Daily Archives: October 29, 2011

The Children of Húrin (part 5A): Enough unrequited love for four Peanuts anthologies

[SPOILER ALERT: This post is loaded with spoilers, more so than the first four installments in this series (see here, here, here, and here).  So if you’ve your heart set upon reading The Children of Húrin but haven’t done it yet, and if suspense is important to your enjoyment of the book, read no further than, say, the end of Section (a) below. – DPM]

“It is not good for the Man to be alone.”

The Pastor of the very first Church of which I was a member once preached an excellent series on the book of Job.   Among the things I remember from that series, I remember very vividly a bit of wise advice he gave about reading stories: It’s often a good idea to ask “What’s not here? What’s missing in this story?”

a.  What’s missing?

What brought this advice to mind in connection with The Children of Húrin was something I noticed in a recent rereading The Silmarillion: that the character Túrin most closely resembles is Beren.  This isn’t very surprising, given that through his mother Túrin was Beren’s kin.  But rereading “Of Beren and Lúthien,” I was struck by the similarities between the two men: their fundamentally solitary nature, their grim courage, their impudence and often excessive cocksureness.  Given those similarities, to what could the profound difference between the two men’s lives be attributed?  Mainly, I say, to one thing present in Beren’s story but missing in Túrin’s: a Lúthien.

To state the contrast positively, the person who marked Beren’s life most deeply was Lúthien, and the person who marked Túrin’s life most deeply was Morgoth.  The life of the one was focused by his beloved, while the life of the other was focused by his enemy.  And focusing life on an enemy does strange things to a man – which becomes evident in Túrin’s short and tragic life.

So Túrin’s story misses a Lúthien. But why? Not because he lacked admiring Elf-maidens: two such are named in The Children of Húrin.  The first, Nellas, was an Elf-maiden of Doriath, like Lúthien; the second, Finduilas, was, like Lúthien, the daughter of an Elven-king.  But there were to be no wedding bells for either.

Which brings me to the subject of this post – one of Morgoth’s most insidious means of marring the earth, blighting the lives of its inhabitants, and divesting peanut butter of its taste[1]: unrequited love.

The grown-up Charlie Brown

A grown-up Charlie Brown discovers that the passing of years does not change the effect of unrequited love on the taste of peanut butter

b.  Thriftless sighs shall follow him wherever he goes

Before I get to the instances of unrequited love in The Children of Húrin in earnest, a few words about Túrin himself, and why he attracted thriftless sighs like flame attracts moths, are in order.

It’d be easy to point to Morgoth’s curse – “Wherever they go, evil shall arise”[2] – and it wouldn’t be wrong to do so. But Tolkien is too subtle an author to allow us just to leave it there: his works consistently drive home the point that while Ilúvatar typically uses means to accomplish His ends, Morgoth must use means to accomplish his.  So, for example, when Morgoth (through Glaurung the dragon) calls Túrin a “thief of love,”[3] there must be some plausible ground for the charge to give it some sting – in this case, the transfer of Finduilas’s affections from Gwindor to Túrin.  But for Finduilas’s affections to shift thus, Túrin must have been particularly appealing – for Finduilas was neither flighty nor faithless, and Túrin was too loyal a friend to Gwindor to actively seek Finduilas’s affections.  So without fickleness or treachery at his disposal, Morgoth’s means would have to be inherently good things that he could corrupt or turn to his devious purposes.  What were these?

To start with the one on the surface, there was Túrin’s physical appearance:

[H]e was in truth the son of Morwen Eledhwen to look upon: tall, dark-haired and pale-skinned, with grey eyes, and his face more beautiful than any other among mortal men, in the Elder Days.[4]

In short, Túrin was, like, totally hot.

More substantively, though, Túrin was courageous and chivalrous.  Take, for example, Túrin’s rescue of the daughter of Larnach from the less chivalrous of the companions of his wandering years: it’s no surprise that as she returned home she “looked back many times before the trees hid her.”[5]  And Túrin could be tender – among other things, his kindness to the sad Finduilas attests to this (he of course had no clue that it was her impossible-to-fulfill love for him that made her sad).  All that would certainly have made him generally appealing to the women and Elf-women of Middle-earth.

c.  The Schroeder of Beleriand

Much in Túrin’s character, though, would render their sighs vain.

First, he was unfailingly chaste and loyal – admirable virtues, of course, but if you crossed them, they would make him absolutely unattainable.

Second, he was distant.  His friend Beleg once asked him, in exasperation, “Túrin, have you lived always with your heart and half your mind far away?”[6]  Finduilas noted this too: “His mind and heart were elsewhere, by rivers in springs long past.”[7]  Now in this respect Túrin was, to an extent, a typical man – as King Finrod noted in his debate with Andreth, “the Eldar say of Men that they look at no thing for itself; that if they study it, it is to discover something else; that if they love it, it is only . . . because it reminds them of some other dearer thing.”[8]  But in Túrin this general sense of homelessness and being out of place, this unheimlichkeit[9], was heightened by the fact that he was an exile, who was in childhood driven from his home country and bereaved of his family.  So while he dwelt for most of his life with the Elves, and won great honor among them, he never was at home among them.  Given his history and the acutely homesick character it produced, almost the only woman Túrin could have loved and married would have been an unknown long-lost sister.  And, sadly, he had one.

Third, as I hinted at above, Túrin was given to his work, and specifically was obsessed with assailing Morgoth.  He was so devoted to this work that he didn’t have much thought for anything else.  To pick up the Peanuts analogy again, Túrin was the Schroeder of Beleriand – except instead of a golden bust of Beethoven he had a golden likeness of Glaurung the Dragon on his helm and a picture of Morgoth on his dartboard, and in place of a little green piano he had a bitter black sword, Gurthang.  His obliviousness to the attentions of the Lucys of Beleriand,[10] though, was unchanged.

So with that said by way of introduction, in my next post I’ll take up the particular instances of unrequited love in The Children of Húrin – and it is a theme which haunts the whole work, as it haunted Charles Schulz’s frames for decades.  The effect, I hope, is that we’ll find that while unrequited love can be a severe teacher, she is also a very good one, for good students.  And, not least as writers, we would be well-served to learn her lessons.

[1] So far as the author knows, this last effect of unrequited love was first noted by that distinguished doctor of philosophy, Charles M. Schulz.

[2] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin 64 (2007).

[3] Id. at 179.

[4] Id. at 163.

[5] Id. at 105.  Túrin’s rescue of Larnach’s daughter and what follows is a well-drawn little vignette; in a few pages you get a brief but vivid sketch of much of Túrin’s character; see The Children of Húrin at 103-108.

[6] Id. at 117.

[7] Id. at 166.

[8] J. R. R. Tolkien, Morgoth’s Ring: The Later Silmarillion 316 (1993).  This is one of the most fascinating dialogues anywhere in Tolkien; I hope to take it up in its own right in a future post.

[9] Rough translation: “uncanniness” or “unseemliness.” Much more on this quality of men in Middle-earth in a future post.

[10] Perhaps an apt description of Larnach’s daughter.  Nellas and Finduilas, aside from being lovesick for a man who wouldn’t love them back, were about as different from Lucy as anyone could be.