Long before Bilbo Baggins and his cousin, Frodo, set out on their heroic journeys to break Sauron’s hold on Middle-earth, others fought to end evil’s reign personified by Morgoth, the Dark Lord. J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Children of Húrin, a prequel to The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1955), focuses on a portion of Tolkien’s massive legendarium, which tells the story of the epic battle between good and evil that gripped Middle-earth for thousands of years. The saga of Túrin Turambar, Húrin’s son, appeared in abridged form in the Silmarillion (1977) and Unfinished Tales (1980), both compiled by Christopher Tolkien, the author’s son and literary executor, and published after the elder Tolkien’s death. Tolkien first began Túrin’s story in 1918 and worked on it off and on over the succeeding years but never organized it into publishable form. Christopher has restructured the tale from Tolkien’s notes, creating a coherent narrative about the trials and tribulations of Túrin and his sister Niënor, the doomed offspring of a cursed warrior.
Set during the First Age of Middle-earth, sixty-five hundred years before the events in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings occurred, the story of The Children of Húrin takes place in the lost world of Beleriand. Morgoth, the fallen Vala, along with Sauron, his second lieutenant, wage war against Men and Elves for control of the country. Húrin, a descendant of the House of Hador, rules the human kingdom of Dor-lómin. Fearful of Morgoth’s growing power, he joins forces with the Eldar, or Elves, in order to curb Morgoth’s rampages into human and elven territory. Eventually Morgoth captures Húrin and demands that he reveal the location of the hidden elven stronghold Gondolin. When Húrin mockingly refuses, Morgoth curses him and his descendants.
While Húrin suffers in Morgoth’s dungeons, his wife, Morwen, pregnant with their second child, fears for the life of Túrin, their firstborn. She sends him to be fostered by Thingol, king of the Grey-elves in Doriath in the forests of Neldoreth. The Eldar tutor Túrin in the ways of war, and he becomes a skilled commander and formidable warrior. After he proves himself in battle, Thingol awards him Húrin’s golden Dragon-Helm. Saeros, one of Thingol’s most trusted counselors, becomes jealous of Túrin and attempts to undermine Túrin’s influence with Thingol. Túrin and Saeros fight one another in the forest, and Saeros is accidentally killed when he tries to run from Túrin. Because he fears punishment at the hands of Thingol, Túrin flees Doriath and joins a band of outlaws. His association with the bandits launches him on an eventful journey that includes hiding in the caves occupied by a deceitful Petty-dwarf named Mîm and traveling to the elvish realm of Nargothrond, where he becomes the commander of King Orodreth’s army. Finally Túrin makes his way to the forests of Brethil, where he takes the name Turambar, or “Master of Doom.” There he saves the land from Morgoth’s wily servant, Glaurung, a fire- breathing beast and father of all the dragons in Middle-earth. He also meets and marries Níniel, a beautiful woman suffering from amnesia, who is cared for by the people of Brethil after she is found naked in the woods. Neither Túrin or Níniel suspect that their passion for one another will lead to their deaths and the fulfillment of Morgoth’s curse.
Tolkien, an Oxford don and medievalist, was a master mythmaker who often drew on various Scandinavian legends and folktales to weave his spellbinding stories. The events depicted in The Children of Húrin are modeled on the Finnish epic poem, the Kalevala, and also echo Greek tragedy. Túrin and Kullervo, the protagonist of the poem, are taciturn, doleful antiheroes who are courageous, rash, and blinded by pride. Like Oedipus, they unknowingly commit incest, in this case with their sisters, who then commit suicide by drowning themselves in a river. The men kill themselves by falling on their swords after discovering the truth about the identity of...
(The entire section is 1696 words.)