Previously on An Adventure in Tolkien: I fell in love with Morgoth again even though none of the Great Tales are about him.
This one doesn’t need to be split into sections as the previous two were, but Christopher did, and I feel like his reasoning makes sense since he separated them by the different ages. Thus, I’ll be following his lead. Again, Christopher’s introduction does a great job describing what the rest of the book entails:
…the nature and scope of his invention seems to me to place even his abandoned stories in a peculiar position. That The Silmarillion should reman unknown was for me out of the question, despite its disordered state, and despite my father’s known if very largely unfulfilled intentions for its transformation; and in that case I presumed, after long hesitation, to present the work not in the form of an historical study, a complex of divergent texts interlinked by commentary, but as a completed and cohesive entity. The narratives in this book are indeed on an altogether different footing: taken together ty constitute no whole, and the book is no more than a collection of writings, disparate in form, intent, finish, and date of composition (and in my own treatment of them)…
This leads me to believe that there will be some
a lot of repetition here, so I may be doing some slight skimming in parts. (Translation: I’m not reading about the children of Húrin again, ffs.)
Also, in case anyone forgot just what kind of person we’re dealing with here:
In the spring of 1920 he was invited to read a paper to the Essay Club of his college (Exeter); and he read “The Fall of Gondolin.” The notes of what he intended to say by way of introduction of his “essay” still survive. In these he apologised for not having been able to produce a critical paper, and went on: “Therefore I must read something already written, and in desperation I have fallen back on this Tale. It has of course never seen the light before… A complete cycle of events in an Elfinesse of my own imagining has for some time past grown up (rather, has been constructed) in my mind. Some of the episodes have been scribbled down… This tale is not the best of them, but it is the only one that has so far been revised at all and that, insufficient as that revision has been, I dare read aloud.”
This man is a troll, and I love him. He was literally asked to give basically a prestigious talk to his alma mater, and instead he was like “okay so I’ve got this poorly written short story that makes no sense outside of its greater universe, buckle up.”
Alright, I’ve got the ROTK soundtrack on, LET’S GO.
The First Age
Of Tuor and His Coming to Gondolin
I really like the setup of these tales. Christopher has a paragraph introduction before each to describe what they are and how they came to be. We’re then shoved headfirst into the tale itself, but there are dozens and dozens of notes tacked onto each one to explain different pieces. I’m only about halfway through the first one, but there are 31 footnotes in total, and I really appreciate that, for they’re not only notes on how they connect, but they loop in the larger story, as well.
Of course, I was already excited when Morgoth was mentioned on the first page, but then one of these footnotes just about killed me:
In The Silmarillion, it is told that when Morgoth and Ungoliant struggled int this region for possession of the Silmarils, “Morgoth sent forth a terrible cry, that echoed in the mountains. Therefore that region was called Lammoth; for the echoes of his voice dwelt there ever after, so that any who cried aloud in that land awoke them, and all the waste between the hills and the sea was filled with a clamour as of voices in anguish.”
Lammoth is close enough to lament that yeah, thanks, we know that you loved your bad guys, too, Tolkien, and really just thought they were sad guys.
This first story is literally just Tolkien wanting to write about Tuor having himself a little adventure. It’s like that guy, oh what’s his name, he was just wandering around somewhere and then BAM there’s Ulmo with some task to ruin his life.
OH WAIT IT’S TUOR
I’m literally just sad about Tuor all over again. All this guy wants to do is have himself a little vacation in the woods. He’s looking for Turgon, sure, but that’s just so he can be like “dude you’re great. I’m not sure why I feel that way, but I do, and I wanted you to know.” And everyone just rains on his parade! Leave Tuor alone!
But seriously, this entire story is just his journey to Gondolin, and it’s adorable. He loves the trees, he loves the birds, he’s a little daunted by the ocean, but he’s having a great time.
I see that I also had a “what a goddamn word” moment the last time I read this story. Admittedly, I’m skimming right now because I literally just read this as part of the Great Tales of the Elder Days, but some of it still makes me chuckle.
I’m enjoying this a lot more than I did those, too, because that was just the same story over and over and over again, but this is just a full story, no breaks to dissect the language or look at a different version, and while it’s not cohesive like The Silmarillion, the stories themselves are complete.
Also, I’m just really enjoying Voronwë right now. Tuor asked him for information about Turgon because he’s still randomly in love with him for no reason, and Voronwë heaved a huge sigh before launching into a seven paragraph soliloquy about how and why he loved the ocean.
do yourself a favor and read literally anything beyond LOTR that has elves, your life will improve tenfold
I AM DECEASED
So Voronwë’s still sad, right. “…and his face was pale with dread and loathing” because some pool has been destroyed by Morgoth, and nature is sacred to elves, BUT THEN
Even as he spoke thus, they heard a cry in the woods, and they stood still as grey stones, listening… And as they waited one came through the trees, and they saw that he was a tall Man, armed, clad in black, with a long sword drawn… Woe was graven in his face, and when he beheld the ruin of Ivrin he cried aloud in grief, saying, “Ivrin, Faelivrin! Gwindor and Beleg! Here once I was healed. But now never shall I drink the draught of peace again.”
here comes Túrin, reminding everyone that he’s the saddest of all sad
WHY YOU GOTTA DO ME LIKE THAT TOLKIEN EVERY TIME I’M HAVING A GOOD TIME YOU THROW THE BELEG BLOW AGAIN
y’all have to suffer with me, #sorrynotsorry
Like, why does this keep happening? Túrin could have just cried about the ruin of Ilvrin, but we had to remind everyone that he killed Beleg on accident, too? Really, Tolkien? Really? It’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to your characters, and you keep bringing it up, which makes me unbelievable levels of sad every time.
You know, the really excellent thing about Tolkien is that he understands distance and travel. So often, in high fantasy, travel between cities takes, like, one chapter. Tolkien’s over here providing a full 35-page short story to describe that travel because his publishers were like “now listen that’s a lot let’s just get to the meat of it,” but he still wrote it, probably bitterly.
OKAY we’re not here to talk about Beleg again, we’re here to talk about Tuor realizing how hot Voronwë is: “And Voronwë cast back his hood, and his face shone in the ray, hard and clear, as if graven in stone; and Tuor marvelled to see his beauty.”
If you don’t believe me, I’ve got more art!
oh my god I’m almost done with this story, I promise, and then we’re back with my least fave, Húrin, who I will 100% skim through except for the chapter title The Words of Húrin and Morgoth
Tolkien for real was like “hey guys so when Tuor gets to Gondolin, there’s gonna be seven gates, YES SEVEN stop yelling at me, and they’re all really special–no, this is not like the time I described everyone’s battle clothes for three pages before the one paragraph battle SHUT UP THESE GATES ARE IMPORTANT” and his publishers were definitely like “nah bro sorry” and that’s why all we know about Tuor going to Gondolin is this:
Tuor went to Gondolin. He walked around a little bit before he got there, and then some elf helped him get through the gates. There were seven, but we’re going to talk about the last one only because that’s the most important since it brings us to Gondolin. Oh look, he’s in Gondolin now, /fin.
Obviously, I’m paraphrasing, but Tolkien went hard on this “short story” of Tuor going to Gondolin. He was like ALRIGHT FINE HAVE ONE GATE OUT OF SEVEN I’LL BE OVER HERE, and just angrily wrote about Tuor’s entire journey from home to Gondolin, taking a paragraph each to describe, in detail, what the seven gates looked like. It gives me such Neverending Story vibes.
wait wait wait but Tolkien, at the Sixth Gate, was like “okay maybe this is a bit much” and went “So they came to the Golden Gate, the last of the ancient gates of Turon that were wrought before the Nirnaeth; and was much like the Gate of Silver, save that…” before he devotes another long paragraph to the Sixth Gate.
I LOVE THIS MAN
Ecthelion! This is before he dies! Oh, sweetie! Ecthelion will later kill the Lord of Balrogs in the fall of Gondolin, and he’ll be super gay with Glorfindel, but we’re not quite there yet.
Okay, I’m done, and I have so many things to say! First, in the notes: “Tuor asked the name of the City, and was told its seven names.” SEVEN names. Tolkien, you’re so much, and it’s great. Also, I’m curious, because Tolkien doesn’t provide a description of Gondolin except that Tuor’s literally speechless at its beauty, and I can’t remember if there’s a description of it in The Silmarillion, so did we just decide it was Minas Tirith, but cooler, and call it a day? I know Alan Lee drew it for the Elder Days covers, I just can’t remember if it’s based on a description or inspired by later architecture.
ANYWAY, that was a boatload of fun, and I’ve just realized that despite this story being entirely about Tuor, I’ve never provided any art of him, so here you go!
Literally all he wanted was to see the sea and walk through the woods and maybe tell some elf king he was pretty cool, and instead Tuor was given grief and death.
Narn i Hîn Húrin
Alternately titled: The Tale of the Children of Húrin, but Tolkien was so proud
RIGHTFULLY of his language that he decided to confuse people instead.
Who creates a language first and then decides a story should probably accompany it?
Okay, so I’ve read the story of Húrin probably 85 times, and I’ve not really enjoyed it any of those times because, you know, tw: unnecessary incest, so I’m honestly not going to read a lot of this in detail, so this should be shorter than the previous story. Should. We all know how I get with Tolkien.
Also, unlike Beren & Lúthien and The Fall of Gondolin, in which we were shown different versions that actually contained new information, The Children of Húrin just straight up repeated the story, but with more detail about how sad everyone was added in. I enjoyed the other two books in the Elder Days trilogy because they discussed more of the story–this never does. It’s always just “okay so here’s what you know from The Silmarillion, but are we definitely clear on the fact that it’s super sad?”
And this was my previous review of it: “Like, at the end of the day, this book is about two humans, and my favorite character is still an elf.” BELEG IS IN THE HOUSE!
I’m reading the introduction for this section right now, and I know I say it a lot, but I just fucking love Tolkien. Christopher’s talking about how there are so many different versions of this story, but that some passages reflect almost word for word in them. He tries to break down why he thinks that is, but my favorite is:
Legends like that of Túrin Turambar had been given a particular poetic form long ago–in this case, the Narn i Hîn Húrin of the poet Dírhavel–and phrases, or even whole passages, from it (especially at moments of great rhetorical intensity, such at Túrin’s address to his sword before his death) would be preserved intact by those who afterwards made condensations of the history of the Elder Days (as The Silmarillion is conceived to be).
Basically, what Christopher has interpreted from collecting archival works surrounding Húrin’s children is that his father intended for the Narn to be a poetic legend that some poet was telling, but that different versions of it would be found throughout Tolkien’s work because that’s how oral histories go. People tell it in different ways. So while Dírhavel’s Narn is the most in-depth version, passages of it can be found in different versions because they’re intended to be told from different voices.
Essentially, JRR was like, “You know what would be fucking awesome? I’m going to write eighteen versions of this story because that’s how it naturally would have been passed down through the ages.”
Not only is that genius, it’s ridiculous, and I love it.
Also, quick aside, I’m having a rotten week as I’m beginning this book, and this morning was just the icing on the cake, so I immediately pulled out Unfinished Tales because I wanted something comforting, but I also put on the Tarzan soundtrack, and this is quite a combination.
Wait, it gets better! There’s a note before the notes:
In an introductory note, existing in different forms, it is said that though made in Elvish speech and using much Elvish lore, especially of Doriath, the Narn i Hîn Húrin was the work of a Mannish poet, Dírhavel, who lived at the Havens of Sirion in the days of Eärendil, and there gathered all the tidings that he could of the House of Hador, whether among Men or Elves, remnants and gutitives of Dor-lómin, of Nargothrond, of Gondolin, or of Doriath. In one version of this note Dírhavel is said to have come himself of the House of Hador. This lay, longest of all the lays of Beleriand, was all that he ever made, but it was prized by the Eldar, for Dírhavel used the Grey-elven tongue, in which he had great skill. He used that mode of Elvish verse which was called Minlamed thent / estent, and was of old proper to the narn (a tale that is told in verse, but to be spoken and not sung). Dírhavel perished in the raid of the Sons of Fëanor upon the Havens of Sirion.
HALDIR DESERVED THAT F-BOMB AND I WON’T BE SILENCED
You know, I feel like I should have foreseen my love of Tolkien’s other Middle Earth works because my favorite elf in the LOTR trilogy is Haldir. Hm. I’m feeling a bit seen right now.
Anyway, Tolkien is such a Nerd™, and I would die for him.
Okay, like, now I feel like I can’t skim this section. We’ll see. I’m going to read, and then when I get to the incest, I’m going to go whoops and fly right past it.
Look, tiny Túrin was just saved by Beleg, so I’m back on my shit.
yo this is NOT COOL
Not only is Túrin now in Doriath, chilling with the eventual love of his life, Beleg, but Tolkien just casually dropped a Maedhros/Fingon scene on us, AND I WASN’T PREPARED. These are, like, my two OTPs of the First Age, bro, and they both end in tragedy. What the fuck. Why you gotta do me like this.
Also, I feel like we’re on a journey together right now, so I’m dropping more music.
Because if it’s not Tarzan, it’s The Lion King, and you can bet I’m about to switch to Hercules.
DUDE WHY YOU GOTTA BE CREEPY RIGHT AWAY??? In the notes: “A marginal note in one text says here: “Always he sought in all faces of women the face of Lalaith.”” She’s your sister, Túrin, STOP. Lalaith isn’t the sister he eventually falls in love with because she’s dead, but clearly, this was all written in the stars from the beginning. JUST FALL IN LOVE WITH BELEG AND BE DONE WITH IT.
YOU KILLED HIM
can you tell I’m bitter as fuck?
My music is not matching up with my mood, and it’s wonderful because I can’t be bitter about Beleg dying while these ladies are singing the gospel truth.
Only one was mightier in arms among the march-wardens of Thingol at that time than Túrin, and that was Beleg Cúthalion; and Beleg and Túrin were companions in every peril, and walked far and wide in the wild woods together.
Man, there is a lot more reading over skimming going on than I’d anticipated for this part. I know a lot of this information, but there’s more information in a way that the Elder Days book didn’t provide, and it’s all very interesting. Also, I was just glancing at my review of that, and: “So I guess me reading Children of Húrin is just going to consist of me ignoring the incest and living for the gay. WHAT ELSE IS NEW?” Here we are again.
Good lord, this is long. I’m thinking about splitting up my review of the Unfinished Tales into four different posts because, otherwise, this is going to be obnoxious, clearly.
I feel like I should note that I don’t actually like Túrin? He’s an asshole and a murderer. He literally kills people just for looking at them wrong, and then is like “let me be your leader or I’ll kill the rest of you,” and like? Calm the fuck down. I like Beleg, which is why I tolerate Túrin.
It’s official, I’m skipping the story of Mîm because Túrin’s rude to him for no reason, and I don’t feel like reading that again, so instead, let’s just pretend Beleg never left, Túrin was never an asshole
HA, and Mîm thought they were super cool because they didn’t break into his home and take advantage of his hospitality, so they traversed through Middle Earth as a dauntless trio, and everyone lived happily ever after.
Up next: Túrin goes home finally, but his mom and sister have left, which means he’s allowed to be even worse. We get to see Morwen & Nienor leave home and try to find Túrin, but they encounter all sorts of awful along the wall. Seriously, Túrin & Nienor have the worst life imaginable. Eventually, Nienor gets separated from Morwen, something happens (I can’t remember & don’t care) and she loses her memory WAIT IT’S TOTALLY MORGOTH! Yup. So, a long time ago, Morgoth decided he was going to curse Húrin. (This was right before he put Húrin in his stone chair tower thing and was like “haHA feast your eyes upon your doom” because he’s a Drama Queen.) But Húrin just kind of shrugs at Morgoth, so Morgoth instead decides he’s going to curse Húrin’s kids.
I will not let you blame the incest on Morgoth, don’t even go there. But Morgoth’s a Drama Queen, so he decides to wait for the absolute perfect moment to really unleash his curse. He curses Nienor to lose her memory, which means that when Túrin eventually finds her, the incest happens because:
- He’s never seen Nienor in his life. Morwen sent him away before she was born.
- He’s also no longer going by the name Túrin because he’s also a Drama Queen, and every time something bad happens to him, he abandons his name and takes on a more dramatic one. (Is this when he’s Turambar? Maybe?)
- When Nienor arrives in the same village Túrin is living in, he doesn’t know she’s his sister, and she doesn’t know who she is, so he names her Níniel, and then they fall in love.
And this is why I’m now skimming!
Oh, and then the dragon comes, and everything is awful. This is about when Beleg “dies,” too. Or, you know, is killed by that shithead Túrin. Look, fine, Beleg’s death is not technically Túrin’s fault, but he’s also the one who stabbed him, SO. Anyway, eventually Glaurung the dragon nearly kills Túrin, but Túrin looks dead, so when Nienor finds him, she goes all Romeo & Juliet and throws herself off a cliff to her death in sorrow, and when Túrin comes to, he slays Glaurung, and then discovers Nienor’s dead, but once Glaurung is dead, Morgoth’s curse wears off, and everyone finds out that Túrin committed incest, so he kind of just dies? This story is so stupid after Beleg’s gone.
I liked this a lot more than the three individual novels for the Great Tales of the Elder Days, but still, I’m so over reading some of these again that I just could not force myself to read the second half of that story.
And I’ve definitely decided that I’m going to at least split this in half, if not further than that. The First Age alone is just so long that trying to tack on the next two ages in the same post seems like it’ll end poorly. Looking at the Second Age content makes me believe I’m going to be flailing just as much, too, since it’s probably a lot of stuff I don’t know yet. I may just loop in the Second & Third Age together, but we’ll see. It all depends on how wildly the rest of my reading goes.
For now, though, have you read Unfinished Tales? If not, does this review
(can we even call these reviews anymore?) convince you to read it? Can I interest you in a last piece of art, this time of Fëanor’s sons, whom I would much rather be reading about again?