14 June, 2007

Narn I Chin Hurin - The Story

To get back to the Children of Hurin...

The story is dark, make no mistake about that. And if you thought the Lord of the Rings, with its Orcs and Ringwraiths and deaths of major characters and nearly-failed quests was dark, I don't know what you'd call this. "The negation of light"? "If you could get below absolute zero on the Kelvin scale, this is what it might be like"? ---- No, not quite as dark as that last one.

It's not depressing, oddly enough. A rather clean darkness, this seems to be, not without hope even at the worst moments. I might say that it's tinged, just in tone, with the Catholic idea that everything is able to be saved. I don't want to give the idea that it's religious at all. The background and plot of the story, and even to a large degree the morality of the heros, is much closer to that of the North European pre-Christian epics. Often the tone recalls the Finnish Kalevala or the Volsunga Saga or just general Norse mythology. A few parts even reminded me irresistably of Beowulf (yes, that was by a Christian author, but one like Tolkien in more ways than one).

The biggest difference from the Norse myths or the pagan epics lies in something which at first they appear to share in common: the driving force of a curse (or fate) and its effects on the heroes.

I hope it won't ruin the story for anyone if I mention that the Hurin of the title starts off the story by gaining the particular emnity of Morgoth. (For those who aren't familiar with the Silmarillion: if you want an idea how bad Morgoth was, you should know that Sauron - the grand bad guy of the Lord of the Rings - was at this time only Morgoth's lieutenant.) To get back at Hurin, Morgoth curses the poor guy's family.

The entire tale is simply the story of how this curse works out; of how Morgoth's object is achieved. And it is in this that the story is rooted in a more Catholic view of life. Because unlike pagan mythology, the curse here never directly controls the fate of either of Hurin's children. Rather, Morgoth has to work actively to bring about its effects.

He does this by playing on Hurin's son, Turin's, weaknesses - weaknesses such as pride and impulsiveness - till these become the prominent features of Turin's character. Eventually, Turin (and to a lesser degree, the more minor character of his sister, Nienor) becomes the primary agent of his own family's destruction.

The difference I keep talking about lies in the fact that never does this destruction become inevitable. Turin continually brings it on through his own choices. Although Morgoth brings about many of the book's critical situations, Turin (or Nienor, or Morwen, their mother) make the choices which cause the real tragedy and the darkness of the book. And this tragedy is simply the fact that the characters play into Morgoths hands, giving him the advantage of a moral as well as physical victory over the children of Hurin.

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