The story begins with Turin’s father, Hurin who was ruler of Dor-Lomin. As a child, he and his brother became lost in the forest, ending up near death. Eagles took them to the Elven city of Gondolin, where they were befriended by the king. After a year, the king let them return to the kingdom of men. After Hurin became king, he joined the Elven kings in a long-planned war against Morgoth, the evil being responsible for evil in Middle Earth. Unlike previous attacks, this one was disastrous and resulted in the destruction of the attackers, including the annihilation of Hurin’s army. Hurin, however, was captured. When he refused to serve Morgoth, Morgoth cursed his family, then took him to a stone chair on the top of his fortress, forcing him to sit there and see with Morgoth’s farseeing eyes how the curse would fall on his family.
Dor-Lomin, now defenseless, was overrun by men from the East who served Morgoth, who enslaved the native population. Turin’s mother was related to the elves of Doriath to the southeast, and she sent her son there for safety, although she was too proud to leave herself (also she was pregnant and was not confident she was strong enough for the journey). Turin was adopted by the elven king of Doriath and he grew into a strong warrior, albeit one with a deep hatred for Morgoth and desire for revenge. He fought on the northwestern frontier against the orcs, gaining a reputation for bravery and effectiveness.
He came back to the capital one day while the king was gone, and accidentally sat in the seat on a jealous elf Saeros. Saeros’ jealousy got the better of him, and the next morning he attacked Turin, but Turin bested him, forcing him to strip naked and run in front of him through the woods. Saeros was afraid he would be killed, and attempted to escape by jumping across a river, but failed and broke his back on a rock. Some of the king’s elves were following (but were unable to keep up), and informed him that he had committed a serious crime by killing a minister of the king, not knowing that Saeros had instigated it. Turin was too proud to come back for judgment, and fled the kingdom. When the king returned, he heard the case in absentia, and exonerated Turin. Hearing that he had fled because he wrongly assumed that he would be held responsible, the king sent messengers to find Turin.
He hung out with a band of outlaws for a season. They were mostly men who stole for a living, and largely enjoyed inflicting others. While Turin did not approve, his compromise in continuing to sojourn with them started him down a road that slowly eroded the nobility in his heart. One of the elven king’s messengers, Beleg, Turin’s teacher and dear friend finally tracked down Turin, but Turin was too proud to return and accept mercy. They parted, but a year or two later Beleg returned to Turin’s party out of deep love for him. Around this time, Turin repented of attacking Men, and resolved that he and all who followed him would only attack Morgoth and his allies. Also around this time, the king of Doriath sent messengers to Turin’s mother and invited her and Turin’s sister (who was not yet born when Turin left) to live in Doriath, in hopes that Turin was come to his senses and return. Turin’s mother accepted.
Turin and his band were staying at the house of Mim the dwarf, who they had captured. As a ransom, he let them stay in his caverns on the top of Amon Rudh. The caverns were practically impossible to find unless you knew the way, and Amon Rudh commanded a view of the surrounding area. However, Mim resented hosting the band and betrayed them to the Orcs a few months after Beleg returned. Most of the band were killed, and the Orcs took Turin captive. Beleg followed the Orcs and rescued Turin, but Beleg accidentally poked Turin in the foot with his sword, and Turin, who had been drugged up by the Orcs, assumed he was in danger. He grabbed the sword and killed Beleg. After realizing what he had done, Turin essentially lost his mind from sadness, and pretty much blindly followed the elf the Beleg had been traveling with.
The elf, Gwindor, had escaped from thrallship Morgoth’s mines and went back to Nargothrond, and elvish underground fortress in the southwest. On the way, they passed by Eithel Ivrin, whose healing waters loosed Turin’s sorrow, and Gwindor gave him Beleg’s black sword. Gwindor was nobility, a military advisor to the king, and was betrothed to the king of Nargothrond’s daughter. The policy of Nargothrond was to avoid fighting Morgoth, to hold on until the Valar came from the West and fought Morgoth. Turin saw this as folly, and argued that they should attack Morgoth before he became stronger. Eventually Turin’s view prevailed and he became the military leader.
However, this was Morgoth’s trap, and Morgoth sent an army of Orcs and the dragon Glaurung. None could resist the dragon except Turin, who had a dwarven helmet that covered his face. Turin made the mistake of looking into the dragon’s eye, and Glaurung held him spellbound while the Orcs looted the fortress. Afterwards, Glaurung released him from the spell, guilt-tripping him about not trying to save the elf woman who loved him and lying to him about his mother and sister being thralls in Dor-Lomin. Turin tried to find the elves that were taken as captives, but the Orcs had killed them enroute. He then returned to Dor-Lomin and after causing some havoc, discovered that his family had gone to Doriath. However, he was still too proud to return.
The king of Doriath knew that Turin had gone to Nargothrond, and had heard of its fall. When Turin’s mother found out, she insisted on going to find him. The king, who also wanted to know what had happened, sent a company to protect Turin’s mother and find out. Turin’s sister snuck out of Doriath with the company, much to the displeasure of everyone. The commander left the women on a knoll halfway there, and then went to explore. Glaurung had, of course, known they were coming, and he attacked the exploration party, then set off to attack the party on the knoll. The commander escaped Glaurung’s attack (not without his knowledge), but there was nothing to be learned about Turin. Meanwhile, the dragon had found Turin’s sister, held her spellbound with his eyes, enchanting her with a deep mist. The commander arrived back to find only her, who would stare listlessly unless led by the hand.
Eventually Turin’s sister became frightened of mist from a small waterfall, and ran to where Turin happened to have taken up residence with a small group of men and their families in a wood. She knew nothing, and had to be taught words over again like a child, although she was a quick learner. She was most comfortable with Turin, and eventually they were married. Turin gave up fighting for her.
The dragon came back, and Turin knew that the only way to escape destruction was to kill the dragon. The only way to do that was to take a perilous hike at night to a spot where he expected the dragon to try to cross the deep ravine of the river. Turin succeeded, and stabbed the dragon in his soft underbelly with his black sword and killed him. Not before the dragon had his revenge, however. Turin was poisoned by the dragon’s blood while pulling the sword out, and lay on the ground, to all appearances dead. Turin’s sister/wife found him and tried to call him back to life. The dragon, dying, said “Hail, Nienor, daughter of Hurin. We meet again ere we end. I give you joy that you have found your brother at last. And now you shall know him: a stabber in the dark, treacherous to foes, faithless to friends, and a curse unto his kin, Turin son of Hurin! But the worst of all his deeds you shall feel in yourself [the baby she was pregnant with].” Nienor is horrified that she (unknowingly) married her brother, and leaps off the cliff to her death in the river. A short altercation between the chief, who had heard what the dragon said, and Turin ensues, which leaves the chief dead. The elven commander chances to arrives and congratulates Turin, who answers sarcastically, and then, seeing that his whole life has been spent in deeds blinded by Morgoth, runs off and asks if the sword would kill him. It says that it would gladly kill him in revenge for the unjust death of Beleg, and Turin stabs himself with it and dies.
Hurin is released from seeing the doom of his family. According to legend, he eventually happens across his wife, but tragically she dies just as the sun sets.
The tale is the story of how Morgoth causes his curse on Hurin to come true. Ultimately, Morgoth’s influence is not direct manipulation, but is in setting the situation where Turin is controlled by his emotions. Turin’s grief drives his hatred of Morgoth and his desire for revenge drives all his actions. His pride, coming from his mother’s side, makes him unable to accept the kindness and mercy of others, and thus unable to avoid his doom. Morgoth is only given credit for a few actions: stirring the jealousy in Saeros, which results in Turin leaving the protection of the elves; and Glaurung, who was presumably directed to control Turin with his eye, and to give Turin’s sister amnesia that is best cured by Turin. Since Morgoth needed to make Turin and his sister aware of each other’s identity, one could argue that the dragon’s attack was meant to bring the truth out in the open.
It is rather unclear to me why this was such an important tale in early Middle-Earth history. Tolkien seemed to have a bit of obsession with hopeless tales, as Beren and Luthien also ends rather sadly, as does Aragorn and his elven wife, although not quite as hopeless as this. Still, apart from the pathos, not much is accomplished. Turin’s unwisdom rids Morgoth of one of his stronger enemies, the elves of Nargothrond. Turin does manage to kill the dragon, which means that future assaults against Morgoth have some hope of succeeding (although I think the legendarium says that Glaurung was the first of the dragons...). There are only things that this tale conclusively demonstrates. One is that Morgoth is capable of deep planning and has the ability to influence from great distance. The second is that a man of great potential (in Tolkien, noble birth is seen as innate greatness) who is led by his emotions and cannot control his actions is a great disaster. Yet, neither of these really advances the story of Middle-Earth very much, unless perhaps, the story of Middle-Earth is the really the exploration of pain birthed in Morgoth’s rebellion against the creator way back in the beginning and which ultimately requires a recreation of the world. Still, if Middle-Earth is to be a Christian allegory of the effects of Satan’s rebellion, why dwell on the pain so much, since the Christian story begins with Jesus birthing the healing of pain by his death?
From a literary standpoint, I would say this is not one of Tolkien’s greater works. It is a good tale, but it suffers from being long enough that the reader must acquire a reasonably detailed knowledge of the geography of Beleriand, but not long enough for Beleriand to be anything but a collection of places. Unlike the Lord of the Rings trilogy, little is said about the land itself, or the people that inhabit it, and I feel like it would have more color and texture if it had more feel of the land and culture and fewer times and places. Still, it feels like Middle-Earth, and it gives a picture into the time of legend only vaguely hinted at in the Lord of the Rings and the Silmarillion. And it is a good story, if tragic.
I am ranking this more towards average, because it is not likely to be a viable standalone story. It really requires a fair amount of knowledge of Middle-Earth lore in order to be appreciated. Additionally, the writing is too much on times and places, which makes it feel dry and confusing at times. I definitely missed the rich descriptions of the lands in the Lord of the Rings.
|Hurin||Father of Turin and Ninel, husband of Morwen, ruler of Dor-Lomin. He is a great fighter and of a noble heart. Resists Morgoth even at the expense of his own family.|
|Turin||Son of Hurin, and chief object of Morgoth’s torment. Cannot humble himself to serve anything besides his own revenge. Because of his leadership talents, he rises to the position of chief advisor of any group he joins, but his driving motivation of revenge causes him to effectively usurp the leadership of people who do not see the wisdom of offensive attack on Morgoth. This desire for revenge blinds him to wise choices and enables him to be led from a distance by Morgoth.|
|Morwen||Turin’s mother. Proud, and refuses to seek shelter in Dorian, even after being invited many times, and only coming because things got even worse than before.|
|Niniel||Turin’s sister. Turin has never known her, as he left before she was born. Glaurung casts a forgetfulness spell on her which leads her to the incestuous arms of Turin, partially enabled by the fact that Turin hides his name in an attempt to escape from Morgoth’s doom.|
|Beleg||Old elf of Dorian, a teacher of Turin, who served with him for several years in the battle in the northwest edge of Dorian. Loves Turin deeply, enough to follow him despite recognizing the folly he is pursuing.|
|Soereg||Dorian elf, advisor to the king, who is jealous of Turin, and displeased that the king adopted a man. The text suggests that his jealousy is “of Morgoth” although that may simply be an attribution such as the Christian attribution of all evil to be “of the devil,” as Morgoth and his servants are unable to enter Dorian.|
|Glaurung||The first of the dragons. No one is able to resist him except Turin dressed in dwarf armor with a dwarf helmet that covers his face. His appearance in a battle pretty much ensures victory for Morgoth’s forces. Able to cast spells on people that look into his eyes. Recorded magic is forcing Turin to remain immobile while at the same time blocking his perception of what was happening around him, and causing Niniel to lose her memory in a fog. Powerful magic drains him and also takes a long time, both of which happened when he cast the spell on Niniel. Dragons are also very good at lying but making it sound like the caring truth.|
|Morgoth||From the text we only know that he is evil, and very powerful. He seems to be probably more powerful than his opponents put together, but yet the elves are able to resist for quite some time. Created a river of fire that ended the siege of his fortress, Angband. From other Middle-Earth legend we know that he is the source of all evil.|
|Dragon-helm of Dor-Lomin||Magical helmet that protected it’s wearer from death by breaking the sword that would cut it and deflecting darts that hit it. It had a visor and protected from flame. Those who saw the face of the one wearing it would be struck with fear. Had an image of Glaurung as a sign of defiance.|
|Anglachel/Gurthang||Names of a mighty dwarven-made sword. The sword would kill any from whom it drew blood (including Turin, who was accidentally stabbed by it, and ended up killing himself with it). The maker had malice in his heart, and the king, who gave it to Beleg on request, foresaw that it would not remain Beleg’s long. This came true when Turin unknowingly killed Beleg with it while being rescued.|
|Eithel Ivrin||Beautifully created in ancient times by Ulmo, Lord of the Waters. It has the healing property of laughter, and heals Turin of the despondency caused by the inability to grieve the loss of his friend by his own hand.|
|Feanorian Lamps||Crystals hung in a fine chain net. The crystals continuously gave off a blue light excellent for seeing in the dark. The Noldor elves did not know how they were made.|