The Children of Húrin (part 5C): Túrin and unrequited love’s philosophers

[SPOILER ALERT: This post is loaded with spoilers.  So if you intend to read The Children of Húrin, and suspense is important to your enjoyment of the story, read no further — DPM.]

This week I stop one post short of wrapping up my little misadventure in writing about unrequited love in The Children of Húrin – a rabbit trail which seemed interesting enough when I started down it, but from which I will be glad to move on in the coming weeks.  Still, it hasn’t been an entirely unfruitful side path, and, like all the side paths Tolkien cuts through the dark mists of Morgoth in The Children of Húrin, it lies close to, and often intersects with, the story’s main road.

One of the big-picture things to note in Tolkien’s construction of The Children of Húrin is that, with the tragic end of all of the unrequited loves in the story, Morgoth’s noose gets a little tighter around Túrin’s neck.  This is particularly true of the two disastrous love triangles, the first of which I take up here.

I.  Túrin and the curse of Morgoth come to Nargothrond

By the time Túrin arrives in the hidden Elf-kingdom of Nargothrond, he has already seen a good deal of trouble.  But he is led to Nargothrond by the Elf-lord Gwindor, who has himself seen more than his share of trouble: he had escaped from Angband after about two decades in slavery to Morgoth.  And he did not escape intact – he’d lost a hand, and had become “as one of the aged among mortal Men.”[1]  So broken was Gwindor that his kin at Nargothrond scarcely recognized him; and he may have been denied admittance to that hidden kingdom had not his former fiancée, Finduilas daughter of King Orodreth, recognized Gwindor and spoken for him.  And Gwindor in turn speaks for Túrin, who is also admitted to the hidden kingdom.

Having long been a slave in Angband, Gwindor had heard rumors of Morgoth’s curse upon Húrin and his kin.  And it doesn’t take long for Gwindor to see Morgoth’s curse bearing its evil fruit in Nargothrond.  First, Túrin gainsays Gwindor in Orodreth’s council, and persuades the King to forsake his secrecy and instead wage open war upon Morgoth.  And though this goes well for a few years, Gwindor, who has seen Angband from the inside, knows full well that Nargothrond’s war is vain and that in forsaking secrecy it has forsaken its hope of long survival.  But the unkindest cut to Gwindor is the turn of Finduilas’s affections from himself to Túrin.  This happens without Túrin’s knowledge and contrary to his design, but Gwindor marks it and grows cooler to Túrin.  So Túrin seeks out Gwindor, and says

Gwindor, dear friend, you are falling back into sadness; do not so! For your healing will come in the houses of your kin, and in the light of Finduilas.[2]

But this only adds perplexity to Gwindor’s grief.  At the end of this little chat he sits “alone in dark thought,” cursing Morgoth “who could thus pursue his enemies with woe, whithersoever they might run.”[3]  At length Gwindor seeks out Finduilas (who had been avoiding him).  The ensuing dialogue is among the more interesting recorded conversations from the First Age of Middle-earth.

II.  Unrequited love’s philosophers

It begins with Gwindor essentially releasing Finduilas from their engagement.  This he does kindly, bidding her “go whither love leads you; for I am become unfit to wed you.”[4]  But Gwindor – motivated more by concern for Finduilas’s well-being than by jealousy – specifically warns Finduilas against marrying Túrin:

. . . this man is not Beren, even if he be both as fair and as brave.  A doom lies on him; a dark doom.  Enter not into it!  And if you will, your love shall betray you to bitterness and death.  For . . . his right name is Túrin son of Húrin, whom Morgoth holds in Angband, and has cursed all his kin.  Doubt not the power of Morgoth Bauglir! Is it not written in me?[5]

But Gwindor’s warning, though kindly meant, forces Finduilas to be “put to double shame” to reveal the truth to him – that Túrin “loves me not, nor will.”[6]

The last two words – nor will – are both crushing and interesting in light of what follows.  Finduilas has passed beyond all plotting and design, and beyond any hope that there would yet come a day on which love of the kind she wished would awaken in Túrin.  But neither her heart nor her eye was sickened by the disappointment, and, having no other pleasure in her beloved available to her, she would not allow grief[7] to deny her the pleasure of true contemplation:

[W]hat of your doom and rumours of Angband? What of death and destruction? The Adanedhel [literally “Elf-Man” — one of Túrin’s names] is mighty in the tale of the World, and his stature shall reach yet to Morgoth in some far day to come.’

‘He is proud,’ said Gwindor.

‘But also he is merciful,’ said Finduilas. ‘He is not yet awake, but still pity can ever pierce his heart, and he will never deny it.  Pity maybe shall be ever the only entry.’[8]

Here we see just how well affection has trained Finduilas’s eye, as she passes from philosophy to prophecy.  And while it’s pretty much always generally interesting to overhear what Elves say about Men, to hear Gwindor and Finduilas discuss one particular man, amidst the shards of a broken engagement and actual crushed hopes and aroused jealousies, is specifically riveting, in a poignant kind of way.

III.  Morgoth’s noose tightens

True as the words of Finduilas ultimately prove to be, Gwindor’s words about Túrin and his curse prove true more swiftly.  Túrin’s counsel to pursue open war against Morgoth serves only to reveal Nargothrond to Morgoth’s malice, and it falls.

In the last battle of the warriors of Nargothrond, Gwindor is mortally wounded.  And though Túrin finds him and bears him to safety, he is in time only to hear Gwindor’s last words – which, though honest and just, are kind, and without the sting of jealousy:

Let bearing pay for bearing! But ill-fated was mine, and vain is yours; for my body is marred beyond healing, and I must leave Middle-earth. And though I love you, son of Húrin, yet I rue the day that I took you from the Orcs. But for your prowess and your pride, still I should have love and life, and Nargothrond should yet stand a while.  Now if you love me, leave me! Haste you to Nargothrond, and save Finduilas.  And this last I say to you: she alone stands between you and your doom.  If you fail her, it shall not fail to find you.  Farewell![9]

As Gwindor foretells, so it happens.  For Glaurung the Dragon precedes Túrin to Nargothrond, and casts a dreadful spell upon Túrin, from which he recovers far too late to save Finduilas.  In the forest of Brethil he finds the spot where she uttered her last words – “Mormegil[10]; tell the Mormegil that Finduilas is here”[11] – a month too late.  And “there he laid himself down, and a darkness fell on him, so that they thought he was dead.”[12]

But Túrin was not so fortunate as Gwindor and Finduilas; he was not dead.  Morgoth had saved his worst for last.

[1] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin 159 (2007).

[2] Id. at 166.

[3] Id. at 167.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 168.

[6] Id.

[7] This, by the way, is what distinguishes Finduilas from the more pathetic philosophers of unrequited love: they deny their grief, and, at their most ridiculous, maintain that the pleasures of contemplation exceed those of consummation. In Finduilas we get a remarkable case where desire and its disappointment continue undiminished, but disappointment does not obscure her vision or sicken her heart.  In short, Finduilas’s love – among other things that might be said of it – bears all things, and rejoices in the truth.

[8] The Children of Húrin at 169.

[9] Id. at 177.

[10] That is, “Black Sword” – one of Túrin’s names in Nargothrond.

[11] Id. at 195.

[12] Id.


Posted on November 19, 2011, in Authors, David Mitchel, J.R.R. Tolkien, Middle Earth and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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