Sunday, 24 April 2016

Cursed...


Christopher Tolkien's unique insight into his father's work is shewn most clearly in the fascinating introduction to The Children of Húrin, particularly in his description of the diabolical curse. I'll let him speak for himself:

"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[1], 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[2], 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.[3]

"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 a 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' (p.147). 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.'"

[1] Tolkien quotes here from The History of Middle-earth, rather than the "canonical" Silmarillion narrative.
[2] Readers will no doubt recall that compelling scene from Book V of The Lord of the Rings, "The Siege of Gondor" (itself reminiscent, with its siege towers and orcish technology, of the Siege of Constantinople in 1453), when the soldiery of the Dark Lord brought their battering ram, named "Grond," in memory of the Hammer of the Underworld of old. This naming seems to contradict what the chronicler says in the Grey Annals that "the orcs made no boast of that duel," that is between Fingolfin and Morgoth, if the orcs should have named their new machine in memory of that old hammer.
[3] C.f the words of Melian the Maia to Húrin when he entered Doriath bearing the Necklace of the Dwarves out of the darkness of Nargothrond.

Art: Alan Lee. Poor old Húrin sat in that high place for twenty-eight years, "bound by the power of Morgoth."

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