The Children of HúrinJ. R. R. Tolkien
The Children of Húrin
J. R. R. Tolkien
Long before the One Ring was forged in the fires of Mount Doom, one man—Húrin—dared to defy Morgoth, the first and greatest of the dark lords to plague Middle-earth. Thus did he and his children, Túrin and Niënor, earn the enmity of a merciless foe that would shape the destiny of all the ages to come.
Only J.R.R. Tolkien, the undisputed master of the fantastic, could have conceived this magical tale of Elves and Men united against a brutal foe. And only Christopher Tolkien, the master’s son and literary heir, could have fit the pieces of his father’s unfinished work together with such deep understanding and consummate artistry. With an introduction and appendiCes by Christopher Tolkien, who has also contributed maps and genealogy tables, and eight stunning paintings and twenty-five pencil drawings by Oscar-winning artist Alan Lee, The Children of Húrin at last takes its proper place as the very cornerstone of J.R.R. Tolkien’s immortal achievement.
The Children of Húrin
It is undeniable that there are a very great many readers of The Lord of the Rings for whom the legends of the Elder Days (as previously published in varying forms in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and The History of Middle-earth) are altogether unknown, unless by their repute as strange and inaccessible in mode and manner. For this reason it has seemed to me for a long time that there was a good case for presenting my father’s long version of the legend of the Children of Húrin as an independent work, between its own covers, with a minimum of editorial presence, and above all in continuous narrative without gaps or interruptions, if this could be done without distortion or invention, despite the unfinished state in which he left some parts of it.
I have thought that if the story of the fate of Túrin and Niënor, the children of Húrin and Morwen, could be presented in this way, a window might be opened onto a scene and a story set in an unknown Middle-earth that are vivid and immediate, yet conceived as handed down from remote ages: the drowned lands in the west beyond the Blue Mountains where Treebeard walked in his youth, and the life of Túrin Turambar, in Dor-lómin, Doriath, Nargothrond, and the Forest of Brethil.
This book is thus primarily addressed to such readers as may perhaps recall that the hide of Shelob was so horrendously hard that it ‘could not be pierced by any strength of men, not though Elf or Dwarf should forge the steel or the the children of húrin hand of Beren or of Túrin wield it’, or that Elrond named Túrin to Frodo at Rivendell as one of ‘the mighty Elf-friends of old’; but know no more of him.
When my father was a young man, during the years of the First World War and long before there was any inkling of the tales that were to form the narrative of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, he began the writing of a collection of stories that he called The Book of Lost Tales. That was his first work of imaginative literature, and a substantial one, for though it was left unfinished there are fourteen completed tales. It was in The Book of Lost Tales that there first appeared in narrative the Gods, or Valar; Elves and Men as the Children of Ilúvatar (the Creator); Melkor-Morgoth the great Enemy; Balrogs and Orcs; and the lands in which the Tales are set, Valinor ‘land of the Gods’ beyond the western ocean, and the ‘Great Lands’ (afterwards called ‘Middle-earth’, between the seas of east and west).
Among the Lost Tales three were of much greater length and fullness, and all three are concerned with Men as well as Elves: they are The Tale of Tinúviel (which appears in brief form in The Lord of the Rings as the story of Beren and Lúthien that Aragorn told to the hobbits on Weathertop; this my father wrote in 1917), Turambar and the Foalókë (Túrin Turambar and the Dragon, certainly in existence by 1919, if not before), and The Fall of Gondolin (1916–17). In an often-quoted passage of a long letter describing his work that my father wrote in 1951, three years before the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring, he told of his early ambition: ‘once upon a time (my crest has long since fallen) I had a mind to make a body of more or less connected legend, ranging from the large and cosmogonic, to the level of romantic fairy-story – the larger founded on the lesser in contact with the earth, the lesser drawing splendour from the vast backcloths . . . I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched.’
It is seen from this reminiscence that from far back it was a part of his conception of what came to be called The Silmarillion that some of the ‘Tales’ should be told in much fuller form; and indeed in that same letter of 1951 he referred expressly to the three stories which I have mentioned above as being much the longest in The Book of Lost Tales. Here he called the tale of Beren and Lúthien ‘the chief of the stories of The Silmarillion’, and of it he said: ‘the story is (I think a beautiful and powerful) heroic-fairy-romance, receivable in itself with only a very general vague knowledge of the background. But it is also a fundamental link in the cycle, deprived of its full significance out of its place therein.’ ‘There are other stories almost equally full in treatment,’ he went on, ‘and equally independent, and yet linked to the general history’: these are The Children of Húrin and The Fall of Gondolin.
It thus seems unquestionable, from my father’s own words, that if he could achieve final and finished narratives on the scale he desired, he saw the three ‘Great Tales’ of the Elder Days (Beren and Lúthien, the Children of Húrin, and the Fall of Gondolin) as works sufficiently complete in themselves as not to demand knowledge of the great body of legend known as The Silmarillion. On the other hand, as my father observed in the same place, the tale of the Children of Húrin is integral to the history of Elves and Men in the Elder Days, and there are necessarily a good many references to events and circumstances in that larger story.
It would be altogether contrary to the conception of this book to burden its reading with an abundance of notes giving information about persons and events that are in any case seldom of real importance to the immediate narrative. However, it may be found helpful here and there if some such assistance is provided, and I have accordingly given in the Introduction a very brief sketch of Beleriand and its peoples near the end of the Elder Days, when Túrin and Niënor were born; and, as well as a map of Beleriand and the lands to the North, I have included a list of all names occurring in the text with very concise indications concerning each, and simplified genealogies.
At the end of the book is an Appendix in two parts: the first concerned with my father’s attempts to achieve a final form for the three tales, and the second with the composition of the text in this book, which differs in many respects from that in Unfinished Tales.
I am very grateful to my son Adam Tolkien for his indispensable help in the arrangement and presentation of the material in the Introduction and Appendix, and for easing the book into the (to me) daunting world of electronic transmission.
Middle-earth in the Elder Days
The character of Túrin was of deep significance to my father, and in dialogue of directness and immediacy he achieved a poignant portrait of his boyhood, essential to the whole: his severity and lack of gaiety, his sense of justice and his compassion; of Húrin also, quick, gay, and sanguine, and of Morwen his mother, reserved, courageous, and proud; and of the life of the household in the cold country of Dor-lómin during the years, already full of fear, after Morgoth broke the Siege of Angband, before Túrin was born.
But all this was in the Elder Days, the First Age of the world, in a time unimaginably remote. The depth in time to which this story reaches back was memorably conveyed in a passage in The Lord of the Rings. At the great council in Rivendell Elrond spoke of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men and the defeat of Sauron at the end of the Second Age, more th
an three thousand years before:
Thereupon Elrond paused a while and sighed. ‘I remember well the splendour of their banners,’ he said. ‘It recalled to me the glory of the Elder Days and the hosts of Beleriand, so many great princes and captains were assembled. And yet not so many, nor so fair, as when Thangorodrim was broken, and the Elves deemed that evil was ended for ever, and it was not so.’
‘You remember?’ said Frodo, speaking his thought aloud in his astonishment. ‘But I thought,’ he stammered as Elrond turned towards him, ‘I thought that the fall of Gil-galad was a long age ago.’
‘So it was indeed,’ answered Elrond gravely. ‘But my memory reaches back even to the Elder Days. Eärendil was my sire, who was born in Gondolin before its fall; and my mother was Elwing, daughter of Dior, son of Lúthien of Doriath. I have seen three ages in the West of the world, and many defeats, and many fruitless victories.’
Some six and a half thousand years before the Council of Elrond was held in Rivendell, Túrin was born in Dor-lómin, ‘in the winter of the year,’ as is recorded in the Annals of Beleriand, ‘with omens of sorrow’.
But the tragedy of his life is by no means comprehended solely in the portrayal of character, for he was condemned to live trapped in a malediction of huge and mysterious power, the curse of hatred set by Morgoth upon Húrin and Morwen and their children, because Húrin defied him, and refused his will. And Morgoth, the Black Enemy, as he came to be called, was in his origin, as he declared to Húrin brought captive before him, ‘Melkor, first and mightiest of the Valar, who was before the world.’ Now become permanently incarnate, in form a gigantic and majestic, but terrible, King in the northwest of Middle-earth, he was physically present in his huge fortress of Angband, the Hells of Iron: the black reek that issued from the summits of Thangorodrim, the mountains that he piled above Angband, could be seen far off staining the northern sky. It is said in the Annals of Beleriand that ‘the gates of Morgoth were but one hundred and fifty leagues distant from the bridge of Menegroth; far and yet all too near.’ These words refer to the bridge leading to the dwellings of the Elvish king Thingol, who took Túrin to be his fosterson: they were called Menegroth, the Thousand Caves, far south and east of Dor-lómin.
But being incarnate Morgoth was afraid. My father wrote of him: ‘As he grew in malice, and sent forth from himself the evil that he conceived in lies and creatures of wickedness, his power passed into them and was dispersed, and he himself became ever more earth-bound, unwilling to issue from his dark strongholds.’ Thus when Fingolfin, High King of the Noldorin Elves, rode alone to Angband to challenge Morgoth to combat, he cried at the gate: ‘Come forth, thou coward king, to fight with thine own hand! Den-dweller, wielder of thralls, liar and lurker, foe of Gods and Elves, come! For I would see thy craven face.’ Then (it is told) ‘Morgoth came. For he could not refuse such a challenge before the face of his captains.’ He fought with the great hammer Grond, which at each blow made a great pit, and he beat Fingolfin to the ground; but as he died he pinned the great foot of Morgoth to the earth, ‘and the black blood gushed forth and filled the pits of Grond. Morgoth went ever halt thereafter.’ So also, when Beren and Lúthien, in the shapes of a wolf and a bat, made their way into the deepest hall in Angband, where Morgoth sat, Lúthien cast a spell on him: and ‘suddenly he fell, as a hill sliding in avalanche, and hurled like thunder from his throne lay prone upon the floors of hell. The iron crown rolled echoing from his head.’
The curse of such a being, who can claim that ‘the shadow of my purpose lies upon Arda [the Earth], and all that is in it bends slowly and surely to my will’, is unlike the curses or imprecations of beings of far less power. Morgoth is not ‘invoking’ evil or calamity on Húrin and his children, he is not ‘calling on’ a higher power to be the agent: for he, ‘Master of the fates of Arda’ as he named himself to Húrin, intends to bring about the ruin of his enemy by the force of his own gigantic will. Thus he ‘designs’ the future of those whom he hates, and so he says to Húrin: ‘Upon all whom you love my thought shall weigh as a cloud of Doom, and it shall bring them down into darkness and despair.’
The torment that he devised for Húrin was ‘to see with Morgoth’s eyes’. My father gave a definition of what this meant: if one were forced to look into Morgoth’s eye he would ‘see’ (or receive in his mind from Morgoth’s mind) a compellingly credible picture of events, distorted by Morgoth’s bottomless malice; and if indeed any could refuse Morgoth’s command, Húrin did not. This was in part, my father said, because his love of his kin and his anguished anxiety for them made him desire to learn all that he could of them, no matter what the source; and in part from pride, believing that he had defeated Morgoth in debate, and that he could ‘outstare’ Morgoth, or at least retain his critical reason and distinguish between fact and malice.
Throughout Túrin’s life from the time of his departure from Dor-lómin, and the life of his sister Niënor who never saw her father, this was the fate of Húrin, seated immovably in a high place of Thangorodrim in increasing bitterness inspired by his tormentor.
In the tale of Túrin, who named himself Turambar ‘Master of Fate’, the curse of Morgoth seems to be seen as power unleashed to work evil, seeking out its victims; so the fallen Vala himself is said to fear that Túrin ‘would grow to such a power that the curse that he had laid upon him would become void, and he would escape the doom that had been designed for him’ (†). And afterwards in Nargothrond Túrin concealed his true name, so that when Gwindor revealed it he was angered: ‘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.’ It was Gwindor who had told Túrin of the rumour that ran through Angband, where Gwindor had been held prisoner, that Morgoth had laid a curse on Húrin and all his kin. But now he replied to Túrin’s wrath: ‘the doom lies in yourself, not in your name.’
So essential is this complex conception in the story that my father even proposed an alternative title to it: Narn e·’Rach Morgoth, The Tale of the Curse of Morgoth. And his view of it is seen in these words: ‘So ended the tale of Túrin the hapless; the worst of the works of Morgoth among Men in the ancient world.’
When Treebeard strode through the forest of Fangorn carrying Merry and Pippin each in the crook of his arm he sang to them of places that he had known in remote times, and of the trees that grew there:
In the willow-meads of Tasarinan I walked in the Spring.
Ah! the sight and the smell of the Spring in Nan-tasarion!
And I said that was good.
I wandered in Summer in the elm-woods of Ossiriand.
Ah! the light and the music in the Summer by the Seven
Rivers of Ossir!
And I thought that was best.
To the beeches of Neldoreth I came in the Autumn.
Ah! the gold and the red and the sighing of leaves in the
Autumn in Taur-na-Neldor!
It was more than my desire.
To the pine-trees upon the highland of Dorthonion I
climbed in the Winter.
Ah! the wind and the whiteness and the black branches
of Winter upon Orod-na-Thôn!
My voice went up and sang in the sky.
And now all those lands lie under the wave,
And I walk in Ambarona, in Tauremorna, in Aldalómë,
In my own land, in the country of Fangorn,
Where the roots are long,
And the years lie thicker than the leaves In Tauremornalómë.
The memory of Treebeard, ‘Ent the earthborn, old as mountains’, was indeed long. He was remembering ancient forests in the great country of Beleriand, which was destroyed in the tumults of the Great Battle at the end of the Elder Days. The Great Sea poured in and drowned all the lands west of the Blue Mountains, called Ered Luin and Ered Lindon: so that the map accompanying The Silmarillion ends in the east with that mountain-chain, whereas the map accompanying The Lord of the Rings ends in the west with the sa
me range; and the coastal lands beyond the mountains named on that map Forlindon and Harlindon (North Lindon and South Lindon) were all that remained in the Third Age of the country called both Ossiriand, Land of Seven Rivers, and also Lindon, in whose elm-woods Tree-beard once walked.
He walked also among the great pine-trees on the highland of Dorthonion (‘Land of Pines’), which afterwards came to be called Taur-nu-Fuin, ‘the Forest under Night’, when Morgoth turned it into ‘a region of dread and dark enchantment, of wandering and despair’ (†); and he came to Neldoreth, the northern forest of Doriath, realm of Thingol.
It was in Beleriand and the lands to the north that Túrin’s terrible destiny was played out; and indeed both Dorthonion and Doriath where Treebeard walked were crucial in his life. He was born into a world of warfare, though he was still a child when the last and greatest battle in the wars of Beleriand was fought. A very brief sketch of how this came about will answer questions that arise and references that are made in the course of the narrative.
In the north the boundaries of Beleriand seem to have been formed by the Ered Wethrin, the Mountains of Shadow, beyond which lay Húrin’s country, Dor-lómin, a part of Hithlum; while in the east Beleriand extended to the feet of the Blue Mountains. Further east lay lands that scarcely appear in the history of the Elder Days; but the peoples that shaped that history came out of the east by the passes of the Blue Mountains.
The Elves appeared on earth far off in the distant east, beside a lake that was named Cuiviénen, Water of Awakening; and thence they were summoned by the Valar to leave Middle-earth, and passing over the Great Sea to come to the ‘Blessed Realm’ of Aman in the west of the world, the land of the Gods. Those who accepted the summons were led on a great march across Middle-earth from Cuiviénen by the Vala Oromë, the Hunter, and they are called the Eldar, the Elves of the Great Journey, the High Elves: distinct from those who, refusing the summons, chose Middle-earth for their land and their destiny. They are the ‘lesser Elves’, called Avari, the Unwilling.