protect her life.
*Then, in Chapter XIV, we move to focus on Morwen and Nienor. Safely hidden in Doriath, they hear word of the fall of Nargothrond and of the fact that Turin, son of Hurin, is believed to have died defending it. Morwen decides she has to go and see for sure, though how exactly she’s going to do this, I’m not sure about.
*Thingol and Melian try to persuade her to stay, but when she can’t be dissuaded, they send Mablung and a small contingent of Elves to protect her. Nienor, being as stubborn as her mother, manages to stow away among the Elves.
*So, they travel to the ruins of Nargothrond. Mablung manages to sneak inside and look for Turin, but then Glaurung comes out and attacks the others. They’re scattered in the dragon’s smoke.
*Astonishing prose alert: “One of the Elf-riders, striving with his horse in the fog, saw suddenly the lady Morwen passing near, a grey wraith upon a mad steed, but she vanished in the mist, crying Nienor, and they saw her no more.”
*Glaurung catches Nienor and puts a spell on her. Long story short, she flees into the woods in a panic of terror and runs and runs until all her clothes are gone (again, we need a movie!) and then she passes out on the grave of Finduilas.
*So, Turin finds her, but when she awakens, she is deep in amnesia and remembers nothing but a dark terror that pursued her. So Turin takes her in.
*Now the Men of Brethil have a leader, Brandir, but he’s been lamed in a battle, though I don’t recall which one. Turin has slowly ascended to be more respected than Brandir, since the people see Brandir as rather impotent.
*Long story short, Brandir falls in love with Nienor, who is now called Niniel.
*But then, the crack of doom. The Alfred Hitchcock twist. The Twilight Zone revelation. And we understand suddenly what this doom has been that Turin has been fleeing all these years and we understand how his doom has found him at last.
*And now Niniel was fully healed, and was grown fair and strong and Turambar restrained himself no longer, but asked her in marriage.
*Brandir fears something is amiss, but Niniel doesn’t listen to his council. Chapter XV, Nienor in Brethil, ends with something like the thunder of God’s wrath.
* “Then she was glad indeed, and plighted her troth, and at the mid-summer they were wedded.”
*At the moment I read that, I literally said out loud, “Oh God.”
*Even just typing it now, I feel the fear in my stomach.
*What is this moment? This moment when brother and sister wed? It’s the moment when the doom prophesied comes to pass. It’s the moment when the fate that Turin has fled before all his life catches up to him.
*Over the mountains, down the valleys, through the woods, through battle and peace and hardship and joy. He has run his course and his fate has been waiting for him at the end the entire time. He has fought against his fate with such desperation that he has brought it to pass.
*The obvious connection here is Oedipus, right? So desperate to escape his horrible fate that he strolls blindly into it, Oedipus grieves himself with his efforts but achieves no end but the one decreed. I mean, we all know that story.
*Is this a mythic moment? You bet it is. It feels like the end of the world; the thing I feared is come upon me, Job said. What a perfect moment.
*Of course, other connections that Tolkien would have been aware of were the stories of the Nibelungenliend and the Wagner operas. A deep thread of brother/sister incest runs through some of those operas, a fact Tolkien would have been very aware of.
*Glaurung now, after a brief period of wedded bliss (*shudder*), issues forth, advancing toward the place where he knows Turin is in hiding, burning and killing at his leisure.
*Astounding full color picture of Glaurung here, the best picture in the book, a riot of orange fire, grey smoke and, lost in that riot, the barest impression of the dragon himself, mouth open and spewing flame.
*So, Turin, Dorlas and Hunthor, a kinsman of Brandir, venture forth. Rather than face Glaurung in pitched battle, Turin decides the only way of being victorious is to meet him with ambush.
*It is revealed that Nienor is two months pregnant with her brother’s child.
*Nienor has something of a breakdown and she calls on the people to follow her into the wilderness. They will follow Turin and see him defeat the dragon. A surprising number of them go with her, though Brandir tries to stop them.
*I can’t tell you the way I felt as things began to wind down here, as the finality of doom approached with measured footsteps. Everything began to fall perfectly into place and I was utterly swept up in the tragedy unfolding.
*Allow me to quote an extended passage, two paragraphs, that close Chapter XVI. This bit gave me chills.
*When Niniel and her company had gone, Brandir said to those that remained, ‘Behold how I am scorned, and all my counsel disdained! Choose you another to lead you: for here I renounce both lordship and people. Let Turambar be your lord in name, since already he has taken all my authority. Let none seek of me ever again either counsel or healing! And he broke his staff. To himself he thought: ‘Now nothing is left to me, save only my love of Niniel: therefore where she goes, in wisdom or folly, I must go. In this dark hour nothing can be foreseen; but it may well chance that even I could ward off some evil from her, if I were nigh.’
*He girt himself therefore with a short sword, as seldom before, and took his crutch, and went with what speed he might out of the gate of the Ephel, limping after the others down the long path to the west march of Brethil.
*It was at this point that I tumbled to the fact that I wanted to play Brethil in the movie version. Like most I’ve been scorned in love, as I’ve talked about before. I understand too the heart of the cripple, having had major surgery on both my knees because of a defect that made them prone to dislocate for no real reason. In the years since that surgery, the six years now, I’ve lived with a limp and even, on occasion, used a cane, though I’m not only just into my thirties.
*I’ve come to understand in a powerful way the mentality of the cripple, though I certainly don’t claim that what I’ve gone through has been any terrible hardship. It’s been most often inconvenient, occasionally incredibly painful and deeply humbling. There’s something in the limp, however, as a symbol, that resonates with me very deeply. There’s something in the limp of human frailty and weakness and failure.
*One of my favorite Biblical passages is the famous story of Jacob and his wrestling with the angel. As day dawns, the angel cannot escape from Jacob’s grip, so determined is Jacob to get from the angel a promise of safety for his family. The angel at last touches his thigh and Jacob’s hip goes out of joint.
*And then, having spent the night wrestling with God, in turmoil of soul, as the day dawns, the scriptures say, Jacob passes over the river to his family, halting upon his thigh. It’s a powerful image of the sunrise after the night, of the wounded warrior, of the touch of the divine on our frail human flesh, of those dark nights when we all wrestle with our own personal gods in the face of tragedy or fear.
*There’s a song by Kendall Payne on her astounding 1999 debut album Jordan's Sister (which you should really go hear if you haven’t) with a wonderful line: “Jacob walked a limp to remind him/of the greater gift of the greater One.” In our human frailties and weaknesses, we are reminded that we are imperfect and reminded, quite simply, that we are not the greatest ones, that we are not the top of the heap, that we are not the most important people in this world.
*Jacob’s limp reminded him of the night of terror when he wrestled alone with an angel, reminded him that there was that night and always would be a greater power than his own. I use my limp to remind me of the same thing. I know this sounds clichéd and stupid, but it’s true; human frailties, of whatever type, can bring us closer to a realization of our true place in this universe.
*I use my limp to remind me that God has always been and will always be bigger than I am. And I use it to remind myself of the crippled, the blind, the lame, the poor, the downtrodden, the maimed; they were the ones Jesus touched, the ones Jesus loved. And in my picture of Christianity, it is my very lameness that ensures that God looks on me in love.
*This faith I have . . . it’s a faith for the crippled. I’ve heard it bandied about for so long as a pejorative; ‘faith is a crutch,’ the critics say. It certainly is. I know I need one. I own my brokenness, my frailty and my crutch.
*Steve Taylor wrote that song years back, Jesus is for Losers, a celebration of the Christian faith and its acceptance of all who come and our recognition of value in all who come. There’s the story of Mephibosheth, also in the Old Testament, a crippled grandson of Saul, one of King David’s greatest enemies. After David comes to the throne, he seeks to show kindness to one of Saul’s house because of Jonathan, David’s best friend. He finds the crippled Mephibosheth in poverty and brings him to the palace and allows him to live there in luxury for the rest of his life.
*Likewise, in one of Jesus’ parables in the gospels, a king sends out invitations to all of his friends to come to a banquet only to have them all refuse because they’re too busy. The king then sends his servants to find the poorest people they can find, the blind, the halt, the maimed, and bring them in. They, he reckons, won’t be too busy or too important or too ungrateful or too rude to come.
*How did I get here? I was talking about a dragon or something, wasn’t I?
*Well, that was odd; all this to say I connected incredibly to Brandir and the idea of lameness is bound up in my faith in a powerful way. It bugs hell out of me when self-identified Christians are arrogant or proud of themselves or look down on people less fortunate than they are. I’m proud of my faith; I’m proud of true Christianity because that true Christianity is a Christianity entirely focused on lifting up those who have been trampled under foot, of seeing that the homeless alcoholic on the street or the drug addicted prostitute or the crippled veteran that no one visits . . . that not a single one of those people is even an inch less important to God than I am and that He loves them and I should love them and my one job here on this earth is to be God’s hands reaching out to those less fortunate than I.
*Okay, I’m rambling, and making little sense, but I can tell you it’s all very deeply felt.
*Brandir doesn’t even connect at all to at least 3/4ths of that, but, oh, well.
*Good Lord, I’m at fourteen pages. I gotta wrap this thing up.
*So Dorlas chickens out, but Hunthor and Turin head on across the river; they sneak up the mountain and, basically, they come out where they can get at Glaurung’s soft underbelly as he crosses the canyon.
*Hunthor dies during this bit but Turin manages to shove Anglachel up to the hilt in Glaurung’s stomach. The people coming with Nienor hear the racket of Glaurung screaming and Nienor takes off to go find Turin with Brandir once again in hot pursuit.
*Meanwhile, Turin has pulled his sword out of the dying dragon and he’s burned on the hand by Glaurung’s toxic blood, so he passes out from pain and exhaustion. Nienor arrives first and binds up Turin’s hand but then Glaurung rouses and we know what’s coming.
* “Hail, Nienor, daughter of Hurin. We meet again ere we end. I give you joy that you have found your brother at last. And now you too shall know him: a stabber in the dark, treacherous to foes, faithless to friends and a curse unto his kin, Turin son of Hurin. But the worst of all his deeds you shall feel in yourself.”
*Glaurung dies, but Brandir has arrived in time to hear his final words. Nienor, horrified by the awful truth of what Glaurung has said, suddenly remembers all that she had previously forgotten. And then, in a moment of absolutely gutwrenching tragedy, she flings herself off the cliff and into the river below, removing herself and her unborn child from the picture forever.
*This scene with Glaurung recalls in my mind one of my favorite film moments. In Ben-Hur, you’ll recall the huge chariot race in which the villainous Messala, played beautifully by Stephen Boyd, is given his just deserts. There’s a chilling moment when Ben-Hur comes to see him before he dies and Messala informs him that his mother and sister are not dead as he supposed, but in fact alive in the valley of the lepers. It’s a moment of pure vitriol and hatred; even on the death bed, Messala finds a way to hurt his enemy.
*Glaurung’s moment here is like that. He’s dying, very nearly dead already; he can in no way help himself. But even with that last breath, he strikes out to destroy. It does not help him in the slightest to destroy Nienor at this point; his death is assured regardless. But he destroys her anyway, with the pure malice of evil.
*This bit, where Brandir tries to stop Nienor, but is too slow because of his lameness, I’d slay it. Man, give me one shot of Brandir looking over the precipice and that would just kill it. Best Supporting Actor, my friend, Best Supporting Actor.
*Anyway, believing Turin dead, Brandir starts back home. Along the way, he runs into Dorlas and figures out that he abandoned Turin and Hunthor. They have an altercation which ends when Dorlas throws a punch and the angry, grief-stricken Brandir draws his sword and runs Dorlas through with it. Brandir’s had a hard day.
*Turin awakes and catches up to Brandir just as he reaches Nienor’s group and is telling them of what happened. This scene between Brandir and Turin is the emotional climax of the book for me and the scene when I realized that I’d pay a lot of money to be able to play Brandir.
*It’s vicious, brutal, hard. This is literature at its best.
*Brandir lets Turin have it; Turin argues back but ultimately accepts the truth and in horrible rage, he hews Brandir to the ground and kills him.
*Finally, Turin returns to the cliffs where both Glaurung and Nienor met their deaths and meets his own there.
*He has a chilling moment of conversation with his weapon:
*Hail, Gurthang, Iron of Death, you alone now remain. But what lord or loyalty do you know, save the hand that wields you? From no blood will you shrink. Will you take Turin Turambar? Will you slay me swiftly?
*And from the blade rang a cold voice in answer: Yes, I will drink your blood, that I may forget the blood of Beleg my master and the blood of Brandir slain unjustly. I will slay you swiftly.
*Then Turin set the hilts upon the ground, and cast himself upon the point of Gurthang, and the black blade took his life.
*Stunning full color picture of the rushing river and Turin’s form, impaled on his own sword on the rocks above.
*MOVIE #9: The Silmarillion: The Master of Fate – from Turin’s arrival in Nargothrond to Turin’s death
*And then one last sucker punch for the road. Now with Turin and Nienor both dead, Morgoth releases Hurin. He journeys to the tombstone where his two children are buried and he finds Morwen, his wife, there waiting for him.
*I’m going to quote extensively:
*She rose and stumbled forward, and he caught her in his arms.
* ‘You come at last,’ she said. ‘I have waited too long.’
* ‘It was a dark road. I have come as I could,’ he answered.
* ‘But you are too late,’ she said, ‘too late. They are lost.’’
* ‘I know,’ he said. ‘But you are not.’
* ‘Almost,’ she said. ‘I am spent utterly. I shall go with the sun. They are lost.’ She clutched at his cloak. ‘Little time is left,’ she said. ‘If you know, tell me! How did she find him?’
*But Hurin did not answer, and he set beside the stone with Morwen in his arms; and they did not speak again. The sun went down and Morwen sighed and clasped his hand and was still; and Hurin knew that she had died.
*Thus endeth about the bleakest ******* book I have ever read. What an ending; it’s like there’s no will to live after that.
*In particular, I love the horrible silence after Morwen asks how brother and sister were united at last. Hurin knows, of course, has the horrible knowledge that Morgoth cursed him with. But to the end he is silent; this is a horror that Morwen cannot know.
*Anyway, there are various pages of family trees after the story proper. I ignore them, not having the vibrancy of soul left to bother with anything as trivial as a family tree, now that I know that life is a horrible empty shell and we’ll all end up sleeping with our sisters no matter how hard we try not to.
*Then there are two appendices dealing with the way Christopher Tolkien put this story together. Essentially, he’s taken the story as published in Unfinished Tales, the chapter in the Silmarillion and a few other rough draft sections from Tolkien’s unpublished writing. We’ll be talking about the version in Unfinished Tales next, so we’ll get into the differences and expansions there.
*For now, I’ll just say it; we’ve found our first absolute masterpiece. This is epic tragedy as it should be told. An astonishing book.
J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien
*Next time, the first half of the Narn I Hin Hurin from Unfinished Tales; we’ll see if anything got left out in the transition to this book. Show up for that.