J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien: The Children of Húrin


There are tales of Middle-earth from times long before The Lord of the Rings. The story told in this book is set in the great country that lay beyond the Grey Havens in the West: lands where Treebeard once walked, but which were drowned in the great cataclysm that ended the First Age of the World.

In that remote time, Morgoth, the first Dark Lord, dwelt in the vast fortress of Angband, the Hells of Iron, in the North; and the tragedy of Túrin and his sister Nienor unfolded within the shadow of the fear of Angband and the war waged by Morgoth against the lands and secret cities of the Elves. Their brief and passionate lives were dominated by the elemental hatred that Morgoth bore them as the children of Húrin, the man who had dared to defy and to scorn him to his face. Against them he sent his most formidable servant, Glaurung, a powerful spirit in the form of a huge wingless dragon of fire.

Into this story of brutal conquest and flight, of forest hiding-places and pursuit, of resistance with lessening hope, the Dark Lord and the Dragon enter in direly articulate form. Sardonic and mocking, Glaurung manipulated the fates of Túrin and Nienor by lies of diabolic cunning and guile, and the curse of Morgoth was fulfilled.

The earliest versions of this Tolkien story go back to the end of the First World War and the years that followed. But long afterwards, when The Lord of the Rings was finished, he revised and greatly enlarged it, enhancing complexities of motive and character. It became the dominant story in his later work on Middle-earth. But he could not bring it to a final and finished form. In this book, Christopher Tolkien has constructed, after long study of the manuscripts, a coherent narrative without any editorial invention.


Ted Nasmith: Morgoth and Húrin — Eric Verhagen: Glaurung and Nienor — John Howe: Túrin kills Glaurung — Elena Kukanova: Nienor and Túrin
— Alan Lee: Túrin wearing his dragon helm

This is the kind of tale that really only makes sense if you read it as a tale of an evil superpower overriding Man’s free will and self-determination.  Otherwise you are left with the exclamation of an Elf named Mablung, whom the Sindarin King Thingol had given the thankless task of trying to watch over Húrin’s family, and who in despair burst out one day:

“Truly, it is by lack of counsel not of courage that Hurin’s kin bring woe to others! Even so with Túrin; yet not so with his fathers.  But now they are all fey, and I like it not.”

And that, dear Mablung, is actually putting it very mildly.  


Húrin and his younger brother Huor were heirs to the most illustrious representatives of both the Second and Third Houses of the Edain: their grandfather Hador was the Lord of Dor-lómin in whose honor (rather than for his ancestor Marach) the Third House came to be named, recognizing his manifold deeds of valor; and their mother Hareth was the daughter of Halmir and sister of Haldir, chiefs of the Second House who in turn had likewise come to be recognized for their bravery in battle.  Initially raised by their mother’s brother Haldir in the Forest of Brethil, one day they were rescued from peril by the Vala Ulmo and the Great Eagles and taken to Gondolin, where they stayed for the next several years.  However, after they had duly vowed to keep the location of Gondolin secret, Turgon eventually agreed to let them return to their own people, and Húrin became Lord of Dor-Lómin at his father’s death.  Then the fifth and final Battle of Beleriand began, in which Húrin participated and fought so bravely that even when he was literally the last man standing, he was still slaying Orcs by the dozen.  It took Gothmog, the lord of Balrogs, to finally overpower him and take him to Angband, where Morgoth decided that a quick death was entirely too easy a punishment for Húrin’s resistance and for the many followers of the Dark Lord that Húrin had killed on the battlefield.  Instead, he therefore placed a curse on Húrins entire House, then he bound him to a chair high on the peaks of Thangorodrim from where, pursuant to a further spell put on Húrin himself by Morgoth, he was able to witness the doom now descending on his family in all its heartwrenching details.

As after the fifth Battle of Beleriand, Hithlum (including Dor-lómin) was overrun and enslaved by Easterlings — Morgoth’s human allies –, Húrin’s wife Morwen eventually decided to send their only son Túrin to Doriath, there to be raised by the Elven-king Thingol, while she herself remained behind in Dor-Lómin.  At this point (probably as a first consequence of Morgoth’s curse), Túrin’s beloved baby sister had already died of a plague.  After Túrin had left Dor-lómin, Morwen was delivered of a third child, again a girl, whom she named Nienor.  

Túrin prospered at Thingol’s court and eventually formed a great friendship with an Elven warrior named Beleg.  However, a misunderstanding with one of Thingol’s counselors caused Túrin to leave the court and join a band of outlaws roaming the lands south of the Forest of Brethil.  Beleg, after having cleared up the misunderstanding on Túrin’s behalf, set out after him and, unable to persuade him to accompany him back to Doriath, initially returned there himself, but at last asked the King’s permission to join Túrin in his wanderings and watch over him.  As a parting gift, Thingol invited Beleg to select a weapon from his own armory to take on his errand, but he saw with worry — having been alerted to the blade’s sinister powers by his wife Melian, the Maia — that Beleg had selected a sword then known as Anglachel (“Iron Flame”), which had been forged and given to Thingol by Eöl, the Dark Elf of Nan Elmoth.  Thingol tried to convince Beleg to reconsider, but Beleg’s mind was made up.

Beleg at last caught up with Túrin and his company of outlaws (many of whom remained mistrustful of the mighty Elf, despite his many kindnesses to them) near an isolated, near-inaccessible rock named Amon Rûdh south of the Forest of Brethil, where Túrin’s company had half-cajoled and half-coerced themselves into sharing the well-concealed dwelling place of a Petty-dwarf named Mîm: together with his sons among the last descendants of this group of  Dwarves who, in the past, had been exiled from their people’ cities and subsequently grown progressively smaller and increasingly unsociable.  Though Túrin and Beleg together kept the area free of Orcs and other miscreants, disagreements with Túrin’s main outlaw lieutenant over time increased Mîm’s resentment of his enforced “guests”, and he eventually betrayed the outlaws to — the Orcs.  Túrin’s men were killed one and all, and Beleg, who alone had been absent, returned to learn that Túrin had been captured and was to be taken to Morgoth.  The Elf set out in pursuit, on the way collecting a prince of Nargothrond named Gwindor, who was wandering in the wilds, worn out by the decade and a half since the end of the fifth Battle of Beleriand that he had spent enslaved in Angband; and eventually the two Elves found and Beleg freed Túrin from the Orcs in the forests of Dorthonion.  Húrin’s son, however, disoriented by his captivity and his mistreatment at the hands of the Orcs, now mistook his oldest friend for an Orc, too, seized Beleg’s sword Anglachel, and killed the Elf with his own blade. 

Thereafter, Gwindor led the now all the more dazed Túrin from Dorthonion to the healing Pools of Irwin near the foothills of the Ered Wethrin (“Mountains of Shadow”), the mountain range separating the two main eastern parts of Hithlum (Dor-lómin and Mithrim) from West Beleriand.  When the warrior had finally come back to his senses and understood what he had done, Gwindor took him to Nargothrond, which at that time — after Finrod’s death during Beren’s mission to claim a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown — was ruled by Orodreth, the son of Finrod’s predeceased younger brother Angrod (who himself had already been killed in the fourth of the five Battles of Beleriand).  In Nargothrond Túrin had Beleg’s sword, which had grown blunt after having been used to kill its owner, reforged, and named it Gurthang (“Iron of Death”).  As the blade was black, having been forged from a meteorite, Túrin himself became known as Mormegil (“the Black Sword”) and acquired great renown under that name, as well as the trust of Orodreth and the love of his daughter Finduilas, which feelings he returned.  However, just when Túrin’s life finally seemed to have turned over a new leaf, Morgoth sent a host of his minions to Nargothrond, led by the fearsome dragon Glaurung, who bewitched Túrin into a state of paralysis long and profound enough to sack Nargothrond literally under his eyes — even worse, making use of an access that Túrin himself had disastrously counseled Orodreth to keep open, overriding the warning sent to Nargothrond by messengers from the Vala Ulmo himself via his Elven friend Círdan — and abduct Finduilas as one of the captives to be taken to Morgoth. 

Again, Túrin only realized what had happened when Glaurung’s spell was removed and it was too late.  Grief-stricken, he returned to his childhood home in Dor-lómin, thinking there at least to rescue his mother and his sister Nienor (of whose existence he had learned while still in Doriath, but whom he had never seen) from the Easterlings that had overrun the land after the fifth Battle of Beleriand.  But when he got there he found that Nienor and their mother Morwen had in the interim removed to Doriath in turn, hoping to meet him there.  Túrin killed the Easterling lord who had forced his only remaining kinswoman in Dor-lómin into marriage and the rest of the population into servitude, but then left again to search for Finduilas, who however had at this point been killed in a failed rescue attempt.  Despairing, Túrin ultimately found himself back in the Forest of Brethil, where he joined the woodsmen led by the Haladin chief Brandir, changing his name for the last time in a whole series of name changes — one for each of his turns of ill fate — and defiantly now calling himself Turambar (“Master of Fate”).

Túrin’s mother and sister meanwhile had learned of his residence in Nargothrond and, disregarding Thingol’s warning, decided to go there in turn.  Their company found the city sacked and Túrin gone, but Glaurung was still there; and he bewitched Nienor into a state of total forgetfulness, thus effectively robbing her of her identity (or the awareness of it) and even of some of the most basic faculties, such as that of speech.  Running away from Nargothrond in fear, Nienor likewise eventually ended up in Brethil, where she was found by Túrin’s company and, after having been taught to speak again, called herself Níniel (“Tear-Maiden”).  Although unaware of each other’s identity, Túrin and Níniel now saw each other for the first time and felt instinctively drawn to each other, both sensing that they had found what they had long been looking for — and mistaking it for love.  So the inevitable happened (there apparently can’t possibly be a legendarium, whether historical or fictional, without this sort of thing):

Worse yet, within a short time “Níniel” became pregnant — which in turn, of course, was the culmination of all the evil that could possibly be showered onto Húrin’s children under Morgoth’s curse.

Now, however, Glaurung came to Brethil as well; and Túrin, seeking revenge for the sacking of Nargothrond and the death of Finduilas (not to mention for the path of destruction which the dragon was leaving along his way wherever he went), determined to kill the monster once and for all.  This he achieved by his final feat of daring, stabbing the monster with his black sword from below when Glaurung had exposed his belly by crossing a gorge named Cabed-en-Aras (“Deer Leap”) not far from the settlement of Túrin’s company on the hillsite of Amon Obel (“Fortified Hill”).  In dying, the dragon cast a last spell on Túrin, causing him to faint and appear dead to Nienor-Níniel, who had followed him to Cabed-en-Aras, and whose cry of grief and horror then roused Glaurung one last time in turn, long enough to remove the spell he had placed on her and reveal to her that she had married her own brother and was carrying his child.  Horrified, Nienor threw herself into the gorge.  Awaking from his faint, Túrin learned from Brandir, with whom he had formed a friendship despite their rivalry over “Níniel”, what had happened, but rashly proceeded to kill yet another friend rather than believe him.  It took a final meeting with the Elf Mablung, whom Túrin had known since his early days in Doriath, for him to realize that Brandir had told him the truth after all.  After this, Túrin, too, committed suicide, impaling himself on his sword Gurthang and thus giving the black blade the opportunity to make up at last for the great evil in which it had been made to participate at Túrin’s hand.

Húrin and Morwen later met for a final time near Túrin’s burial mound, which also contained an inscription remembering Nieonor, after Húrin had at last been released by Morgoth, the doom of his family now being complete.  When Morwen died during the night after their final reunion, Húrin buried her with her children.  The burial mound survived the destruction of Beleriand in the War of Wrath and later became an island known as Tol Morwen off the newly-formed coast of Lindon in the later Ages of Middle-earth.


Gurthang (image source)

Source: https://lotr.fandom.com/wiki/Edain

The Realms of the Ñoldor and the Sindar and their rulers (map by Sirielle)

Right: Karen Wynn Fonstad: Nargothrond / left: the locations of Nargothrond and Tumhalad (source)


An exchange elsewhere on this book and on Beren and Lúthien, in lieu of a full-text review:

(Note: “It” in the initial question refers to Beren and Lúthien.)


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