The Children of Húrin
Front cover of hardback edition
|Author||J. R. R. Tolkien|
|Cover artist||Alan Lee|
|16 April 2007|
|Media type||Print (hardback, paperback); audiobook; e-book|
|LC Class||PR6039.O32 N37 2007|
|Followed by||The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún|
The Children of Húrin is an epic fantasy novel which forms the completion of a tale by J. R. R. Tolkien. He wrote the original version of the story in the late 1910s, revised it several times later, but did not complete it before his death in 1973. His son, Christopher Tolkien, edited the manuscripts to form a consistent narrative, and published it in 2007 as an independent work. The book contains 33 illustrations by Alan Lee, eight of which are full-page and in colour. The story is one of three "great tales" set in the First Age of Tolkien's Middle-earth, the other two being Beren and Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin.
The history and descent of the main characters are given as the leading paragraphs of the book, and the back story is elaborated upon in The Silmarillion. It begins five hundred years before the action of the book, when Morgoth, a Vala and the prime evil power, escapes from the Blessed Realm of Valinor to the north-west of Middle-earth. From his fortress of Angband he endeavours to gain control of the whole of Middle-earth, unleashing a war with the Elves that dwell in the land of Beleriand to the south.
However, the Elves manage to stay his assault, and most of their realms remain unconquered; one of the most powerful of these is Doriath, ruled by Thingol. In addition, after some time the Noldorin Elves forsake Valinor and pursue Morgoth to Middle-earth in order to take vengeance upon him. Together with the Sindar of Beleriand, they proceed to lay siege to Angband, and establish new strongholds and realms in Middle-earth, including Hithlum ruled by Fingon, Nargothrond by Finrod Felagund and Gondolin by Turgon.
Three centuries pass, during which the first Men appear in Beleriand. These are the Edain, descendants of those Men who have rebelled against the rule of Morgoth's servants and journeyed westward. Most of the Elves welcome them, and they are given fiefs throughout Beleriand. The House of Bëor rules over the land of Ladros, the Folk of Haleth retreat to the forest of Brethil, and the lordship of Dor-lómin is granted to the House of Hador. Later, other Men enter Beleriand, the Easterlings, many of whom are in secret league with Morgoth.
Eventually Morgoth manages to break the Siege of Angband in the Battle of Sudden Flame. The House of Bëor is destroyed and the Elves and Edain suffer heavy losses; however, many realms remain unconquered, including Dor-lómin, where the lordship has passed to Húrin Thalion.
Túrin, son of Húrin of the race of Men, lived in Dor-lómin with his father, his mother Morwen, and his sister Urwen. Urwen died as a child from a plague. Túrin's father was later taken prisoner by Morgoth after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. During Húrin's imprisonment Túrin was sent by his mother to live in the Elf-realm Doriath for protection. In his absence Morwen gave birth to her third child, Niënor, a girl. Morgoth had placed a curse upon Húrin and all his family whereby evil would befall them for their whole lives.
King Thingol of Doriath takes Túrin as a foster-son. During his time in Doriath Túrin befriends an Elf named Beleg, and the two become close companions. Túrin accidentally causes the death of the Elf Saeros, who attempts to jump a ravine while fleeing but falls and is killed. Túrin refuses to return to Doriath to face judgement and opts to leave Doriath, becoming an outlaw. Thingol tries Túrin in absentia and ultimately pardons him. He gives Beleg leave to search for Túrin and bring him back to Doriath.
Túrin meanwhile joins a band of outlaws in the wild, he renames himself Neithan, "the wronged" and eventually becomes their captain. Beleg locates the band while Túrin is absent, and the outlaws leave him tied to a tree until he agrees to give them information. Túrin returns in time to cut Beleg free and, horrified by the outlaws' actions, resolves to forsake the cruel habits he has fallen into. Beleg delivers the message of the king's pardon but Túrin refuses to return to Doriath. Beleg returns to aid Doriath's defence.
Túrin and his men capture Mîm, a Petty-dwarf, who leads them to the caves at Amon Rûdh. Beleg decides to return to Túrin, who welcomes him at Amon Rûdh. The outlaws resent the elf's presence and Mîm, disliking Elves, grows to hate him. Mîm betrays the outlaws to orcs, leading the orcs to the caves where Túrin's company is taken unawares. The entire band is killed, save for Beleg and Túrin. They take Túrin off towards Angband, leaving Beleg chained to a rock. Mîm is about to kill Beleg after the orcs depart when one of the outlaws, mortally wounded, rouses himself before dying to drive Mîm away and release Beleg. Beleg follows the orcs after his wounds are healed.
Beleg happens across a mutilated elf, Gwindor of Nargothrond, sleeping in the forest of Taur-nu-Fuin. They enter the orc camp at night and carry Túrin, asleep, from the camp. Beleg begins to cut Túrin's bonds with his sword Anglachel, but the sword slips in his hand and cuts Túrin. Túrin, mistaking Beleg for an orc, kills Beleg with his own sword. When a flash of lightning reveals Beleg's face, Túrin realises his mistake and falls into a frenzy. He refuses to leave Beleg's body until morning, when Gwindor is able to bury the elf. Túrin takes Anglachel but remains witless with grief.
Túrin and Gwindor proceed to Nargothrond. There Túrin gains the favour of King Orodreth, and after leading the Elves to considerable victories, he becomes Orodreth's chief counsellor and commander of his forces. Against all counsel Túrin refuses to hide Nargothrond from Morgoth or to retract his plans for full-scale battle. Morgoth sends an orc-army under the command of the dragon, Glaurung, and Nargothrond is defeated. The orcs, crossing easily over the bridge that Túrin had built, sack Nargothrond and capture its citizens. Túrin returns as the prisoners are to be led away by the orcs, and encounters Glaurung. The dragon enchants and tricks him into returning to Dor-lómin to seek out Morwen and Niënor instead of rescuing the prisoners—among whom is Finduilas, Orodreth’s daughter, who loved him.
In Dor-lómin Túrin learns that Morwen and Niënor have long been in Doriath, and that Glaurung deceived him into letting Finduilas go to her death. He tracks Finduilas' captors to the forest of Brethil, only to learn that she was murdered by the orcs. Grief-stricken, Túrin seeks sanctuary among the folk of Haleth, who maintain a resistance against Morgoth. In Brethil Túrin renames himself Turambar, "Master of Doom" in Quenya, and gradually supplants Brandir, Brethil's lame Chieftain.
In Doriath Morwen and Niënor hear rumours of Túrin's deeds, and Morwen determines either to find Túrin or to hear news of his death. Against the counsel of Thingol she rides out of Doriath alone, and Niënor conceals herself among the riders whom Thingol sends under Mablung to follow and protect Morwen. At Nargothrond, Mablung encounters Glaurung, who scatters the elves. Finding Niënor alone, Glaurung discovers her identity and enchants her so that her mind is made blank; she forgets everything, including her name and how to speak.
Mablung attempts to return to Doriath alone with Niënor. The two become stranded in the wilderness, and in an orc attack, Niënor runs into the woods and is lost. Eventually she collapses near Brethil on the grave of Finduilas, where Turambar finds her. He brings her back to the town, and she gradually recovers the use of speech, although she has no memory of her past life. Niënor and Turambar develop a strong attraction. They marry, not realising their kinship, and Niënor becomes pregnant.
After some time of peace, Glaurung returns to exterminate the men of Brethil. Turambar leads an expedition to cut him off, and stabs Glaurung from beneath while the dragon is crossing a ravine. As Glaurung is dying on the bank of the ravine, Turambar pulls his sword from the dragon's belly, and blood spurts onto his hand and burns him. Overwhelmed with pain and fatigue, he faints. Niënor finds him and mistakes his swoon for death. In a last effort of malice Glaurung opens his eyes and informs her that she and Turambar are brother and sister. Glaurung then dies, and his spell of forgetfulness passes from Niënor. Remembering her entire life and knowing that her unborn child was begotten in incest, she throws herself from the nearby cliff into the river Taeglin and is washed away. When Turambar wakes, Brandir informs him of Niënor's death and of their true relationship as siblings, as he had overheard the dragon's words. Mablung confirms Brandir's tale, and Turambar takes his own life upon his sword.
The main part of the narrative ends with the burial of Túrin. Appended to this is an extract from The Wanderings of Húrin, the next tale of Tolkien's legendarium. This recounts how Húrin is at last released by Morgoth and comes to the grave of his children. There he finds Morwen, who has also managed to find the place, but now dies in the arms of her husband.
The Children of Húrin was published on 17 April 2007, by HarperCollins in the United Kingdom and Canada, and by Houghton Mifflin in the United States. Alan Lee, illustrator of other fantasy works by J. R. R. Tolkien (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) created the jacket painting, as well as the illustrations within the book. Christopher Tolkien also included an excursus on the evolution of the tale, several genealogical tables, and a redrawn map of Beleriand.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that the setting is intended to be our Earth several thousand years ago, although the geographical and historical correspondence with the real world is tenuous. The lands of Middle-earth were populated by Men and other humanoid races: Elves, Dwarves, and Orcs, as well as divine beings, Valar and Maiar. The story concentrates on a man of the House of Hador, Túrin Turambar, and his sister Niënor Níniel, who are cursed along with their father Húrin by the Dark Lord Morgoth. The events take place more than 6,500 years before the War of the Ring.
According to the Tolkien Estate:
The Children of Húrin takes the reader back to a time long before The Lord of the Rings, in an area of Middle-earth that was to be drowned before Hobbits appeared, and when the great enemy was still the fallen Vala, Morgoth, and Sauron was only Morgoth's lieutenant. This heroic romance is the tale of the Man, Húrin, who dared to defy Morgoth, and his family's tragic destiny, as it follows his son Túrin Turambar's travels through the lost world of Beleriand...
The story is mainly based on the legend of Kullervo, a character from the Finnish folklore poems known as Kalevala. Tolkien drew inspiration from the Kalevala for "The Story of Kullervo" in 1914, which was to become the model for his tale of Túrin. Túrin also resembles Sigmund, the father of Sigurd in the Volsunga saga, in the incestuous relationship he had with his sister. In Richard Wagner's opera, Die Walküre (also drawn in part from the Volsung myths), Siegmund and Sieglinde are parallels of Túrin and Niënor. Túrin further resembles Sigurd himself, as both achieve great renown for the slaying of a dragon of immense power and magic.
Túrin's resemblance to figures from Classical and Medieval tales can be confirmed by a letter which Tolkien wrote to Milton Waldman, a publisher from HarperCollins, concerning the fate of his works:
There is the Children of Húrin, the tragic tale of Túrin Turambar and his sister Níniel – of which Túrin is the hero: a figure that might be said (by people who like that sort of thing, though it is not very useful) to be derived from elements in Sigurd the Volsung, Oedipus, and the Finnish Kullervo.
The moral issues in The Children of Húrin have been compared to Tolkien's analysis of The Battle of Maldon that shows Tolkien's interest in the "theory of courage", and distinguish between arrogance and true courage. Túrin's decision to build a bridge at Nargothrond which enables the invasion by Morgoth's forces resembles the character Byrthtnoth from The Battle of Maldon.
Themes and interpretation
The themes explored in the story include evil, free will and predestination. The book reflects also on heroism and courage. It has been suggested that Túrin's character is not only shaped by Morgoth's curse but that he himself is also partly responsible for his actions. The curse cannot completely control his free will, and Túrin displays traits like arrogance, pride and a desire for honour, that eventually cause the doom of his allies and family. It has elements of revenge tragedies such as revenge (avenging Glaurung), madness (Túrin's madness after finding out who Níniel was), multiple deaths (Saeros, Beleg, Gwindor, Finduilas, Brodda, Niënor, Brandir) and disguise (Túrin's adopting new identities).
A brief version of the story formed the base of chapter XXI of The Silmarillion, setting the tale in the context of the wars of Beleriand. Although based on the same texts used to complete the new book, the Silmarillion account leaves out the greater part of the tale.
Other incomplete versions have been published in other works:
- The Narn i Hîn Húrin in Unfinished Tales.
- Items in the History of Middle-earth series, including:
None of these writings forms a complete and mature narrative. The published Children of Húrin is essentially a synthesis of the Narn and of the account found in the Silmarillion. The first part of The Children of Húrin (chapters I to VII) is taken directly from the Narn with the exception of the Nírnaeth Arnoediad (chapter II), which actually forms the twentieth chapter of the Silmarillion; both in the Narn and in the much compressed Silmarillion version (Of Túrin Turambar), this battle is only briefly mentioned.
In the middle section (chapters VII to XII), that is, from the end of Túrin's residing on Amon Rûdh to his return to Dor-lómin, material is mostly drawn from the Silmarillion but is often supplemented with more complete but disconnected passages from the Narn (provided by Christopher Tolkien in the Appendix of the Unfinished Tales). Such more developed scenes include the exploits of the outlaws in Dor-Cúarthol, Túrin's romantic connection with Finduilas, his debate with Gwindor over the strategy that the Elves of Nargothrond were to adopt in their fight against Morgoth, as well as a much expanded account of the coming of the Elves Gelmir and Arminas to the halls of Narog. Some minor editorial process has been needed mostly to provide smooth transitions. The last section (chapters XII to XVIII) comes exclusively from the Narn, with the addition, at the end of the last chapter, of Húrin's release from Angband, and his last words to Morwen.
With the publication of The Children of Húrin, Christopher Tolkien quotes his father's own words on his fictional universe:
once upon a time... I had in mind to make a body of more or less connected legend... I would draw some of the great tales in fullness, and leave many only placed in the scheme, and sketched.
Christopher Tolkien gives this apology for his exercise of his authorized editorial function to produce this work of his father:
...it has seemed to me 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 parts of it."
Ethan Gilsdorf reviewing The Children of Húrin wrote of the editorial function:
Of almost equal interest is Christopher Tolkien's task editing his father's abandoned projects. In his appendix, he explains his editorial process this way: "While I have had to introduce bridging passages here and there in the piecing together of different drafts, there is no element of extraneous 'invention' of any kind, however slight." He was criticized for having monkeyed with his father's text when putting "The Silmarillion" together. This pre-emptive strike must be meant to allay the fears of Tolkien's most persnickety readers."
Christopher Tolkien explains how the compilation of The Children of Húrin was achieved:
In the Unfinished Tales there is a third gap in the narrative on p. 96: the story breaks off at the point where Beleg, having at last found Túrin among the outlaws, cannot persuade him to return to Doriath (pp. 115-119 in the new text), and does not take up again until the outlaws encounter the Petty-dwarves. Here I have again referred to The Silmarillion for the filling of the gap...
Christopher Tolkien elaborates in the Unfinished Tales concerning his use of the Narn and of the Silmarillion in order to achieve a complete account of Túrin's tale:
I have contrived a narrative, in scale commensurate with other parts of the Narn out of the existing materials (with one gap, see p. 124 and note 12); but from that point onwards (see p.135), I have found it unprofitable to attempt it. The gaps in the Narn are here too large, and could only be filled from the published text of The Silmarillion; but in an Appendix (pp. 193 ff.) I have cited isolated fragments from this part of the projected larger narrative.
The initial reviews following the publication of The Children of Húrin were mostly positive. Likening it to a Greek tragedy, The Washington Post called it "a bleak, darkly beautiful tale" which "possesses the mythic resonance and grim sense of inexorable fate". A positive review was carried by The Independent (UK) ("dry, mad, humourless, hard-going and completely brilliant"). Bryan Appleyard of The Sunday Times (UK) set The Children of Húrin above other writings of Tolkien, noting its "intense and very grown-up manner" and "a real feeling of high seriousness". Maurice Chittenden of The Sunday Times, said that "it may merit an X-certificate" due to the amount of violent deaths.
The book received negative reviews from the Detroit Free Press ("dull and unfinished"), Entertainment Weekly ("awkward and immature", "impenetrable forest of names ... overstuffed with strangled syntax"), and The Guardian ("a derivative Wagnerian hero ... on a quasi-symbolic quest").
Other critics distinguished two audiences. Tom Deveson of The Sunday Times said that "although JRR Tolkien aficionados will be thrilled, others will find The Children of Hurin barely readable". Kelly Grovier from The Observer, on the other hand, stated that it "will please all but the most puritanical of his fans", referring to the scepticism about Christopher Tolkien's involvement. Jeremy Marshall of The Times generally echoed: "It is worthy of a readership beyond Tolkien devotees," although he thought it was flawed ("occasionally the prose is too stilted, the dialogue too portentous, the unexplained names too opaque"). He also presupposed that: "In The Children of Húrin we could at last have the successor to The Lord of the Rings that was so earnestly and hopelessly sought by Tolkien’s publishers in the late 1950s."
According to Houghton Mifflin, the U.S. publisher, already 900,000 copies were in print worldwide in the first two weeks, double the initial expectations of the publishers. HarperCollins, the U.K. publisher, claimed 330,000 copies were in print in the U.K. in the first two weeks.
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien, editor, The Children of Húrin, p.10
- Carpenter 1981, letter No. 211
- "The Children of Húrin". Tolkien Estate. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
- Shippey, Tom (2004). "Tolkien and the Appeal of the Pagan". In Chance, Jane (ed.). Tolkien and the Invention of Myth. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 155, 156. ISBN 9780813123011.
- Carpenter 1981, letter No. 131
- Solopova 2009, p. 48, citing West, R. C. (2000). "Túrin's Ofermod: An Old English Theme in the Development of the Story of Túrin". In Flieger, Verlyn; Hostetter, Carl F. (eds.). Tolkien's Legendarium: Essays on the History of Middle-earth. Greenwood Press. pp. 233–245.
- Solopova 2009, p. 48
- Solopova 2009, pp. 46–47
- J R R Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, The Children of Húrin, Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 2007. ISBN 0-618-89464-0, p.9
- J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Tolkien, editor, The Children of Húrin, p.7
- The Boston Globe Book Review of The Children of Húrin by Ethan Gilsdorf, 26 April 2007.
- J R R Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, The Children of Húrin, Ballantine Books, New York, 2010. ISBN 0-345-51884-5, p. 286
- J R R Tolkien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, Unfinished Tales, HarperCollins, 2009. ISBN 0-007-32257-7, p.9
- Hand, Elizabeth (27 April 2007). "The Return of the King". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- Boyce, Frank Cottrell (18 April 2007). "Spreading the elfish gene". The Independent. Archived from the original on 20 May 2007. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- Appleyard, Bryan (8 April 2007). "What took them so long?". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- Chittenden, Maurice (24 September 2006). "X-rated Tolkien: it's not for the kiddies". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- Salij, Marta (18 April 2007). "Just kick the hobbit and don't suffer 'The Children of Hurin'". Detroit Free Press. Retrieved 8 June 2008.
- Giles, Jeff (17 April 2007). "The Children of Húrin". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- Crace, John (24 April 2007). "The Children of Húrin by JRR Tolkien". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- Deveson, Tom (15 April 2007). "Away with the fairies". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- Grovier, Kelly (27 April 2007). "In the name of the father". The Observer. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- Marshall, Jeremy (14 April 2007). "Tolkien, before Bilbo". The Times. Retrieved 22 September 2007.
- "The New York Times: Books-Best-Seller Lists". The New York Times. 4 May 2007. Retrieved 4 May 2007.
- Italie, Hillel (1 May 2007). "Sales soar for new Tolkien novel". Associated Press. Retrieved 17 November 2007.
- Works cited
- Carpenter, Humphrey, ed. (1981), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-31555-7
- Solopova, Elizabeth (2009), Languages, Myths and History: An Introduction to the Linguistic and Literary Background of J.R.R. Tolkien's Fiction, New York City: North Landing Books, ISBN 0-9816607-1-1
- Statement about the book by the Tolkien Estate
- FAQ on the subject of The Children of Húrin by the Tolkien Estate
- Statement about the book by HarperCollins
- Interview about the book with Adam Tolkien (in Spanish but with an English version at the bottom of the page)
- An introduction and background on the book at Tolkien-Online.com
- The Children of Húrin FAQ
- The Children of Húrin with analysis and reviews