Sunday, 8 March 2015

A belated Tolkien post...

"Now Úrin and his followers fled not from that battle as did most of the kindreds of Men, but many of them were slain fighting to the last, and Úrin was made captive. Of the Noldoli who fought there all the companies were slain or captured or fled away in rout, save that of Turondo (Turgon) only, and he and his folk cut a path for themselves out of that fray and come not into this tale. Nonetheless the escape of that great company marred the complete victory that otherwise had Melko won over his adversaries, and he desired greatly to discover whither they had fled; and this he might not do, for his spies availed nothing, and no tortures at that time had power to force treacherous knowledge from the captive Noldoli.

"Knowing therefore that the Elves of Kôr thought little of Men, holding them in scant fear or suspicion for their blindness and lack of skill, he would constrain Úrin to take up his employ and go seek after Turondo as a spy of Melko. To this however neither threats of torture nor promises of rich reward would bring Úrin to consent, for he said: 'Nay, do as thou wilt, for to no evil work of thine wilt thou ever constrain me, O Melko, thou foe of Gods and Men.'

"'Of a surety,' said Melko in anger, 'to no work of mine will I bid thee again, nor yet will I force thee thereto, but upon deeds of mine that will be little to thy liking shalt thou sit here and gaze, nor be able to move foot or hand against them.' And this was the torture he devised for the affliction of Úrin the Steadfast, and setting him in a lofty place of the mountains he stood beside him and cursed him and his folk with dread curses of the Valar, putting a doom of woe and a death of sorrow upon them; but to Úrin he gave a measure of vision, so that much of those things that befell his wife and children he might see and be helpless to aid, for magic held him in that high place. 'Behold!' said Melko, 'the life of Túrin thy son shall be accounted a matter of tears wherever Elves or Men are gathered for the telling of tales;' but Úrin said: 'At least none shall pity him for this, that he had a craven for father.'" (The Book of Lost Tales, Part II, Chapter II, Turambar and the Foalókë).

Changes made to names in this part of the narrative:

Úrin > Húrin, a lord of Men.
Noldoli > Noldor (or Gnomes), exiled Elves.
Turondo > Turgon, the King of Gondolin.
Melko > Morgoth, the Dark Lord.
Kôr > Tirion, the Gnomish city in Valinor.

It's interesting that the general shape of this part of the tale, composed in 1919 (gosh, almost a century ago...), is still recognisable in The Children of Húrin (hereafter, the Narn). The escape of Turondo from the battle, the capture of Úrin by the soldiery of Melko, threats of torture and offers of reward for treachery, the curse of doom, the high seat in the mountains, are all present in later versions of the legend. In the Lost Tales, however, it is not clear where Úrin dwelt ("in the woodlands" is all that's said); it's said afterwards that Mavwin (his wife) went into Hisilómë "where all Men must now dwell;" however, in the Narn Húrin was the Lord of Dor-lómin, a region of Hisilómë (or Hithlum), as a vassal of Fingon, King of the Gnomes. While the last stand of Úrin's men is present in the Lost Tales, there is no mention of Morgoth's knowledge of Húrin's counsels with Turgon and his command that he be brought back alive to Angband; indeed, since it's said that the Elves of Kôr held men in scant fear and suspicion, and so Úrin's capture can only be explained by reference to the vicinity of his men to the flight of Turondo, and that Úrin was the last left alive. In the Narn, Húrin's part is greatly expanded before the battle; he is renowned in hardihood with his brother Huor, he was deep in the counsels of the Gnomes, and in his youth he had seen Gondolin, which no mortal Man had yet seen (hence the bounty) and that, during the battle, the orcs could not capture him. Only Gothmog, Lord of Balrogs, could subdue him and drag him to Angband.

The curse of Melko "with dread curses of the Valar" is described only briefly in the Lost Tales. In the Narn, it is greatly expanded. Morgoth's kinship with the Valar is not mentioned at all in reference to the curse and consequently the curse takes on a far more powerful, more sinister characteristic. As the prime mover of evil in the world, Morgoth does not call upon some higher agent when he says that he is "master of the fates of Arda," and that "all that is in it [the world] bends slowly and surely to my will." When he says that the deeds, purposes and counsels of Húrin's kin shall turn against them wheresoever they go, it's interesting to reflect upon the reach of Morgoth's power, even in his fallen, incarnate state. Christopher Tolkien describes this beautifully in the introduction to The Children of Húrin, wherein it's said that Morgoth, master of both fate and curse, actually crafts the future of the accursed; they walk ever in his shadow, doing his will whatsoever they might do otherwise. Túrin, Húrin's son, often cries, "Lo! Is there a curse upon me, for all I do is ill..." His life, and that of his mother and sister, is tragic, and the price of Húrin's valour is that he must watch it from the mountains with the eyes of Morgoth, powerless to prevent it.

I haven't referenced the Lay yet. Perhaps to-morrow.

I encourage you to read The Children of Húrin. It's a sad story; indeed all the tales of Middle-earth are sad (as Aragorn said), but I'm finding comfort and solace therein as Lenten reading.

Art: Ted Nasmith.

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