Another chapter of The Silmarillion, another box of tissues used. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but this week’s reading started with death and ended with death. It contained beautiful moments of friendship and bravery and then turned around and stabbed you in the heart with an Elven blade (that means it hurts more). Also, incest! We have a lot of ground to cover.
Chapter 21 – Of Túrin Turambar
While there were several bright spots in the longest chapter of The Silmarillion, there was so much frakking heartbreak. I couldn’t get a grasp on how many years Chapter 21 one covered, but Túrin experienced enough love, misery, and every emotion in between for a lifetime. It’s like every facet of the human experience decided to play out through this one man, and it was painful to watch his eventual fall.
Where to start. So much occurred that I’ll go through the highlights reel and then focus in on some specific points and thoughts about Túrin’s strengths and weaknesses. He started off on the right foot as he was someone Thingol was actually kind towards. That’s a rare gift, but Túrin was not content to stay in Doriath. Instead he became the companion in arms of Beleg Cúthalion. Their friendship was strong and as he and Beleg were separated and reunited and then fighting together again, they made me think of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in Tombstone. I can’t quite pinpoint why.
Unfortunately (the first of many unfortunatelys in this chapter), Túrin was captured by Morgoth’s forces and when Beleg set him free, he accidentally pricked Túrin’s foot with his sword Anglachel. Túrin was dazed and thought he was being attacked by a foe and freaked out and killed Beleg. My reaction to this:
This loss gutted Túrin, but Gwindor from Nargothrond helped set him right (the scene where Túrin visited Eithel Irvin was just lovely). Túrin lived in Nargothrond, but eventually things went awry and he ticked Gwindor off, rushed into battle, and Glaurung and Orcs sacked Nargothrond. Oops. Túrin starts reminding me of Anakin Skywalker as he kills people intentionally out of anger and starts slipping more and more towards a dark path.
Things appear to look up when Túrin encounters Brandir and makes his home among woodmen in Brethil. However, he eventually encounters a maiden they named Níniel who is actually his sister Niënor. Her memory was wrecked by Glaurung, but even without that, she’d never seen her brother’s face and wouldn’t have recognized him. So… they get hitched and have a kid. Incest in The Silmarillion. I did not see that coming.
Glaurung sets his mind on attacking Brethil, and though Túrin had given up fighting, he felt he had to go after the dragon lest the creature destroy the forest. He slayed Glaurung but before the dragon died, he told Niënor about her husband’s true identity and that they’re siblings. Hashtag #truthbomb. Wrecked by the news, Niënor throws herself off a cliff. Túrin survived the dragon, killed a friend, and when he learned the truth about Niënor, he killed himself with the Black Sword. Drama? Yeah, we’ve got that covered.
The Curse of Glaurung by Ulla Thynell
Túrin’s motivations and inability to learn a lesson confuse me. I’d love to see a psychologist tear apart this chapter and delve into why Túrin behaves the way he does. He’s sometimes cruel like when he befriended Mîm and then ignored him after Beleg arrived, and he’s sometimes kind. His bravery and tendency to jump head first into a fight seems like one of many defense mechanisms he uses to get through life.
I know I’ve talked about how frustrated I get when characters are known by numerous names, but Túrin took it to a new level. By my count, he was known by EIGHT different names. What. I laughed as I tallied them, but in this case, I’ll cut Tolkien a little slack since some of those identities were a result of Túrin wanting to hide who he really was. He thought keeping his true name under wraps would help hide him from doom, and the fact that he went through so many titles says much about his personality and character.
Finally, the descriptions throughout this chapter were such that I could see places clearly and practically feel everything the characters felt. I’m not sure what made it more vivid to me than the rest of the book, but it definitely hit home.
Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings
Again, I saw some more general connections to other Tolkien stories. Learning Glaurung can speak and bespell with his eyes and words is somewhat indicative of what to expect from Smaug in The Hobbit. However, Smaug doesn’t seem to be as powerful in that regard.
And then there’s lembas bread. In The Fellowship of the Ring, we saw Galadriel give it to the members of the fellowship when they departed Lothlórien. Here, Melian gives it to Túrin, and it is considered a great gift. Elves had never before shared the food with Men and “seldom did so again.”
Túrin by Līga Kļaviņa
“There is malice in this sword. The dark heart of the smith still dwells in it. It will not love the hand it serves; neither will it abide with you long.”
“A great storm rode up out of the west, and lightning glittered on the Shadowy Mountains far away, as Beleg and Gwindor crept towards the dell.”
“If the Men of Hithlim are so wild and fell, of what sort are the women of that land? Do they run like deer clad only in their hair?”
“Thus ended Beleg Strongbow, truest of friends, greatest in skill of all that harboured in the woods of Beleriand in the Elder Days, at the hand of him whom he most loved; and that grief was graven on the face of Túrin and never faded.”
Why did Túrin label himself an outlaw instead of facing Thingol? Was it just about not wanting to be a captive or something else?
Though Túrin goes through similar situations, he never seems to learn or become more cautious – why do you think that is?
Túrin seems to rebel against authority but always ends up pushing others out of the leadership role and taking their places. How does he rationalize that?
Do you think the Black Sword corrupted his personality at all?
Why do most of Túrin’s friends become foes?
Journey down to the comments to share your thoughts about this intense chapter. Feel free to link some reaction gifs, tell me your favorite quotes, answer discussion questions – anything goes! If you post about this week’s chapter on social media, please use the #NerdistBookClub hashtag so everything’s easy to find.
Come back for Part 11 next Tuesday, September 16, at 10:30am PST. We’ll be going over Chapters 22-24. We’re so close to the end; I’m so excited, I’m so scared.
Top image: Niënor by Chris Masna.