The Silmarillion Recaps: Dragons, Curses, and Incest Oh My!
Cover for The Children of Hurin Art by Alan Lee
Usual disclaimer: I’m doing a cheeky summary of these stories (check out earlier segments here!) meant to show those unfamiliar with the book how banana-pants and worth reading it is, not an in depth treatise on every detail. If you want that, read The Silmarillion itself! Or for more on these specific folks, The Children of Húrin is also a good bet.
Some terms may be a little foreign if you haven’t read the book, so check out my other two posts for some helpful breakdowns. It will particularly useful to read my piece on Beren and Lúthien before this one.
And now onward to unrelenting tragedy!
Of all the stories in The Silmarillion about various people getting effed over by Morgoth, it could be argued that the House of Hador gets it the absolute worst. It’s not that Morgoth doesn’t make a lot of peoples lives miserable, what with his tendency to 1. break whatever lights up the world 2. obsessively make a shiton of orcs who like to kill everything 3. steal silmarils and 4. constant war mongering. Morgoth is kind of the original Ruiner of Everything. If it’s cool and the Valar made it, count on Morgoth busting in and knocking it over like a toddler on a rampage. He’s like the leader of Middle Earth’s internet troll brigade, coming in to muck up anything important that’s going on because he can’t stand to see anyone else having a good time. He just really goes to town on Húrin and Túrin and anyone they care about.
In a way, the stories of Húrin and Túrin are the closest things to true soap opera you’ll get in Tolkien. You can practically hear a voiceover saying “Like the Dying Light of The Two Trees of Yavanna, These are the Days of Our Middle Earth”. And then dragons.
There are, of course, also great deeds and epic battles and immense heroism in these particular stories but absolutely none of it ends well, and in some cases, ends so badly you’re left wondering what you just read because this particular tale goes places Tolkien usually never does. In particular: acknowledging that sex is a thing that happens. Prior to Húrin and Túrin you’d be forgiven for thinking people in Middle Earth procreated via deep thoughts. Or some kind of glowy elf mitosis.
Now, Húrin was considered a great warrior of his people “mightiest of the warriors of men” in fact, and he had a younger brother named Huor who wasn’t too bad him self. During a battle they were separated from the others in their party who had been kicking some orc butt. They were aided by Ulmo, the Vala, in escaping almost certain death and eventually were taken by eagles to the hidden elf kingdom of Gondolin. Not even Morgoth had a clue where it was and you can bet it pissed him off. Morgoth didn’t like it when the elves had places he couldn’t immediately ruin. Keep that in mind for later.
Gondolin is an amazing place, but it’s full of just elves and eventually Húrin and Huor wanted to go back home. I’m going to guess they missed seeing other people who aged and weren’t always the prettiest ever. King Turgon would rather they stayed because A. he thinks they’re really cool guys, for humans, and B. Gondolin had managed to stay a chill and swell place to live specifically because they hadn’t just let folks wander in and out who know where they were. But the brothers Hador swear an oath never to reveal its location and Turgon is a pretty decent guy, so he let’s them hitch another eagle ride back to their home in Dorlómin.
Sadly, not long after they return their dad is killed by orcs and Húrin becomes leader of his people. He marries Morwen, who was a pretty awesome badass in her own right because ladies of the Edain knew how to defend themselves. She was also of the House of Beor which produced among others, Barahir and Beren. They had two kids, Túrin and Lalaith. Only a few years later, Lalaith is killed in a plague sent from Angband, so that’s death #2 in Húrin’s family we can lay at Morgoth’s literal door. He was already pretty good at making this family suffer.
Húrin goes off to fight in one of the least successful elf battles against Morgoth called the Nírnaeth Arnoediad or “Battle of Unnumbered Tears”. With a name like that, you know it must have been a jolly good time. Things go, as you would expect, epically badly for the good guys. In the middle of the battle Húrin and his brother meet Turgon again and because they are stand up dudes, fight off the enemy so he can escape. Huor and all the other men who came with them get massacred. Húrin ends up buried under a bunch of dead orcs and trolls which, beyond the smell, must have been really uncomfortable. He’s grabbed my Morgoth’s minions and ends up in Angband.
Morgoth demands to know where Gondolin is and Húrin is all; You killed my dad, daughter, brother, and all the men of my house and you think I’m going to tell you elf secrets? Lol, no. Morgoth then tortures him, promises him freedom, and all kinds of other stuff if he’ll just break his oath. Húrin is still like, sorry, nope.
This is when Morgoth comes up with a really terrible curse on all of Húrin’s family (like what’s already happened to them isn’t bad enough) and then puts Húrin in a magic seat high up in the mountains of Thangorodrim, to force him to watch all the effed up stuff about to go down without being able to do anything about it. He also makes sure to only show Húrin what he wants him to see, so it’s all deeply skewed towards the bad. I mean, it pretty much is all bad, but some folks do try to help.
Meanwhile, Morwen is dealing with Easterlings who invade Dórlomin on the orders of Morgoth because that’s what Big Bads do. Morwen and Túrin don’t know anything about all the torture, curse, and mountain seat stuff going on, they figure Húrin bit it in the battle. So Morwen is just trying to raise her son having no idea they’ve been cursed by the Biggest of Bads.
Now, Morwen was pretty worried the Easterlings would go after her son if they found out who he was, so she sent Túrin to Doriath. She then had her second daughter, Nienor and then we don’t hear from her again for awhile.
Túrin ends up trapped in the Girdle of Melian and nearly dies, but is saved by Beleg Strongbow. I wish I had more space for how awesome Beleg is, but basically he’s the kind of BFF everyone should have. He makes sure Túrin isn’t wrongly sentenced for murder, follows him into exile, rescues him from orcs, and fights by his side for years. He’s basically loyal to an actual fault.
Because of Morwen’s relationship to Beren, King Thingol fosters Túrin in Doriath and for a while everything is kind of okay. He learns elven lore and warfare, he grows up strong and proud and wears a badass helmet that isn’t very subtle about who he is. But then news from his sister and mother stop and he gets pretty pissed with Morgoth, naturally assuming he had something to do with it. He’s also become aware of the curse and is determined to foil it. Which, good luck, kid, So he starts going out and hunting orcs and gets really good at it. He also gets a bit too full of himself and as we all know, hubris is a big fat no-no in this kind of tale.
Now, some elves, as I have previously established, are assholes, and one of them basically forest-yard bullies Túrin one day about “just” being a mortal and not being a snappy dresser because priorities. They get in a fight and eventually this elf, Saeros, accidentally falls and gets killed on some rocks. Túrin is accused of murdering him so he runs away. Which is when Beleg steps in all like, “Seriously? We can’t give this guy the benefit of the doubt?” And then they all find out what really happened and Beleg goes out to try and bring Túrin back.
However, Middle Earth is an even bigger place at this time so he doesn’t find him right away and Túrin becomes an outlaw in exile for a few years. And, in what will be become an unfortunate trend, he eventually accidentally kills the leader of the band of outlaws one day and takes his place. They’re not a great crew, thieving and being generally unpleasant. Eventually Beleg locates them while Túrin is away and they torture him for funsies. When Túrin gets back he’s realizes he’s been a bit of a douche and decides to only hunt and kill the servants of Morgoth after that. He refuses to return to Doriath, however, since Túrin has that whole pride problem going. Beleg goes away for a while and Túrin and his band go about being less jerky. Except for their encounter with a petty dwarf, Mîm, who they force to reveal his dwellings and treasure or they’ll kill him. This was not a great move.
Beleg eventually returns with the helm that Túrin wore in Doriath, which is essentially a big beacon to Morgoth that Húrin’s son is alive and it’s time to get that whole curse nightmare back into action. Some orcs manage to grab Mîm who, you guessed it, tells them where to find Túrin. They nab him, but Beleg escapes and goes after them. He meets an elf who escaped Angband, Gwindor, and they go rescue Túrin.
As Beleg is freeing Túrin from his bonds he nicks his foot and, because Túrin doesn’t have elf eyes that can see clearly in the dark, he stabs his friend and kills him. When he realizes what he’s done he becomes senseless with grief for a while. Killing your BFF will do that to a person.
After Túrin comes around after some healing water, he and Gwindor go to Nargothrond where Gwindor was a lord. Nargothrond is another secretish elf kingdom and Túrin (smartly) hides his name this time. The elf princess Finduilas, the love of Gwindor’s life, falls in love with Túrin in spite of herself, but he’s kind of really dense about it.
For a while, things are good in Nargothrond but Túrin’s pride rears its ugly head again and he gets cocky, advising the elves not to be secretive anymore. Because that’s always worked out super great. Eventually Morgoth sends a huge force against them, including the dragon Glaurung. Pretty much everyone gets killed and it’s a huge disaster. Gwindor is terribly wounded and tells Túrin to save Finduilas, astutely forseeing that she is the only person who can save Túrin from his impending fate.
Unfortunately, Túrin gets caught in Glaurang’s dragon gaze, which is a bit like hypnosis, and is convinced that his mother and sister are being tortured. He abandons the prisoners of Nargothrond, including Finduilas. As you can imagine, since dragons are big d-bags, when Turin gets to Dorlómin, Morwen and his sister are gone, having headed to Doriath several years before. He goes bananas and kills the Easterlings there, which doesn’t really accomplish much besides making them even more pissed at his family.
After this he tries to find Finduilas, but unfortunately she was killed by orcs. He’s pretty upset because he’s been getting a lot of people who care about him killed. Túin has really had it with his curse but it still hasn’t gotten as bad as it’s going to. No, really, it gets SO MUCH WORSE from here.
He wanders off and becomes a leader again in Ephel Brandir but he still hasn’t quite learned his lesson because he gets the men there fighting orcs and eschewing secrecy, pissing off their leader Brandir. He just can’t seem to not poke the proverbial bear.
Meanwhile, the other part of curse on Húrin’s children is about to get started. When Morwen and Nienor hear about the fall of Nargothrond they kind of recklessly go there to try and find Túrin, although what they hoped to accomplish that a huge amount of elves couldn’t isn’t clear. Let’s just call a Plot Necessary Decision. Glaurang has taken over the city and he sends up a mist that separates everyone. Morwen is lost and Nienor ends up stumbling upon Glaurang, which is bad news. He ensnares her in his gaze and makes her forget who she is completely. She runs off, afraid of everyone.
Okay, so, this is where things are going to get downright Greek Tragedy.
Nienor somehow ends up at Finduilas’s grave and Túrin finds her there, naked and weeping. He’s never met her so he has no idea this is his sister. And she doesn’t know who she is and never met him either, so…yeah.
He names her Niniel, “Maid of Tears”, which is about as on the nose as you’re going to get. In many ways she (and Morwen) are the most tragic figures in all of this, because they’re just used to make Húrin and Túrin more miserable. Nienor hasn’t killed anyone and doesn’t even have a hubris problem. Her and Morwen were just trying to live as best they could. Sadly, fate is kind of an asshole.
And lest we forget, Húrin is being made to watch all of this crazysauce from a mountain he’s shackled to in a magic chair. For 28 years. Morgoth really knows how to shove it in and break it off.
Anyway, as you’ve probably guessed, Niniel/Nienor and Túrin fall in love and get married. They’re happy, but every so often Niniel gets melancholy and feels like something is wrong. Eventually she gets pregnant. Yeah, Tolkien really goes there.
Not long after the conception, Glaurang decides to attack where Túrin and Niniel are currently living. Túrin manages to fight the dragon, stabs him mortally, but he gets poisoned by the dragon’s blood and swoons. Niniel comes looking for him and finds him like that. In general I think the people in this particular should stop going out and looking for one another. It never goes well.
And this is when, because seriously, dragons are ASSHOLES, Glaurang undoes his spell over Niniel/Nienor and she remembers who she is and knows she’s carrying her brothers’ baby. She throws herself into a ravine in horror and dies.
When Túrin wakes up he has no idea what happened, but Brandir (the fromer leader of Brethil) and not much of fan of Túrin’s, gleefully tells him he’s been committing incest because he was watching all this from behind a tree like a creeper. Túrin kills him in a rage, but it’s all confirmed by the elf Mablung later.
Túrin finally completely loses it and impales himself on his sword, the same one that killed Beleg. Which is a big poetic and also gruesome.
So, now that Morgoth’s gotten what seems to be his final revenge on Húrin, he lets him go. Húrin is pretty bitter and, since it’s been nearly 3 decades of him watching his entire family go to shit, he’s not entirely clear on who’s really to blame. I mean, he knows it’s Morgoth, but he also blames Thingol and Turgon, forgetting that Morgoth is a big fat liar.
First he tries to go home but that doesn’t work out. So he seeks out Gondolin but the entrance is shut against him. People are sort of unfairly suspicious of him since they A. thought he was dead B. now know he was basically held in thrall by the enemy. Húrin is pretty pissed, so pissed he starts yelling at the mountains. Unfortunately, this is all Morgoth needs to know where Gondolin is. Oops. A sacking ensues with a ton of balrogs and dragons.
Húrin doesn’t know this, however, and goes to the forest where his children died after yelling at a geological formation and encounters his wife at their grave. She then dies of grief/being really tired of all of this. And who can blame her? Húrin then keeps blaming other people and kills a whole bunch. It’s an ugly scene.
After that he decides to go to the ruins of Nargothrond because he’s gone into “spread this shit around as much as possible” mode, and encounters that unpleasant dwarf, Mîm who has been hoarding the now dragon cursed treasure. He kills the dwarf, which while understandable, is also a little unfair since it was Túrin who first ruined Mîm’s life. He then takes the Nauglamir to Doriath, contemptuously throwing it at Thingol for the “good care” of his family. Thingol takes it because it’s very pretty and eventually has the Silmaril Beren and Lúthien nabbed set in it. (Note: And thus endeth Doriath eventually because the double team action of Húrin’s curse and the curse of the Silmarils is basically like a nuclear bomb in terms of fallout.)
Melian (Thingol’s wife) is the only person who gets through to Húrin and he realizes that in all his rage and bitterness, he just made Morgoth’s life easier and brought about the downfall of several kingdoms and killed a whole lot of people without Morgoth having to lift an evil finger. He becomes a total ruin of a person after that, understandably.
Although no one knows for sure, it is thought that Húrin eventually cast himself into the sea. And so ended one of the greatest warriors of men, in a tragedy of biblical proportions.
So let’s tally up the fallout from this curse, shall we? We have: 3 suicides, 1 BFF slaying, 3 elf kingdoms annihilated, 1 count of incest, countless deaths of men and elves, and more reasons for dwarves and elves to hate each other. Plus there’s Hurins’ dad who bit it before the curse came into effect and the evil plague that killed his first infant daughter, all thanks to Morgoth. I think only Morwen got to die of natural causes. Sort of.
All in all, I’d say Morgoth won that particular round by a landslide and now we all know people do have sex in Middle Earth, but we only hear about it when it’s really icky.
The lesson here might be: Don’t Mess With Former Vala For They are Epic D-bags and Will Ruin Your Life and Everyone You Know Plus the World For Good Measure. Maybe.
The End. For now!
Mariah is a writer, editor, and artist who talks way too much about Tolkien, Buffy, and Farscape. Find her on Twitter here.
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