Tolkien as a “Dark Fantasy” Author
‘Of Túrin Turambar’ is the second of the Great Tales in The Silmarllion. Undoubtedly, it is also the greatest (both in terms of length and detailed narrative composition).
It’s a dark tale full of ups and downs (with certainly more downs than ups); where a glimmer of hope in the story turns out to be nothing more than an illusion.
It can also be a tough read at first. Thankfully, it’s a standalone story within The Silmarillion narrative and only a few past events and characters bear upon this chapter in any real way.
If you’ve read the previous chapter (‘Of the Fifth Battle: Nirnaeth Arnoediad’) then you’re on the right track; the consequences of that battle are a direct influence on the successive events.
I’m sure you’re aware of the recent publication The Children of Húrin: a significantly expanded version of the chapter found in The Silmarillion. If you’re new to this story, I suggest you go through the chapter first and then proceed to reading the full tale once you’ve grasped the concept of the story.
In the meantime, here’s my own pitiful summary (spoilers ahead).
Chapter 21 – ‘Of Túrin Turambar’
Following the disaster of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, Húrin finds himself prisoner in the fortress of Angband: defying the anger of Morgoth by keeping hidden Gondolin’s location.
In his wrath, the Dark Lord curses him and his family by laying a cloud of doom and ill-will that will haunt them forever.
Seeing her husband hasn’t yet returned home, Morwen sends her son to the safety of Doriath; King Thingol accepts Túrin and raises him as his foster son.
As the years pass and Túrin becomes a young man, his prowess in battle is proven. Striking a friendship with the elf Beleg Strongbow, they defend the norther borders of Thingol’s realm against the constant orc attacks. Yet, the doom of Morgoth begins to hover heavily on him and soon decides to leave Doriath and pursue a life among a group of outlaws.
Túrin eventually becomes their leader and one evening they stumble upon Mîm, a Petty-Dwarf, who is forced to reveal his hide-out for the group to take refuge during the winter. Beleg, desperate to find his long-lost friend, travels Beleriand until he manages to find their hide-out. The meeting of the two friends is a merry one and the elf helps in aiding the men who had fallen sick.
Mîm the Dwarf is not happy of the newly-arrived elf and his rage leads him to betray Turin by leading Orcs into the secret refuge. What follows is a blood bath that sees the entire group slain and Túrin taken prisoner. Beleg, barely alive, follows the trail of the orcs. By chance he finds Gwindor – an elf who escaped from Angband – and together they go to the rescue of Túrin.
The cursed fate of Turambar is yet again brought to the surface as he accidentally kills his beloved elf friend during the rescue. Stricken by grief he runs away followed by Gwindor who takes him to the Realm of Nargothrond.
Túrin slays Beleg
Túrin becomes a proud leader; so proud that he unwittingly brings about the destruction of Nargothrond following a battle with the orcs led by Glaurung. Turin is taunted by the dragon and flees far away, distraught and aimless.
At this time, Morwen flees Dor-lómin with her daughter, Niënor, seeking refuge in Doriath. They find Túrin gone and eventually travel towards Nargothrond to learn news of their son and brother. Being also enmeshed in the doom laid on Húrin, Glaurung manages to separate mother and daughter, leaving Niënor at the mercy of the dragon.
He lays a spell of forgetfulness on her and sends her running off wild and scared.
Túrin, in the meantime, has joined the woodsmen from the Forest of Brethil; one night he finds Niënor cowering in the woods. Not knowing she is his sister, he takes her back to the village and looks after her. The two grow to love each other and Niënor – now named Níniel by Túrin – conceives.
News of the destruction by Glaurung reaches the woodsmen, as the dragon lays waste to the surrounding lands: getting closer towards their homes. Against the counsel of Niënor, Túrin departs on a quest to kill the wingless worm.
The Death of Glaurung
In a daring feat that exposes the courage, resilience and strength of the cursed Túrin, the dragon is slain. With it comes the revelation to both siblings of who they really are. Niënor, thinking her brother dead from the dragon’s poisoned blood, leaps to her death in the cold waters of the river Teiglin.
Túrin, waking up to learn the truth about Niënor, uses Gurthang (Beleg’s sword) to kill himself.
Thus end the fates of the Children of Húrin.
Then Túrin knelt and drank from that water; and suddenly he cast himself down, and his tears were unloosed at last, and he was healed of his madness.
A summary ‘Of Túrin Turambar’ in a few hundred words? Now that is something.
Next week, ‘Of the Ruin of Doriath’.