Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Children of Húrin

The Children of Hurin cover.jpg 

This book by Lord of the Rings creator J.R.R. Tolkien is one of the “great tales” set during the First Age of Middle-earth, beginning with a preface indicating that the Elder Days, another term for the First Age, are largely unknown to readers of Tolkien’s magnum opus, with what would eventually become the book commenced by the elder Tolkien during the First World War as part of The Book of Lost Tales. Tolkien’s son Christopher notes that the character of Túrin, one of the eponymous Children of Húrin, was significant to his father, as was Húrin himself and his spouse Morwen, with defining characteristics.

The novel tells of life in their household in the frigid country of Dor-lómin during the fearful years during which Morgoth, the original Dark Lord and Sauron’s precursor, broke the Siege of Angband, before Túrin’s birth. Morgoth had set a curse of hared upon the family because of their defiance, and feared them. This time the Ent Treebeard briefly referenced whilst striding through the forest of Fangorn with Merry and Pippin astride him. Sixth years after the return of the Noldor, which ended a peaceful age, Orcs came from Angband, although the Noldor defeated them.

Tolkien called this the Dagor Aglared, the Glorious Battle, although Elvish lords took warning from it, and effected the Siege of Angband, which lasted nearly four centuries. The origins of Men in Middle-earth are hinted at as well, whom the Atani Elves called “the second” and Hildor “the Followers,” having arisen far in the east of the world near the end of the Elder Days. However, little is known about the earliest history of the Men who entered Beleriand during the Long Peace, during the Siege of Angband and its shut gates. Before the main text, a note on the pronunciation of names is provided.

The novel proper opens with mention of Hador Goldenhead, a lord of the Edain and well-beloved by the Eldar, of which Túrin wishes he were one, being eight years old at the time, during the month of Gwaeron in the reckoning of the Edain, when arms were mustering. Morwen, the daughter of Baragund, hopes to restore all the fiefs of Bëor’s house to his heir, and on the morning of Túrin’s birthday, his father gives him a gift, an Elf-produced knife. Following this is the tale of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, during which Fingon falls, and Morgoth is triumphant.

Under the command of Morgoth, Orcs pile their adversaries’ bodies in a mound on the plain of Anfauglith, with the Eldar terming it Haudh-en-Nirnaeth. Three men find their way back to Brethil through an evil road known as the Taur-nu-Fuin, and when Glóredhel, Hador’s daughter, learns about the fall of Haldir, she grieves and dies. Morwen Eledhwen, silently grieving, becomes pregnant again when Túrin is nine, and sees him becoming a slave to the Easterling Men before he comes of age. The autumn of the Year of Lamentation draws on, and she sends her son to the Elves, to Doriath’s King.

During his time in the kingdom of Doriath, Melian watches over Túrin, although he sees her rarely, and when he turns seventeen, he hears little news from home, ultimately leaving, with Beleg Strongbow coming to Menegroth to seek him. Túrin, believing himself an outlaw, wanders westward, leaving the Guarded Realm and entering the woodlands south of Teiglin, encountering Forweg. Thingol sends many messengers to seek Túrin in Doriath and its outerlying regions, although their search proves vain. Beleg returns to Menegroth, approaching Thingol and Melian, informing them of tidings that had transpired.

Mîm the Dwarf soon enters the story, Túrin meeting him and finding that he doesn’t like bondage, going to the Dwarf’s home, Bar-en-Nibin-noeg, the House of Ransom, and they become friends. Túrin ultimately dons the Helm of Hador to Beleg’s delight, with Morgoth hearing word of Túrin’s wanderings, and his Orcs defiling Bar-en-Danwedh. Túrin advances greatly in the favor of Orodreth, becoming the King’s chief counsellor, with Gwindor’s friendship growing cooler towards him. Morwen ultimately flees from Dor-lómin with her daughter Niënor, traveling to Thingol’s halls. Five years elapse since Túrin comes to Nargothrond, with two Elves, Gelmir and Arminas, of the people of Finarfin, having an errand for the Lord of Nargothrond.

Túrin ventures towards Sirion, and takes the new name Turambar, in High-elven speech meaning Master of Doom, finding appreciation among the woodmen. When the Fell Winter ends, new news of Nargothrond comes to Doriath, with survivors seeking refuge with Thingol, and the dragon Glaurung, whom Túrin had previously confronted, holding Niënor hostage. Turambar eventually weds a woman whom he terms Níniel, the Maid of Tears, and tragedy ultimately terminates the story, after which come a few appendices. indicators on the origin and formulation of the story, a dictionary on the names appearing within the story, family trees, and maps.

Overall, this was a rather unusual tale within the world of Middle-earth, with plenty of fantasy and action, although fans of the main Lord of the Rings books might not appreciate the absence of continuity nods to the chief trilogy of the series. The sheer uniqueness of the names within the story definitely distinguish it from other narratives in the genre, and Christopher Tolkien ultimately did a nice job replicating his father’s style. The structure of the story can be a bit ponderous at times, however, and there are some squicky moments of which I wasn’t aware until I reread my notes on the book, but fans of Lord of the Rings will definitely find reason to celebrate from this work.

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