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Literature: The Children of Húrin

A Dark Fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, it was edited posthumously by his son Christopher. This is one of Tolkien's "Great Tales" of the First Age of Middle-earth—one of the earliest and most elaborated tales. It exists in many versions, both in prose and in poetry, some almost complete and some as fragments. The various versions and parts have previously been published in The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, and The History of Middle-earth known as Narn i Chîn Húrin (aka "The Narn"), but the published novel The Children of Húrin is the first to compile it all into a single complete text.

Following the cataclysmic destruction of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, Húrin, the greatest of all mortal warriors, was captured by the forces of Morgoth. The Dark Lord offered Húrin freedom in return for revealing the location of the Elvish city of Gondolin. Húrin refused and the enraged Morgoth cast a curse upon him and his family for all eternity. The remainder of the plot follows Húrin's struggling son Túrin and daughter Niënor as the curse winds its way toward a terrible conclusion.

Probably the darkest and most depressing single work in the entire Middle-earth canon. While beautifully written, this is in no way a happy book.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Accidental Murder: Happens to Beleg, at Túrin's hands (he'd just been rescued from sadistic Orcs, was barely conscious, and thought he was still in enemy hands.)
  • Always Save the Girl: Averted. While he is held by Glaurung's magic spell, Finduilas is dragged off and killed by the Orcs. Bonus Points for screaming for his help.
  • And I Must Scream: Húrin's imprisonment in Angband, bound to a chair on one of the peaks of Thangorodrim, unable to move or sleep, and forced to watch visions of his family suffering under Morgoth's curse.
  • Anti-Hero:
    • Túrin, in one of the first fantasy examples. J.R.R. Tolkien was inspired by the tragic anti-heroes of Norse and Finnish mythology when he wrote the character of Túrin. At first he's a Type III as his negative qualities mostly boil down to pride and his gruff nature, but as the novel progresses he steadily slides down the scale, finally crossing into Type V when he murders Brandir in cold blood.
    • Andróg, Túrin's Lancer, is an extreme Type V, a convicted murderer who crosses the Moral Event Horizon early on by attempting to rape a woman and subsequently killing Mîm's son. Then he tries to murder Mîm in cold blood. He does have a few redeeming qualities such as his loyalty to Túrin, and even uses the last moments of his life to save Beleg.
  • Anti-Villain: Mîm the Petty-Dwarf is a Type II.
  • Anyone Can Die: And almost all the characters do.
  • Archer Archetype: Beleg "Strongbow" is famous for his archery and has a named bow (Belthronding). He's an independent wilderness-ranger sort — though he certainly had companions in arms on the marches of Doriath, he does just fine on his own out in Beleriand, and being an elf he has excellent stealth and woodcraft. However, when he leaves the Hidden Kingdom to search for Túrin, he recognizes that a bow alone isn't enough and asks King Thingol for a sword.
  • Attempted Rape: Túrin's heroism first emerges when he rescues a girl from being raped by Andróg.
  • Badass Normal: Both Húrin and Túrin are solid examples. They're mere mortal humans, with none of the dwarves' and elves' long lives and superhuman endurance. They're still among the most renowned and impressive heroes the First Age ever saw.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Even though Túrin takes down Glaurung, the dragon gets the last laugh while Morgoth succeeds in ruining Húrin's family, destroys most of his enemies and in part, thanks to Túrin, ends the novel stronger than before and very much alive. Oh, and now Doriath and Gondolin are doomed, too.
  • Berserk Button: Do not insult Túrin's family in front of him. It won't be pretty.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Beleg has mentored Túrin since he was a young child growing up in Doriath.
  • Black and Grey Morality: Túrin tries his best to be a great hero but is constantly hounded by his temper and inflexible moral views, not to mention having a convicted rapist as his second in command. The antagoists are often just as ambiguous, especially Mîm. That said, Glaurung and Morgoth aren't ambiguous by any standards.
  • Bloody Murder: Glaurung's blood is either a highly corrosive acid, scalding hot, or both. When some of it splashes on Túrin's hand he's badly burned.
  • Broken Bird: Poor Niënor, thanks to Glaurung. When she learns the truth about her life and identity, she quite understandably kills herself.
  • Brother-Sister Incest: Túrin and Niënor, unknowingly. When they find out, they kill themselves.
  • Butt Monkey: Túrin is a decidedly non-humorous example, to the point of being Cosmic Plaything. As a result of Morgoth's curse, the entire universe essentially is out to get him, and he knows it.
  • The Cassandra: Melian, Beleg, Gwindor and Brandir try to warn Túrin his course of action is leading to a bad end. He ignores all of them.
  • Character Witness: Nellas, a Sindarin elf maiden who befriended Túrin when he first came to Doriath. She preferred the forest and was never comfortable in the caves of Menegroth, and as Túrin got older and spent more time there they grew apart, though she would secretly watch him whenever he ventured into the forest with Beleg. She witnessed what actually happened when Saeros died, and Beleg calls her to Menegroth to stand before Thingol, where she very nervously gives her testimony, exonerating Túrin.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: Done by Morgoth to the captive Húrin. Later on, Beleg is tortured by Andróg and the other outlaws.
  • Compelling Voice: Glaurung, who uses it to create amnesia in Niënor.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: As a boy, Túrin likes to protect his younger sister Urwen, but she dies from a plague thought to be caused by Morgoth. It is from this early traumatic experience onward that he develops a grim and bitter personality. Lampshaded by Urwen's symbolical nickname, Lalaith ("Laughter"). He then kills himself, after the death of his other little sister.
  • Darker and Edgier: You could say that again. This is the darkest and most depressing story in The Silmarillion, set as a standalone story and expanded in length.
  • Dark Fantasy: Could have been the Ur Example, if only J. R. R. Tolkien wouldn't hold it in Development Hell so long (the first version of the story was written about 1917, and a version similar to this book's text was first published in 1980 as part of Unfinished Tales).
    • The Horde vastly outnumbering human civilization? Check. Isolationist elves and shameless dwarves? Check.
    • The gods passing the popcorn? Check, as this is set before Eärendil's voyage. The God of Evil is the only one not passing the popcorn? Oh yes, check.
    • The main hero is an Anti-Hero in sour armor? Frickin check.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Túrin, the main hero, wears black, wields a black sword (that may or may not be alive and somewhat malevolent) and often hides his face behind a fearsome mask. Somewhat played with in that while not an evil man himself, evil tends to follow wherever he goes anyway.
  • Defiant to the End: Húrin never gives in to Morgoth, even after spending almost half his life in torment. Morgoth breaks his sanity, but not his will.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Most of the characters spend the majority of the book teetering on the edge of it. And then they all cross it at the end.
  • Do Not Call Me Paul: Do Not Call Him Túrin. He doesn't like that. And he has a hair-trigger temper and a nasty sword. No seriously, don't! ...Well, we warned you.
  • Downer Ending or Bittersweet Ending: The whole story is pretty much one downer ending after another. Túrin being exiled from Doriath, the Orcs attacking Amon Rhud and killing all the outlaws except for Túrin, Beleg finding Túrin only to be killed by him, and the fall of Nargothrond to the Orcs. Basically, every time it seems like Túrin is going to have a happy and peaceful life and escape his fate, something bad happens.
    • In the end, The Hero kills The (literal) Dragon, ridding the world of one of the greatest evils it has ever seen. Then his sister commits suicide when she finds out about her incest, and Túrin does the same after he killed an innocent man. Hard to be happy at that.
  • The Dragon: Glaurung, both literally (he's the father of all Dragons) and figuratively (to Morgoth, the Big Bad).
  • Dragon Hoard: After Glaurung has destroyed Nargothrond, he sweeps all the gold together into a heap and lies down on it to rest for a while.
  • Doom Magnet: Túrin. Lampshaded by Brandir: You are a curse on your own lineage and those who want to help you.
  • Driven to Suicide: Aerin, Niënor, Túrin, and Húrin, though technically the latter doesn't die in this book but in the sequel chapter in The Silmarillion.. After everything that has happened, it's not hard to understand why.
  • Easy Amnesia: Glaurung can use his evil eye to cause this.
  • Empathic Weapon: Gurthang is a talking sword, unless Túrin was hallucinating that. It is confirmed to "mourn" for its previous owner, Beleg.
  • Enslaved Elves: Gwindor escaped from an entire underground economy based on using captive Noldor.
  • Evil Overlord: Morgoth rules Angband and, by the time this book starts, has conquered a big chunk of Beleriand too. He's the source of all evil in the universe.
  • Evil Weapon: Whether or not the black sword Gurthang is evil is up for debate, but it's certainly unpleasant, and Melian (a Physical God, or, rather, angelic being) specifically remarks upon seeing it that there is malice in it.
  • Expy: Túrin is partially based on Cullervo from The Kalevala.
  • Fan Disservice: A nude woman in the woods happens to be out of her mind, and the man who has a Naked First Impression of her is her brother.
  • Fan Nickname: "The Narn," shortened from Narn i Chîn Húrin.
  • Fantastic Racism:
    • The human Túrin grows up among the Elves of Doriath. Many of these are hostile to mortals, but others are perfectly civil to him (being the King's foster-son tends to work wonders in that department, as does being related to varying degrees with some well-known mortal heroes). Of of the less friendly types, Saeros, pushes him one step too far...
    • Mîm the Petty-Dwarf and his sons are viewed with superstitious loathing by everyone, including other Dwarves. It's mentioned that the Elves used to hunt the Petty-Dwarves like animals for sportnote , and now only three remain alive. Likewise, the Petty-Dwarves apparently hated everybody, and they greeted the first Elves in Beleriand by hunting them. Mîm especially despised the Sindar, but became friends with Túrin since he felt the same about Doriath.
  • First Girl Wins: Averted. Finduilas, in some regards a perfect match for him (and who, unlike Lúthien, has a very understanding father considers Túrin deserving of her), doesn't manage to make him fall for her. The woman who finally does, though, accomplishes that feat withing moments of their first encounter, and she's the last woman of note he makes acquaintance with and his long-lost sister.
  • From Bad to Worse: It starts with the single greatest defeat the forces of good ever suffered, and things get much, much worse from there.
  • A God Am I: Morgoth already is a godlike being in physical form, but his dialogue with Húrin clearly shows he has "Big-G God" aspirations on top of that.
  • God of Evil: Morgoth is the Devil and the cause of all evil in the universe, and has vast godlike powers.
  • Hannibal Lecture: The whole chapter "The Words of Húrin and Morgoth" is basically a double Hannibal Lecture between the two characters. Glaurung is good at this, too.
  • The Heavy: Glaurung. Morgoth is the Big Bad, but Glaurung is a much more visible villain who is more directly involved with Túrin and Niënor's story.
  • Hero Antagonist: Brandir is actually a nicer, wiser, and more sensible guy than Túrin, which of course puts them at odds.
  • Heroic BSOD: Túrin, after he accidentally kills Beleg.
    • He has a second one, after he fails to save Finduilas.
  • The High Queen: Melian, in her own way.
  • Hobbes Was Right: Played with. With the collapse of the Edain chiefdoms, they've dissolved into petty brigands capable of anything from petty thieving to rape. Averted later as Túrin's militant, domineering personality and leadership lead to the destruction of Nargothrond and his personal demons drive him to suicide mere hours after being proclaimed ruler of Brethil in place of the crippled but much more sensible Brandir.
  • I Have Many Names: Even for Tolkien characters, the people here seem to pick up a lot. Túrin has more than everyone else put together, it seems — every time he flees his current situation and moves somewher new, he re-names himself in an attempt to escape his past. He receives several epithets from others, too. Most of these names are rather...gloomy.
    • Neithan, "The Wronged" (self-named)
    • Agarwaen son of Úmarth, "Bloodstained son of Ill-fate" (self-named)
    • Gorthol, "The Dread Helm" (self-named)
    • Adanedhel, "The Elf-Man," bestowed by the Elves of Nargothrond
    • Mormegil, "Black Sword," also given by the Elves of Nargothrond
    • Thurin, "Secretive," bestowed on him by Finduilas
    • "Wildman of the Woods" (self-named)
    • Turambar, "Master of Fate" (self-named)
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice:
    • Finduilas, who is pinned to a tree with a spear and left to die.
    • Glaurung and Túrin are both impaled on Gurthang:
      Then he fled from them, like the wind, and they were filled with wonder and fear. But Mablung said: "Some strange and dreadful thing has chanced that we know not. Let us follow him and aid him if we may: for now he is fey and witless." But Túrin sped far before them, and came to Cabed-en-Aras, and stood still; and he heard the roaring of the water, and saw that all the trees near and far were withered, and their sere leaves fell mournfully, as though winter had come in the first days of summer. "Cabed-en-Aras, Cabed Naeramarth!" he cried. "I will not defile your waters where Níniel was washed. For all my deeds have been ill, and the latest the worst." Then he drew forth his sword, and said: "Hail Gurthang, iron of death, thou alone now remainest! But what lord or loyalty dost thou know, save the hand that wieldeth thee? From no blood wilt thou shrink! Wilt thou take Túrin Turambar? Wilt thou slay me swiftly?" And from the blade rang a cold voice in answer: "Yea, I will drink thy blood, that I may forget the blood of Beleg my master, and the blood of Brandir slain unjustly. I will slay thee swiftly." Then Túrin set the hilts upon the ground, and cast himself upon the point of Gurthang, and the black blade took his life.
  • Kill 'em All: Both the battle of Nírnaeth Arnoediad and the ending of the story itself.
  • Last of His Kind: Mîm and his two sons are the last Petty-Dwarves in the world. All of them are killed.
  • Lightning Reveal: Immediately after Túrin kills Beleg mistaking him for an Orc in the dark, a flash of lightning illuminates his face.
  • Love Triangle: Gwindor, Finduilas, and Túrin. And later, Brandir, Niniel and Túrin. Both end badly. All members of the triangles are dead by the end.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Glaurung has a highly developed ability to push buttons and get people to do exactly what he wants, totally against their will and better judgement, even before he breaks out the mind-control eyebeams.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • Does Túrin encounter so much misfortune because he's actually 'magically' cursed, or because of 'regular' bad coincidence, or because he's stubborn and bullheaded and doesn't know when to give up or admit he's wrong? Or is it a little bit of all?
    • Is Gurthang really a sentient Evil Weapon, or is the "malice" in it simply a function of its being a weapon that can be used to kill indiscriminantly, and anything more is just in Túrin's head? And did it really speak to Túrin before he killed himself, or was he just hallucinating from extreme emotional distress?
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard:
    • Okay, Beleg was more of a Big Brother Mentor than The Obi-Wan, but he still gave Túrin plenty of help and advice, and still got killed before everything was said and done.
    • Sador was Túrin Big Brother Mentor in early childhood, before he left for Doriath. When Túrin sets off a doomed rebellion among his people in Dor-lómin, guess who bites the dust?
  • Might Makes Right: Repeatedly subverted. Túrin's flashy heroics and skill as a warrior gains him greater prestige than more level headed cautious characters like Gwindor and Brandir, but his millitant strategies do little but rouse the attention of Morgoth, leading to the destruction of Nargothrond and Dor Cúarthol.
  • My Death Is Just the Beginning: Glaurung certainly didn't intend to die, but boy, did he have one zinger of a parting shot...
  • My God, What Have I Done?: See Heroic BSOD above. Also, after Saeros dies.
  • Named Weapons: Many special (and less special) weapons having names exist in Tolkien's stories and this is no exception: Beleg's bow Belthronding, and the sister-swords Anguirel and Anglachel, the latter renamed Gurthang by Túrin.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero:
    • Túrin helps the Elves of Nargothrond fortify their city against their encroaching enemies, including the addition of a giant bridge in front of their gates across the River Narog, and encourages them to give up secrecy and go to open warfare. This just shows Morgoth's armies exactly where to find the hidden fortress-city, and he sends the dragon Glaurung to literally smoke them out...
    • Everything Túrin does goes awry, all the good he does ends in evil, everything he loves he loses. That is the whole point of the tale and Morgoth's cruel curse on Húrin. Who himself, greatest of all mortal warriors and unbending even by Morgoth, still does his handiwork by breaking the people of Brethil and bringing the Nauglamir to Doriath.
      • And, being one of (up to that point) only two mortals to ever set foot into Gondolin (he was blind-folded and led there in his youth with his brother), he later tries to backtrack his steps because he wants to give Turgon one big What the Hell, Hero? speech because he didn't adequately protect his family. And though he doesn't find the hidden city, his desperate cries at the foot of the mountain gives Morgoth a big enough hint about Gondolin's whereabouts, with the result that the watchposts he's set up there later find and capture Maeglin who almost immediately snaps under a mix of threats and promises, thus dooming Gondolin as well. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero indeed.
    • Later, Túrin returns to the northern homeland he was exiled from as a child, now ruled by an Easterling chieftain who usurped his father's lordship. He kills this chieftain out of revenge, which sparks a rebellion from the enslaved Edain. This just makes the Easterlings oppress the Edain even harder.
  • Nice to the Waiter: One of the first things noted about Túrin in his childhood was his compassion to his father's handicapped servant. Especially noteworthy in that he was one of the few people that was nice to him.
  • Nominal Hero: Andróg. His record includes everything from manslaughter and murder to rape. Túrin arguably becomes one by the end, despite his attempts to be better than that.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Glaurung breathes fire, has no wings, is highly intelligent and possesses incredible mind-bending magic. He also has an incredibly foul stench,
  • Physical God: Melian and Morgoth are angelic, god-like beings who take physical form in Middle-Earth.
  • Pride: Thingol completely forgave Túrin for accidentally killing Saeros, and sent Beleg to bring him back to Doriath with honor. Túrin could have gone back home at any time, but was too proud to accept a pardon for manslaughter.
    • Also the reason Morwen refused to flee her lands for a long time. This was part of the reason for Túrin's misery.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The roving band of outlaws in the Brethil forest who are joined by the exiled Túrin. He takes over as their leader and organizes them into La Résistance against the Orcs.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Thingol, in contrast to his Jerkass persona from Beren and Lúthien. Somebody learned his Aesop, it seems.
  • Replacement Goldfish: Mîm eventually sees Túrin as one for his murdered son.
  • The Resenter:
    • Morgoth lives in an eternal state of this.
    • Brandir, when Túrin subverts his command and weds Níniel, whom he loves.
  • Screw Destiny: Averted. Túrin tries so hard, even taking on the name "Turambar" ("Master of Doom") during his best attempt at living a normal life, but the curse catches up to him in the end. As Niënor said, "master of doom by doom mastered."
  • Shoot The Shaggy Dog Story: Big time.
    • The absolute worse part? This all started because Húrin refused to reveal the location of Gondolin to Morgoth. And then after all this happened, Húrin inadvertently lead Morgoth's forces to it anyway. All the suffering he and his family endured was for nothing.
  • Smug Snake: Saeros, who paid for it dearly.
  • Surprise Incest: Between Túrin and Niënor — they'd never met, he kept his identity secret, and she'd totally lost hers thanks to Glaurung.
  • Talking Weapon: Gurthang speaks only once. When Túrin wants to kill himself and asks his sword if it will do the job, it answers him. If it actually spoke or if he just imagined it is not known, as this is the only time any weapon spoke.
  • Thunderbolt Iron: Anglachel and Anguirel, made of black metal from a "star that fell from the sky."
  • Tragic Hero: Túrin, so very much.
  • Trauma Conga Line: The whole damn book is one for Túrin, Húrin, and Niënor.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Let's see, it's an epic Dark Fantasy novel featuring incest, the fate of a family over the course of an epic struggle, a morally ambiguous dwarf, loads and loads of Black and Grey Morality, a sinister supernatural force encroaching from the north and a serious downer ending. And it's got nothing to do with George R.R. Martin.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Dear God.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Túrin tries so hard to get things right, and even tries several times to completely quit his heritage in an attempt to escape, but in the end nothing works out.
  • You Have No Chance to Survive: Morgoth, gloating to Húrin about his family's terrible fate. Of course, being a Physical God, he's right.
    Morgoth: Sit now there, and look out upon the lands where evil and despair shall come upon those whom thou lovest. Thou hast dared to mock me, and to question the power of Melkor, master of the Fates of Arda. Therefore, with my eyes thou shalt see, and with my ears thou shalt hear; never shalt thou move from this place until all is fulfilled unto its bitter end!

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alternative title(s): Children Of Hurin; Narn I Hin Hurin; The Children Of Hurin
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