The Children of Húrin (part 6B): A name better than sons and daughters?

In the closing paragraphs of part 5D, and in part 6A, of this series on The Children of Húrin, I set the table for this post on the significance of house, land and offspring, in the story.  My last post, on the commitment of Israel’s God to the Abrahamic covenant, also serves as a segue of sorts into this discussion of house, land, and offspring – for those were the great promises of the Abrahamic covenant.

Finally, then, I come to the significance of land and offspring in The Children of Húrin.  I do this to set up the question I will attempt to answer next week: what if anything does it signify that every member of Húrin’s house died without land or offspring?  For I had observed earlier that, had Húrin lived under the Sinai covenant – such “cutting off” or “blotting out” of his name would have been considered a crushing and horribly final judgment – “the capstone of personal disasters.”[1]  And, by implication, this massive curse would have been taken as a sign of covenant unfaithfulness in the household.[2]

Middle-earth had no equivalent of the Sinai covenant.  Yet the evidence of the profound importance of house, land, and offspring is all over The Children of Húrin, as I hope to show presently.  In light of that importance, the reasons for the posthumous honor given to Húrin and his family, notwithstanding its horrifying end, deserve exploration – an exploration I intend to set out on next week.

I. The House of Húrin: Background

The very beginning of The Children of Húrin gives us some notion of the tremendous importance of name and house among the men of Middle-earth.  Tolkien begins the tale by giving us Húrin’s family history, starting with Hador, the great patriarch, of whose house Húrin and Túrin would be heirs.  More, we learn of Túrin’s relation to all three houses of the Edain (Elf-friends) – in addition to being heir of the House of Hador, he was kin to the House of Bëor through his mother, and to the House of Haleth via his father’s mother.[3]

In short, the first paragraphs of The Children of Húrin send a clear message that if we read the story through individualistic spectacles, we will absolutely gut it.  Húrin and his children were born of – and bore the names of – powerful, wealthy, and honorable patriarchs and matriarchs.[4]  Tolkien tells us this right at the top of the story, and (if we are attentive readers) never allows us to forget it.  Thus, answering the question about the honor afforded Húrin and his house by de-emphasizing the importance of house, and elevating the importance of the individual, would be, within Middle-earth, illegitimate.

II. The House of Húrin: Aspirations and fears expressed

We get a further sense of the importance of offspring and family name as we listen in on Húrin and Morwen his wife discussing the safe-keeping of their son, Túrin, when Húrin went off to join the Elves in a great battle against Morgoth.  This battle would be a “great throw,” in which the Elves and Elf-friends among men stood either to gain much or lose everything.[5]  Húrin’s central fear in the event the battle went ill was the loss of his son, and so he directed that, if things went badly, Morwen should take Túrin and flee south.  Húrin’s ultimate hope, though, is most revealing – bound absolutely to House and offspring, expressed in and through gain of lands:

And if we gain our ends, then the Elven-kings are resolved to restore all the fiefs of Bëor’s house to his heir; and that is you, Morwen daughter of Baragund. Wide lordships we should then wield, and a high inheritance come to our son. Without [Morgoth’s] malice in the North he should come to great wealth, and be a king among Men.[6]

The battle to which Húrin went was afterwards named the “Battle of Unnumbered Tears” — and among its sorrows was that the House of Hador all but ended.  Húrin was alive but taken captive to Morgoth’s fortress in Angband.  Túrin was a child.  Niënor Húrin’s daughter, and Tuor Huor’s son,[7] had been conceived but were not yet born.  So it was with a sense of urgency born of the need to preserve a house all but spent that Morwen, as Húrin instructed, sent Túrin away south – though, contrary to his instructions, she did not flee south herself.  The dialogue between Morwen and Túrin here reveals how much the importance of house and name had been impressed upon Túrin even in childhood:

Did not my father say that I am the heir of Hador? The heir should stay in Hador’s house to defend it.  Now I wish that I still had my knife![8]

After Túrin had spoken about this with his mother, he sought out (as was his regular practice) his friend Sador, whom he called Labadal.  Sador’s explanation of Túrin’s departure reveals that preservation of the house was scarcely less important to the house’s servants than its members:

‘. . . if you do not [leave],’ said Sador, ‘soon there will be an end of the House of Hador for ever, as you must understand. Labadal does not want you to go; but Sador servant of Húrin will be happier when Húrin’s son is out of the reach of the Easterlings.’

From the lord and lady of the House of Hador, then, as well as from the House’s heir in childhood, and the House’s servants, we get revealing glimpses of the huge significance of the propagation and survival of a house in Middle-earth.

III. The House of Húrin: What is the significance of crushed aspirations and trebled fears?

The precise question about the honor given accorded the House of Húrin, then – both in The Children of Húrin and for ages of Middle-earth following – is finally before us.  If the foregoing displays how important house, offspring, and lands were in Middle-earth, how could Húrin’s house, which fell in a way that couldn’t have occurred to Húrin even in his darkest dreams, have come to such honor?  Stated another way: What were the differences between Middle-earth and the Sinai covenant which allowed the House of Húrin, which received a good return on its fears and none on its hopes, to come to such honor?

That, Lord willing, is what I shall take up next week.


[1] Barry Danylak, Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life 69 (2010).

[2] See Deuteronomy 28; cf., among many examples, the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar in Job, and the “reproach” of Elizabeth in Luke 1:25.

[3] J. R. R. Tolkien, The Children of Húrin 33-34 (2007).

[4] Haleth was a woman; Morwen Túrin’s mother was heiress of the House of Bëor.

[5] The Children of Húrin at 46.

[6] The Children of Húrin at 48.

[7] The existence of Tuor was unknown to most of the people of Hador.  Túrin would learn of it much later – see The Children of Húrin at 174-75 – but, in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, it was generally thought that the survival of the House of Hador depended on Túrin.

[8] The Children of Húrin at 71. Túrin is talking about the Elvish knife given him by his father, which he had in turn given to Sador the woodwright.  Túrin’s naïvete here is notable, and characteristic of him throughout the story – though he grows to such stature, courage, and valor, that when he makes similarly naïve statements in adulthood, they sound plausible.

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Posted on January 14, 2012, in Authors, Book Review, David Mitchel, J.R.R. Tolkien, Middle Earth and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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