NARN I HÎN HÚRIN - The Tale of the Children of Húrin

A discussion of Tolkien's Unfinshed Tales
Merry
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Post by Merry » Thu Apr 23, 2009 8:36 pm

Maybe, Philipa. But Hurin did a lot of nasty things after his imprisonment by Morgoth, and it seemed to me that Tolkien portrayed this as one of them. Many good people come to a bad end in Tolkien, and these events are portrayed as tragedies.

'Mime' in German means the same thing as it does in Greek: a mimic or actor. But it has a secondary meaning as a pseudo- or pretend thing. So maybe this is Tolkien's reference to the petty dwarves as a kind of false dwarf. It is a strange kind of characterization, but maybe this is another of his attempts to write the Ur-myth, which includes the Ring legends and characters.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
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Post by Lindariel » Fri Apr 24, 2009 1:35 pm

Over in the Tolkien News thread, Riv has posted an announcement by Amazon.com about the release of The Professor's translation of "Sigurd and Gudrun," one of the Norse legends that provided inspiration for his Narn I Hin Hurin. It's being released on May 5, and is available for advance purchase. We may want to take a gander and include this in our discussion of Turin and his tragedy.
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Post by Iolanthe » Sun Apr 26, 2009 12:09 pm

Another source to keep in mind for this tale is the Finnish Kalavela and the tale of Kullervo. It was the inconsistencies found in the remnants of this story (as retold by Lönnrot from lost sources which were themselves re-tellings) that prompted Tolkien to write Turin's story. He took all the elements and contradictions and found a coherent narrative (within Middle-earth, of course) that explained all the events.
Untamo kills his brother Kalervo’s people except for the wife who begets Kullervo; Untamo gives Kullervo several tasks but he sabotages them all; Kullervo is sold as a slave to Ilmarinen; after being tormented by Ilmarinen’s wife, he exacts revenge and the wife gets killed; Kullervo runs away and finds his family unharmed near Lapland; Kullervo seduces a maiden and later finds out she is his sister; Kullervo destroys Untamola (the realm of Untamo) and upon returning home finds every one killed; Kullervo kills himself.

© Wikipedia

Shippey has a great essay on it in Roots and Branches

Kullervo has the same dark personality as Turin, unable to be happy and kicking over the traces even when reunited with his family. The fact that his family is dead in one verse and mysteriously alive again in another, with no explanation, was one of the inconsistencies that Tolkien tried to address in Turin.

Maybe the same 'seducing your sister without knowing it' motif was at the root of both Kullervo and Sigurd's stories.
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Post by Merry » Sun Apr 26, 2009 2:12 pm

Thanks, Iolanthe, for this info. It's great to have all of us, with all of our various resources, together trying to figure this out, because it really is a strange story!

There is also the Greek story of unknowing incest, the story of Oedippus. I wonder if various cultures need to invent stories to explain why extraordinarily bad things happen to people who don't seem to deserve most of it. Did the Kullervo story or the Ring story also include a Morgoth curse to make things worse? In Oedippus, the gods curse Oedippus' city for his unknowing incest, which is, of course, still a 'taboo' activity in almost every culture.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
and he shall dwell among you
all the days of your life.

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Post by Iolanthe » Mon Apr 27, 2009 12:01 pm

That's a good question. Curses play a huge part in myths and fairy stories but it's usually because some taboo has been broken or a border crossed which must never be crossed. The Curse of Mandos comes down on the Noldor because of the Kinslaying - they've broken the ultimate taboo of killing their own kind.

But Oedipus is a bit different - Thebes is beset with pestilence because Oedipus kills his own father and marries his own mother (the town is cursed because of taboo breaking). But when you look at Oedipus personally the scenario is different. The whole tragedy comes about because his parents try to outwit the Oracle of Delphi - by trying to avoid Fate they assist it. Turin is also 'cursed' without him having personally done anything to be marked by Fate. He breaks the brother/sister taboo because of the working out of the curse placed by Morgoth on Hurin's family, not the other way around. There is the curse (or in Oedipus's case, his parents attempts to manipulate Fate), then the breaking of the taboo is the result of it. Rather like Oedipus he is running from Fate (and like Oedipus he doesn't know the source of that Doom) but it finds him in the end.

Neither story, now I think about them, follow the straightforward 'taboo breaking = curse storyline'.
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Post by Chrissiejane » Mon Apr 27, 2009 1:20 pm

Iolanthe wrote: Neither story, now I think about them, follow the straightforward 'taboo breaking = curse storyline'.
I think that's one of the reasons that, despite his stubborn pride and arrogance, I find Turin such a pitiable being. I see him throughout this story as desperately attempting to evade his fate and yet, by his character and his actions, drawing himself ever closer to it.
I am always chilled by the words (from The Simarillion, not from UT) that Turin exchanges with Gwindor:
"..you have done ill to me friend, to betray my right name, and call my doom uppon me, from which I would lie hid"
But Gwindor answered "The doom lies in yourself, not in your name"
This exchange seems to demonstrate Turin's acute knowledge of his situation and his futile and ill-chosen efforts to deny it. I'm very interested in the question of the degree to which that awareness of the doom lying over him shapes both his personality and his behaviour.
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Post by Lindariel » Mon Apr 27, 2009 1:36 pm

Did the Kullervo story or the Ring story also include a Morgoth curse to make things worse?
Merry, as far as the Sigurd/Sigmund/Siegfried story is concerned, I am most familiar with the tale as conveyed by Wagner in his operatic Ring cycle. In that story, the Rhinegold, and hence the Ring from which it is made, is cursed by Alberich the Dwarf when Wotan takes it from him. Alberich renounced love in order to take the Rhinegold from the Rhinemaidens. Now that he will have neither gold nor love, he curses the gold and all who touch it. That happens within the first 30 minutes of the first opera, Das Rheingold, and the remaining 11-1/2 hours or so basically show how that curse works its way through the Volsungs until it ultimately destroys Valhalla and the Gods with it. The cycle ends with the Rhinegold returning to the Rhinemaidens -- back to where the story started, except there are no Gods anymore. The world belongs to Man.

Hmmmm . . . that sounds familiar.
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Post by Merry » Mon Apr 27, 2009 5:28 pm

Iolanthe wrote:Neither story, now I think about them, follow the straightforward 'taboo breaking = curse storyline'.
That's right, Iolanthe--there are differences. But I think what unites these stories from different cultures is the attempt to explain why extraordinarily bad things (and incest seems to take the cake!) happen to people who don't seem to deserve them. I think this is a real-life question that Tolkien wondered about, and he was looking to myth to help him gain insight.

You can see the beginnings of a bad end for Turin even before Morgoth's curse. So I'm not sure there is a straightforward storyline, which is why it's so interesting to talk about!

Lindariel, thanks for the synopsis. I've seen parts of the Ring, but never the whole thing. Deicide! Now I see the relationship between Wagner and Neitzsche.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
for your King shall come again,
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Post by Iolanthe » Mon Apr 27, 2009 6:12 pm

Merry wrote:That's right, Iolanthe--there are differences. But I think what unites these stories from different cultures is the attempt to explain why extraordinarily bad things (and incest seems to take the cake!) happen to people who don't seem to deserve them. I think this is a real-life question that Tolkien wondered about, and he was looking to myth to help him gain insight.
Yes - that's what I was trying to say really - both stories are very similar in this respect, although they are rooted in two completely different cultures. One starts with a curse (though not through the direct action of the protagonist) and the other through parents trying to cheat Fate (again, somthing the protaganist has no control over). They are both very young when the course of their downfall is laid.

It's a good point, Chrissiejane, about Gwindor's "The doom lies in yourself, not in your name". Ever since reading that in The Children of Hurin I've wondered if he's right. No matter what Turin calls himself the essence of his being is the same. BUT, even given his rash, dour personality and the way he misjudges all attempts to help him, there is more beyond and I agree that Turin knows it. The way events conspire to rob his sister of her mind and bring them together is outside his control, however he personally deals with things. Does that make the curse real? Is he truly the victim of more than how he deals with his circumstances, and is Morgoth in control? If Mandos (a Valar) can really curse the Noldor then Morgoth (another Valar) can surely deal a similarly real blow to all Hurin's kin.

But, of course, Turin doesn't know that Hurin is alive, or about the excahnge with Morgoth, or the nature of the curse, or even that there is a curse. He only knows that what ever he does turns against him and draws his conclusions from that.
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Post by Lindariel » Wed Apr 29, 2009 2:02 pm

Neither story, now I think about them, follow the straightforward 'taboo breaking = curse storyline'.
Yup, Io. In the Volsunga saga/Wagner Ring legend, the incest comes about as a result of the curse, rather than incurring the wrath of a curse -- just like the Turin/Nienor incest. However, in both cases, the incest is "punished" in some drastic way.

In the case of the Volsunga/Wagner legend, Wotan's wife Fricka, the goddess of the hearth and marriage, demands the death of Sigmund, not so much for the taboo of incest but for violating the marriage rights of Sieglinde's husband (isn't THAT a stunner!). So the incest itself is punished, at least indirectly. Fricka is a vengeful lady, but she has cause as you will see (her husband is certainly no prize when it comes to fidelity!).

Wotan reluctantly orders his Valkyrie daughter Brunnhilde (one of his 12 daughters by Erda the earth goddess -- Wotan was every bit the wandering dog that Zeus was!) to carry out Fricka's order. However, Brunnhilde knows how much Wotan loves Sigmund, since the Volsungs are also his children (like I said -- quite the wandering dog!), and decides to protect Sigmund instead. This forces Wotan to cause Sigmund's death himself, and Brunnhilde must be punished for her disobedience. (Brunnhilde at least manages to get the pregnant Sieglinde to safety, otherwise Siegfried the dragon-slayer would never be born.)

Wotan punishes Brunnhilde by stripping her of her immortality (hmmmmm . . . loss of immortality . . . that sounds familiar) and her Valkyrie warrior strength. But at her request, and because she was truly obeying the wishes of his heart rather than his forced word, he leaves her sleeping body behind a wall of fire, so that only the very greatest of heroes would find her and claim her as wife. That hero turns out to be -- you guessed it -- Siegfried the dragon-slayer, who just happens to be wearing, you guessed it, the cursed Ring that was part of the dragon's treasure -- and of course, because of the curse, it all turns out badly.

Now, if you follow all of the familial relationships here, you will realize that Brunnhilde is (drumroll) Siegfried's AUNT, because Brunnhilde and Siegfried's father Sigmund have the same father -- Wotan. As a matter of fact, it's a long-standing joke in the opera community that almost all of the demi-goddesses (Rhinemaidens, Valkyries, and Norns) in this tale are Siegfried's aunts, because they are all Wotan's various and sundry illegitimate daughters.

Squicky, huh? I'm just glad Tolkien didn't get into all THAT in his tale. The Turin/Nienor situation is more than enough for me!
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Post by Iolanthe » Thu Apr 30, 2009 3:04 pm

I've just read a very interesting essay in Shippey's Roots and Branches all about Wagner, Tolkien, all the roots of the Nieblung legends and Mim/Mime. When I get back from Ireland in the middle of next week I'll post a precis of his arguments. He's got an interesting theory about why Tolkien didn't like Wagner's interpretation of the story and why he created the Petty Dwarves. He also cmpares Turin (a true hero in the ancient - not modern - mould) and Wagner's Siegried (not a true hero in Tolkien's eyes as he is loutish and cruel for the fun of it).
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Post by Philipa » Thu Apr 30, 2009 5:40 pm

Iolanthe wrote:He's got an interesting theory about why Tolkien didn't like Wagner's interpretation of the story and why he created the Petty Dwarves. He also compares Turin (a true hero in the ancient - not modern - mold) and Wagner's Siegried (not a true hero in Tolkien's eyes as he is loutish and cruel for the fun of it).
Terrific, this would be great to know. :D
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Post by Merry » Sat May 02, 2009 1:57 am

In the meantime, let's discuss Beleg. What a great character! I know he doesn't appear in the UT version of the story, but he's important to the story of Turin nonetheless.
Sing and be glad, all ye children of the West,
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and he shall dwell among you
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Post by Chrissiejane » Sun May 03, 2009 10:41 pm

At the risk of turning into a total Turin apologist, the relationship between Beleg and Turin is an aspect of this story that really interests me in terms of how it throws light on the character and personality of the latter.

He and Beleg seem at first sight to be such different characters, yet the bond between them is quickly established and remains strong. Does Beleg act always out of loyalty and obedience to the wishes of his own Elven leader, or out of friendship towards this complex and deeply flawed man? If he feels empathy towards Turin, what might that tell us about the positive qualities Turin possesses, that perhaps Beleg can discern whilst others cannot? Not everyone in Doriath finds Turin admirable or heroic!
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Post by Philipa » Mon May 04, 2009 3:37 pm

:oops: Of course...you're right.
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