16th April marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of The Children of Húrin, the tragic tale of Túrin Turambar and his sister Nienor.
Conceived in the 1910s as one of the great tales of the First Age – alongside The Fall of Gondolin and Beren and Lúthien – the story tells of the lord Húrin who has three children, Túrin, Lalaith and Nienor, with his wife Morwen. The tale itself draws some parallels with the story of Kullervo from the Finnish epic Kalevala.
Although Tolkien had been working on it since the 1910s, nothing was known of Túrin – the principal character of the story – until the publication of The Silmarillion in 1977. There were a couple of cursory references in The Lord of the Rings, though:
“But it is a heavy burden. So heavy that none could lay it on another. I do not lay it on you. But if you take it freely, I will say that your choice is right; and though all the mighty elf-friends of old, Hador, and Húrin, and Túrin, and Beren himself were assembled together your seat should be among them.” – Elrond to Frodo
The story tells of how Húrin’s son, Túrin, is sent to grow up under the protection of King Thingol of Doriath (the father of Lúthien) where he grows into a strong young man. Due to his pride, he believes himself banished from the kingdom and goes on a number of journeys throughout Beleriand. Due to a curse laid on Húrin’s family by Morgoth, all of Túrin’s actions turn against him bringing about only death and ruin. Eventually he falls in love with a woman Niniel, who transpires to be his sister Nienor who is suffering a bewitchment. The story concludes with the deaths of the entire family, including the suicides of Túrin and Nienor.
A fuller account of the story was included in Unfinished Tales as “Narn i Chîn Húrin”, before The Children of Húrin was finally released by Christopher Tolkien in 2007. Writing in the Washington Post, Elizabeth Hand described the story:
A bleak, darkly beautiful tale played out against the background of the First Age of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, The Children of Húrin possesses the mythic resonance and grim sense of inexorable fate found in Greek tragedy. [..] Readers looking for happy endings will find none in this book. Instead, there is grand, epic storytelling and a reminder, if one was needed, of Tolkien’s genius in creating an imaginary world that both reflects and deepens a sense of our own mythic past.