Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Of Turin Turambar, Part 1
“And now again the might of Angband was moved; and as the long fingers of a groping hand the forerunners of his armies probed the ways into Beleriand. Through Anach they came, and Dimbar was taken, and all the north marches of Doriath. Down the ancient road they came that led through the long defile of Sirion, past the isle where Minas Tirith of Finrod had stood, and so through the land between Malduin and Sirion, and on through the eaves of Brethil to the crossings of Teiglin. Thence the road went on in the Guarded Plain; but the Orcs did not go far upon it, as yet, for there dwelt now in the wild a terror that was hidden, and upon the red hill were watchful eyes od which they had not been warned. For Túrin put on again the Helm of Hador; and far and wide in Beleriand the whisper went, under wood and over stream and through the passes of the hills, saying that the Helm and Bow that had fallen in Dimbar had arisen again beyond hope.”
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we are regaled with one of Tolkien’s famous Lays, which later became the book “The Children of Húrin.”
“Here that tale is told in brief, for it is woven with the fate of the Silmarils and of the Elves; and it is called the Tale of Grief, for it is sorrowful, and in it are revealed most evil works of Morgoth Bauglir.”
We left off the last chapter with Húrin, Lord of Dor-Lómin (the human duchy by Hithlum in the North East), captured by Morgoth and tied to a pole enduring horrible torture but giving nothing up to that horrific diety.
In that time after Nirnaeth Arnoediad, Easterlings came to Dor-Lómin. These men were subservient to Morgoth, who “despised the remnant people of Hador, and oppressed them, and took their lands and their goods, and enslaved their children.” Still, Morwen, Húrin’s wife and Túrin’s mother, was feared. “and they whispered among themselves, saying that she was perilous, and a witch skilled in magic and in league with the elves.” This fear gave more freedom to Túrin, and she was able to “send him away in secret, and to beg King Thingol to harbour him, for Beren son of Barahir was her father’s kinsman, and he had been moreover a friend of Húrin.“
Beleg Strongbow, part of Beren’s fellowship, found Túrin outside Doriath. Beleg brought Húrin to Menegroth and sent a contingent of Elves to get Morwen back with him. Still, because of the strife of her people, she decided to stay with them in Dor-Lómin but sent back a keepsake for Húrin: “when the Elves departed, she sent with them the Dragon-helm of Dor-Lómin, greatest of the heirlooms of the house of Hador.“
Túrin grew solid and proud in Menegroth under the tutelage of both Thingol and Beleg Strongbow, but he needed more because he “was filled with fear for his mother and his sister.” So he donned his armor and the Dragon-helm and joined Beleg in battle on the marches of Doriath.
Túrin gained notoriety, but that is dangerous for a human in the land of Elves. Because “Now one there was in Doriath, of the people of the Nandor, high in the councils of the King; Saeros was his name.“
Saeros was jealous of Túrin because of his relationship with Thingol, so he bullied and taunted him to the point that Túrin fought back, throwing a goblet and striking Saeros in the face.
Embarrassed, Saeros approached Túrin in the forests outside of Menegroth and tried to best him in a fight. However, Túrin, who had been fighting against Orcs in the marches, quickly overtook him and forced Saeros to do what Saeros frequently said the human woman did, “Run naked as a hunted beast through the woods.”
Saeros was so terrified at his predicament, that he “fell into a chasm of a stream, and his body was broken on a great rock in the water.“
Túrin, knowing that he was a Man among a gathering of Elves, doesn’t feel safe, despite others telling him that Saeros’ fall was not his fault. So he decides to flee the judgment of the Elves, “deeming himself an outlaw and fearing to be held captive.”
Captivity is a prominent theme in this book, and I also think in the larger world of the Lord of the Rings. There are many passages where the characters in question (Beren, Túrin, Fingolfin, Morgoth, Hador, etc.) intimate, or Tolkien tells us through exposition, that they would do anything to escape captivity. Captivity and loss of their freedoms are central themes in these books. The people caught (Maedhros and, more recently, Húrin) were tortured perpetually.
Despite being captured and tortured, I don’t think Tolkien wrote a history of his world to have all characters be afraid of being captive, but instead I think it was Tolkien’s fear of progress and industry which spurned this theme.
When a character gets imprisoned, it’s always in a bleak tower away from all nature. In some ways, I think Tolkien was projecting his fear of what would happen to society if it succumbed to industry. People would no longer be free to head off into the forest and enjoy some good pipe tobacco and a book. Instead, they would be enslaved to the industry and metaphorically tied to towers to watch Morgoth’s fires (or Mordor’s) burn eternally.
The fear of death is secondary to being forced to do another’s bidding. The wars of Beleriand and the wars of the Third Age of Middle-earth are all for this exact reason, much as the real war Tolkien fought in, The First World War. They were wars for the freedom to be who you wanted and move about unmolested. I think that’s why these books still resonate so many years later.
So to escape this enslavement, Túrin ran from Menegroth. He was mistaken, though, because Thingol “took Húrin’s son as my son,” and Thingol grieved that Túrin didn’t believe he would be welcomed back into Menegroth. Beleg Strongbow, also aggrieved, responded to Thingol:
“I will seek Túrin until I find him, and I will bring him back to Menegroth, if I can, for I love him also.”
Beleg ranged and found Túrin, now chief of an outlaw brigade in the forests outside the Girdle of Melian. He tried to persuade Túrin to go back, but because of pride or embarrassment, Túrin refused. He wanted to be his own man, so he sent Beleg away. But Beleg knew that after the battle of Unnumbered Tears, Beleriand was not safe for Túrin to wander with just a few brigands, so he went back to Thingol and asked the King’s leave to guard Túrin from a distance. Thingol agreed and told him to take anything except the King’s sword to aid him in his quest.
“Then Beleg chose Anglachel; and that was a sword of great worth, and it was so named because it was made of iron that fell from heaven as a blazing star; it would cleave all earth-delved iron. One other sword only in Middle-earth was like to it. That sword does not enter into thi tale, though it was made of the same ore by the same smith; and that smith was Eöl the Dark Elf, who took Aredhel Turgon’s sister to wife.“
Thingol warns Beleg, “There is malice in the sword. The dark heart of the smith still dwells in it. It will not lvoe the hand it serves; neither will it abide you long.”
There is no greater foreshadowing than this statement.
Beleg leaves with Anglachel and a gift of Lembas “the waybread of the Elves, wrapped in leaves of silver, and the threads that bound it were sealed at the knots with the seal of the Queen, a wafer of white wax shaped as a single flower of Telperion.”
“and he returned to them no more.”
Join me next week as we continue the tale of Túrin Turambar!