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Nerdist Book Club: THE SILMARILLION, Part 10

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.

What happened
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:

Vader noooo

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

Favorite quotes
“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.”

Discussion questions
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 T̼rin goes through similar situations, he never seems to learn or become more cautious Рwhy 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?

Bonus material
Sculptures of characters from The Silmarillion by Miren L.
Silmarillion heraldry by elegaer

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.

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  1. Mitulinski says:

    When the Black Sword was introduced I half thought ‘oh, I wondered when the Eol/Aredhel situation would return again’ and I half thought ‘uh-oh…’ Sort of answering your penultimate question! I believe the sword did have a severe effect. And that he purposefully used the sword when he could’ve use another says to me that there’s some unnatural attachment to it. (A sly reference to Gollum and his precious…?) I also saw it as a metaphor for vengeance, too…

    Plus; Glaurung, man! Smaug seems rather timid in comparison! (I might be showing ignorance here, but I wonder if the ‘au’ naming motif is purposefully used for dragons…?) But yeah, it’s not just Glaurung’s superpowers and a twisted sense of humour, but his command, too…! If Smaug is a descendant of Glaurung (for argument’s sake) then it’s feasible that the gifts bestowed upon Glaurung would have dissipated over time, leaving Smaug with just the gifts of words and ego. Anyway I actually really worried if Glaurung could actually be slain. And was so glad that he was! Also sort of glad that Glaurung revealed the sibling connection too, because if he didn’t, who would’ve…?

    And on the unfortunate siblings; I remember your comparison of Beren and Luthien to Romeo & Juliet. Well, if I may, I believe that we have a better comparison this time around…Especially in that Niniel and Turin took their own lives at the end of it! Such trgedy…A lot to take in for a single chapter, but no wonder it was so long!

    – AM

  2. MeiMisakiKun says:

    This was one of the saddest chapters to read, in all honesty. Friends slaying friends, madness, treachery.  I can openly admit I screamed out “Nooooooo” at least five times. I feel this is one of the better, yet saddest chapters in all of the Silmarillion.

  3. btlnsdolfin says:

    Adrenaline…it’s great on the battlefield, not so hot for situations that require calm and rational thinking.

  4. Robert says:

    “…and the hits just keep on coming” – Tom Cruise (Rain Man)

       The House of Hador can’t catch a break. Last week saw Huor felled with an arrow to the eye (the lucky one?) and Hurin captured via orc gang tackle and cursed to view reality from the eyes of a bitter spiteful a-hole immortal. What will Hurin get to see with the eyes of Morgoth? He gets a front row seat to this week’s tale of his son the ironically named, Turin Turambar. Turin rushes from one tragedy to another in his life on the run. Exposed to tragedy early in his life, Turin watched his sister waste away before his eyes. He never even got to meet his father. Living in enemy territory put his life in danger even as a child and so he was then separated from his mother. He finds acceptance and love in Doriath with Thingol and Melian for a time. However, the court of Elwe Thingol is not the place to learn humility, especially if you have talent and charisma to spare. So, when Saeros rains on Turin’s parade he retaliates and Saeros ends up face down in a chasm. Rather than face up to his rash actions he flees into the wild.
       Turin has always been under duress his whole life. This is why he has only one reaction to threats: he kills them. The anxiety of separation from his family and the ever present threat to his life in Dor-Lomin create an almost permanent state of fight or flight. His happiest days are on the road fighting orcs with Beleg. In the wild, his stress fueled hyper alertness is of use in a danger filled setting. Unfortunately the lightning fast reaction time that saves your life time and again also swiftly ends the life of your best friend. This also applies to Turin’s leadership abilities. In battle you want Turin as a commander. In violent situations Turin’s instincts never fail; however, in every day civilized settings these same strengths and instincts work against him. Turin is reminiscent of Hercules in that they share great strength and a quick temper coupled with a conscience that leads them to great remorse.

       Adding more fuel to the fire is Gurthang. You can reforge it, give it a new name but you can’t remove the malice of Eol, its maker. The sword seems to appreciate expert bringers of death and the sheer amount of lives they take. Did Anglachel “accidently” on purpose nick Turin on the foot? Only Anglachel knows. The same applies to the Black Blade’s influence on Turin. At the least it made killing swifter and easier than ever before.

       And finally, Glaurung, what he lacks in wingspan he makes up in sheer spite. Perhaps the strongest in Art of the dragons, Glaurung can mesmerize and cause madness in his enemies he can also burn or poison the landscape he inhabits. He wins the 495 AM (After Moon) Carman/Tenorman award for Most Evil Act of the Year for his role in the “Ha, Ha I made you sleep with your sister” tragedy of Turin and Nienor. Smaug is more famous and Ancagalon is bigger and has wings but nobody beats Glaurung at being a big draconic a-hole.

  5. Aleketh says:

    Sorry I arrived late with Starbucks, but I have a lot of homework and I’ve finally done a majority of it, so it’s time to answer questions and cry over fictional characters.
    Anyway:- Why did Túrin label himself an outlaw instead of facing Thingol? Was it just about not wanting to be a captive or something else?
    I think he was afraid of getting into more trouble, or causing a lot more trouble than he already had. It  seems like a recurring theme with Turin.
    – Though Túrin goes through similar situations, he never seems to learn or become more cautious – why do you think that is?
    I think that has to do with his hot headed personality. He seems like a nice guy, but cross his path, and he’ll chop your head off. I feel that he’s very rash, and jumps to conclusions which lead to his demise. Even though he seems to take it down a notch with his sister.. he then snaps back and goes on being destructive. You gotta feel sorry for the guy.
    – 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?
    He seems to always want to come first, despite his aversion to authority. Superiority complex maybe?
    -Do you think the Black Sword corrupted his personality at all?
    Might be it. that might also be the reason he’s so rash and seems to be conflicting with himself. 
    -Why do most of Túrin’s friends become foes?
    A lot of them try to talk sense into him and he doesn’t approve of that. even if they’re right and he himself is wrong. 

  6. Jamal says:

    Its been said that Turin is the human representation of the noldor, right down to his very appearance where as his cousin (next chapter) represents the vanyar in terms of being more wise. 
    The chapter tries to vocally pin the blame on morgoth’s curse and fate, but watching things play out it becomes a similar issue to the curse of mandoes; how much is predestined and how much is just foreseen?
    But Turin is perhaps the most complicated character in the book. Turin like his father is stubborn, and hes had a hard life that made him even more stubborn.  Much of whhat goes down in doriath is when he’s either in his late teens or early twenties, so you can almost blame his recklessness on youth.  He gets caught in the moment and not thinking about the future as he deosnt see it as relelvant until towards the end when he finds out morgoth has it in for him because of his father standing up to him(hurin is a bad ass telling a ‘valar’ to go fuck himself to his face). But its also a family trait.
    The chapter makes it pretty clear that his father, mother, and sister were all very stubborn ppl who don’t listen, so I pity the family overall and not just turin. However Turin was also quick to pity, so he was never intentionally trying to be an asshole most of the time.  Most of the times where his friends turn on him because of something he did, happen due to collision of bad coincidences rather that turin deliberately going off to push them away. Maybe that was fate…
    Overall though Turin is just abguy who is trying to do good as best he knows how and it turns out bad for him. He feels hounded by something greater than him and that makes him afraid, but not so afraid that he wholly turns from confronting evil when the shit goes down.
    The one other point I want to comment on is that Turin never takes authority from anyone. rather its given to him because he like his father is naturally charismatic. And again, he’s trying to do good as best he knows how, compared to curufin and his brother for example, who intentionally tried to take over authority for themselves

  7. Similar to the antiheros we have seen thus far, Túrin’s behavior is inexplicable at times since he is driven by an underlying pride and an inability to control his anger. I agree that a psychological approach to Túrin would be fascinating. Certainly some of his underlying issues with anger stem from the fact that he has an absent father who is presumably, though unconfirmed to Túrin, held captive by Morgoth. The fact that Húrin’s capture was to aid the escape of Elves may contribute to Túrin’s unwillingness to return to Thingol in order to face judgment. I think a larger factor was Túrin’s own pride which lead to shame and an unwillingness to face his foster father. Moreover, we learn that Túrin is drawn to conflict and the wild as he flies from place to place leaving a trail of woe behind him. Túrin on the one hand rejects or supplants authority, but on the other hand thrives when he is receiving praise and gaining influence. He repeatedly strikes his own path-gaining followers-but when he becomes the authority/father, his pride, overconfidence, and anger cause destruction. Hi time in Nargothrond is a good example of this behavior, while he had great success as Mormegil in clearing Orcs from the area, the bridge Túrin has them build is call by Ulmo “the stones of your pride” and Ulmo asks them to cast it into the river. Of course, Túrin refuses and Morgoth’s army lead by Glaurung uses their own bridge to march right to the front door. Túrin’s overconfidence in his own abilities blinds him to reasonable counsel. His overwhelming pride gives Túrin the belief that he is right and the will to impose his opinion. Túrin doesn’t learn because his personality never changes even when he feels remorse for his actions since he never connects his behavior to the unfortunate outcomes.

    The larger issue with Túrin is that he is attempting to circumvent or hide from his fate or doom, which only seems to increase the suffering of everyone around him and for all of his maneuvers, actually causes the outcome to worsen. The curse of Morgoth, as Gwindor says to Finduilas, is not to be ignored. As Gwindor says to Túrin, “the doom lies in yourself, not in your name.” In Tolkien, you can’t fight your fate.

    Anglachel/Gurthang appears to be sentient since Gurthang appears to feel remorse at killing Beleg and Brandir, but I don’t get a sense that the sword is influencing Túrin or controlling his actions like the One Ring. While Melian senses malice, I think that is a reading of the doom of the sword as well as Gurthang’s joy in being unsheathed for killing. As a side note, I’m sure any fans of Michael Moorcock will have thought of the parallels between Anglachel/Gurthang and its twin Anguirel with Stormbringer and Mournblade of the Elric of Melniboné books (which I loved, BTW).

  8. XagzanOTM says:

    Who says Tolkien didn’t do dark, eh? Game of Thrones eat your heart out!

    The obvious parallels of Turin to Oedipus aside (the curse/prophecy, the incest, right down to the pricked foot)—and, even more so, the perhaps less famous Kullervo of the Kalavela—these parallels aside, I think the main issue is capital P Pride. In great excess. Which, of course, was also Oedipus’ problem (and Morgoth’s, and Feanor’s, and even his father Hurin’s, whose pride in defying Morgoth leads to his whole family being cursed), but you can see it as a primary character trait in Turin as well, and the reason he seems to keep making mistake after mistake (the reason other than Morgoth’s curse, that is; recall the concept of double determination). His pride is why he refuses Thingol’s pardon. Why he assumes command of the band of outlaws he joins and makes them a serious orc-fighting force, picking battles wherever they can. Why Nargothrond becomes vulnerable. Why Brandir loses the leadership of Brethil and the respect of its people. The chapter indeed makes mention more than once, of how Turin “now ordered things as he would.” Ego. Pride, and fall. That old chestnut. And Turin falls hard, taking everyone in his path along with him.

    Meanwhile I don’t thing Gurthang was a corrupter like the Ring. It was forged by Eol, and reference is made to his spirit still having some sway over the blade, but it doesn’t seem to be a major focus for Turin himself. Melian’s sight might tell her that it’s a blade that will bring about tragedies, but the sword’s nature is just an unpleasant reflection of its asshole maker.

    I think this would be the hardest story of the Sil to film, not because of plot or pacing, but just cause no one would want to touch the incest. Might have to shop it to HBO instead.

    Anyway, obviously this was the bleakest, most tragic chapter yet, but get comfy, people. The next chapter is called The Ruin of Doriath, which is as good an indicator as any that this level of dark and depressing is, for the most part, here to stay 🙂

    PS I heard Angband is hiring. “Wanted: New Chief Dragon. Steady hours. Good pay in treasure hordes and flesh and screams of terror. Functional wings preferred but not a requirement.”

  9. dude says:

    Turin can almost be considered the epitome of “Men”. He is strong, brave, and most of all proud. His intentions are always to defeat Morgoth, and to kill orcs, and he is constantly chafing at rules designed to help him. 

    I really recommend picking up “The Children of Hurin” which is a more in detail version of this. 

  10. Bobbert says:

    An interesting related read is The Lays of Beleriand. It’s more unfinished Tolkien, but this includes two false starts for writing a Beowulf-style epic poem for the Narn (and one for the tale of Beren and Luthien). The longer of the two about Túrin only makes it to the point where he kills Beleg, but it’s interesting to see the differences in the story even between the two versions of the poem, much less the tale as put forth in the Silmarillion.

  11. *Firstly, those sculptures are fantastic, thanks for sharing the link!
    *Why did Túrin label himself an outlaw instead of facing Thingol? Was it just about not wanting to be a captive or something else?  – I feel like that was a glimpse of the curse of Fëanor’s influence on Men. His pride was too great to allow Thingol to “repent”
    *Though Túrin goes through similar situations, he never seems to learn or become more cautious – why do you think that is? – Single-mindedness is a trait many men in Middle Earth seem to share.
    *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? – Why follow a lesser leader when you know yourself to be the best man for the job?
    *Do you think the Black Sword corrupted his personality at all? – I think it did but I believe Túrin  allowed it to happen and didn’t resist 
    *Why do most of Túrin’s friends become foes? Because Elves. Seriously, everything ill that has befallen Men since the dawn of their days was wrought from the greed and hubris of the Elves. 

  12. amysrevenge says:

    In the same way that Feanor could be considered the greatest of the Elves, I consider Turin the greatest of the Men.

    • Nzie says:

      Good point. And I think that’s a good link to some of the other good comments above that mention pride.  Tolkien really does a lot with pride in this work, perhaps flowing out from his personal religious convictions.  
      I’m glad to reread this chapter because it was probably the most confusing to me the first time around. 🙂