Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blogging The Silmarillion: Of Túrin Turambar and the sightless dark of Tolkien’s vision

Thus was the fate of Túrin woven, which is foretold in that lay that is called Narn i Hîn Húrin, the Tale of the Children of Húrin, and is the longest of all the lays that speak of those days. Here that tale is told in brief, for it is woven with the fate of the Silmarils and of the Elves; and it is called the Tale of Grief, for it is sorrowful, and in it are revealed most evil works of Morgoth Bauglir.


Are our lives lived in vain? Are we ultimately slaves to our own weaknesses and pre-programmed natures? Does life have any real significance when death’s mouth yawns blackly at its end?

These are some of the questions with which J.R.R. Tolkien grapples in his writing, but perhaps never so clearly and forthrightly as in Chapter 21 of The Silmarillion, “Of Túrin Turambar.”

I haven’t read as much of the Northern myths as I would like, but I can say with certainty that “Of Túrin Turambar” would fit right alongside any of the stories in The Sagas of Icelanders, for example. Along with the tale of Fëanor it is the most northern story in the book: heroic and studded with mighty deeds and feats of arms, but bleak, tragic, and ultimately fruitless. This is Tolkien in his darkest hour.

To read the rest of this post, visit The Cimmerian Web site.


David J. West said...

These themes move me and are yet another reason Tolkien is so powerful.

The Choice is always presented and while dark forces do work against us-we have the choice-love it.

And the "Death-Iron" is a fave too. I love that Tolkiens swords have names, meanings, legacies-its the one thing I find myself wishing Howard did.

Trey said...

@David: I never thought about it before, but your comment and Brian's post have made me consider it: for all his "Aryan" talk Howard doesn't seem to have been much inspired by the "Northern thing" like Tolkien and later writers like Poul Anderson. I wonder if he had read any of the sagas.

Eric D. Lehman said...

I always figured that the expanded Children of Hurin/Turin Turambar story was not included in the Silmarillion because it varied too much as far as writing style. It would have seemed strange to suddenly have a more detailed story in the midst of the high style, almost biblical remove that the rest of Silmarillion has.


Brian Murphy said...

Thanks for the comments, all!

Regarding the Northern influence on Howard, I would kind of agree, though Crom would seem to fit in with the pantheon of Northern gods: Essentially he bestows men with courage and a strong sword-arm, but it's up to them to carve out their own destiny. Nor does he promise paradise at the end. I'm not sure whether he read any of the Sagas or the Eddas, however.

Eric: That's certainly possible.

Gabriele C. said...

Túrin killing Beleg - another great story. I really should reread the Silmarillion.

And all those named, and often evil, swords make me want to include one into my novel. ;)

Brian Murphy said...

Gabriele: You should re-read The Silmarillion! I'm enjoying it more this time around than ever before, possibly because I've committed myself to writing down my thoughts in this series, and am more focused and attuned to what is going on.

And you and David are right: Evil, intelligent swords are awesome. I've always said that movies can up their "awesome" quota by a factor of 10 by adding giant man-eating snakes or apes; a fantasy novel gets instantly better with inclusion of a cursed black sword of meteroic iron.

Lagomorph Rex said...

Another excellent installment in this series. You are making it very difficult not to break out the Silmarillion and re-read it.. I really need to re-read the HOME series though.. as I've only read it all once..

Have you seen the new re-issue covers of HOME for the UK? I wonder if they will re-issue it in the US.. I'd really like to get a proper sized copy of Volume 1..

Also, Thanks for your comments on my blog!

Brian Murphy said...

Oh, I know about the HOME reprint:

I would think that this will be made available in the States shortly thereafter.

Lagomorph Rex said...

I see from that link that the Index or Volume 13 looks to be getting a hardback edition this time.. I'm not sure if it ever did get one previously..

I really hope H&MCo release that here.. since I've about worn out my imported paperback copy.

Long Haired Spider said...

I have so many "favorites" in the Silm, but this might be my favorite among favorites. I like to read the chapter from the Silm along with the story from the UT for the full experience.

I hate to use a hackneyed word, but this story resonates with me - I can't read it without feeling a thrill or a shiver. I've tried unsuccessfully for many years to find another person who enjoyed the Silmarillion in general and this story in particular. Thank you for writing this essay!

Brian Murphy said...

Thanks for stopping by, Long Haired Spider.

It is a great story and a memorable chapter. It's epic and tragic, and sadly sums up much of the human experience (we see as through a glass darkly and all that). For the full experience I recommend The Children of Hurin.

Andy said...

"for all his "Aryan" talk Howard doesn't seem to have been much inspired by the "Northern thing" like Tolkien and later writers like Poul Anderson."

Howard was really a Celtic guy, not a viking guy, I think. As I recall, Norsemen in his stories tend to be villains. Not always, but usually.

Brian Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Murphy said...

Hi Andy, yes, I believe Conan was derived from Howard's interest in Celtic history. There were certainly Nordic types in the Hyborian Age (the Vanir and the Aesir), but the influences of the "Northern thing" are much more prominent in Tolkien than Howard.

There is of course the famous line from The Nemedian Chronicles which contains the word Aryas; whether this term relates to Aryans I'm not entirely sure:

"Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and in the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars."