A cooler and very windy afternoon made getting to our meeting rather less demanding than it has been recently. Six of us got together and confirmed our arrangements for the Oxford visit, coming up fast now. Then we turned our attention to the chapter on Túrin Turambar.
Laura immediately picked up the danger of waking Túrin, likening it to the terrible stories of the SAS members who have unintentionally killed family members under similar circumstances.
Angela observed that the recent book The Children of Húrin, edited by Christopher Tolkien, from his father’s other versions of the story, is much more detailed than the account of Túrin’s life in The Silmarillion. Chris noted that this is actually mentioned in the shorter work, but CT collected all versions into 1 book.
Laura remarked that this is yet another miserable chapter, but then changed her designation to ‘grim’.
Eileen thought it is bleak, but noted that Túrin has his own strategy.
Laura allowed that he is undeniably brave, but ‘stuffed with ofermod’. He could make different choices but these would not fit his mind-set, so he is treading out his doom.
Eileen commented that he sticks to his own opinion but is not stubborn.
Laura noted that he changes his name every time something goes wrong.
Eileen suggested that he outgrew situations.
Laura considered Túrin to be learning his ‘craft’. Angela noted how this related to his return to Doriath.
Laura remarked on the way he is constantly missing people, including those who are absent from his life and with whom he never catches up.
Angela referred this to the effect of the curse of Morgoth, and I suggested that what happens to Túrin and his family is intended for the prolonged punishment of Hurin, who has to watch all these misfortunes unravel.
Laura noted, however, that Túrin, in his pride, even persuades Orodreth to ignore the message sent from Ulmo.
Eileen remarked that Túrin doesn’t seem to learn caution. Laura wondered if possession of the Dragon-helm and the sword Anglachel make him feel invincible?
Chris observed that the Dragon-Helm frightens people. Laura commented that it doesn’t protect him, and compared reports of the feeling of wearing a recreation of the Sutton Hoo helm [I can testify to the feeling of protection, having tried on a replica of the Benty Grange boar helm]. Laura also noted the latest research carried out on the Staffordshire Hoard and the conclusion that Anglo-Saxons saw an advantage in going into battle looking as splendid as possible.
I thought Túrin is characterized in terms of someone who is ‘born unlucky’.
Ian wondered if Tolkien is trying to describe such evils as Túrin faces in terms of Morgoth’s malice, but if Túrin makes wrong choices as part of Morgoth’s torment of Hurin then no comparison can be made with circumstances in the Primary World because that presupposes the controlling intervention of an evil power.
Angela commented that Morgoth does send the plague that kills Túrin’s sister Lalaith, and in the context of grief she wondered if Morwen is too unemotional. It was conjectured that this may have affected Túrin.
Chris remarked that Morgoth’s power doesn’t see through the Girdle of Melian.
Laura also noted that some captive elves tunnel out of Angband. She also commented on the special horror of elves, with their love of starlight being confined in mines.
Angela and Laura remarked that when Túrin encounters Glaurung, the dragon speaks ‘by the evil spirit that was in him’.
Angela likened the deceitful power of the dragon’s speech to the power of Saruman’s voice in The Lord of the Rings.
Chris noted that after tormenting Túrin the dragon ‘turned to his own pleasure’, and shows his independence in his gathering of treasure to rest on. So his power is his own not just Morgoth’s.
We considered other torments as Laura noted the ‘St Edmund’ moments when orcs throw knives at Beleg who is bound to a tree, and then Finduilas is killed by being pinned to a tree with a spear. https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Edmund-original-Patron-Saint-of-England/
Laura also remarked on the dreadful racism in the treatment of the Petty-Dwarves, and wondered at Tolkien’s choice of the word of French origin.
Ian commented on the way Túrin carries out justice according to his own world view, which is different to that of the Elves, and thus kills Saeros and judges himself, fearing captivity. He acts on this assumption, though Thingol pardons him. In fact, Túrin constantly judges himself, and is bound or incarcerated by various actions.
Laura noted that Melian warns Beleg not to take the sword Anglachel.
Eileen remarked that it seems as if some weapons have a life of their own and are affected by circumstances, or have some control.
I thought Anglachel behaved like a sword in essence by willingly taking Túrin’s life, because that’s what swords are made to do. Angela and Ian thought that was not really the case because the sword speaks its ‘motivation’. As Ian noted, it is not ‘guilty’ of Beleg’s death. Laura added that Melian characterized the sword as evil but Beleg ignored her.
Angela noted that Gwindor thought it was strange, and both Angela and Laura remarked that Beleg was actually named after his bow, Cúthalion – Strongbow.
Our meeting ended with the prospect of lots of reading time ahead as our next meeting day will be taken up with our visit to the Tolkien exhibition in Oxford. Nevertheless, we agreed to read specifically up to and including ‘The Fall of Gondolin’.