Turin Turambar is a major figure from JRR Tolkien’s legendarium concerning the First Age of Middle Earth, and the protagonist of the most recently released novel, The Children of Hurin.
Turin Turambar is perhaps the most completely developed character from Tolkien’s earlier works. Turin’s story can almost be paraphrased by a short passage in The Silmarillion: “Turin grew strong and fair in Doriath, but he was marked with sorrow” (pg 196).
“Turambar and the Foalókë”, begun in 1919 and later printed in The Book of Lost Tales, Part Two, is the first appearance of Turin the legendarium.
In the early 1920’s Tolkien abandoned the prose versions of the legends for verse.
The Lay of the Children of Hurin, a poem in alliterative verse, continues the story begun in the original and expands upon it, heaping fresh detail onto the tale. This was begun some time around 1920, and abandoned in turn, some three thousand lines later, in 1925.
The later prose version of this tale, the Narn i Chîn Húrin, is, in the words of Christopher Tolkien in Unfinished Tales, “the most tangled and complex of all the narrative elements in the story of the First Age” (UT pg 6). Tolkien continually abandoned and then picked up the tale again and again, rewriting sections of it numerous times, while leaving long stretches of the tale seriously underdeveloped.
Turin is a haunted character, the son of Hurin, Lord of Dor-lomin, and Morwen of the house of Bëor. When Turin was still a child, his father left to fight in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad (Battle of Unnumbered Tears) and was captured by the Dark Lord, Morgoth.
Morgoth pressed Hurin for the location of the hidden Elven kingdom of Gondolin, but Hurin would not bend. So Morgoth placed a curse upon his house, “the shadow of my thought shall lie upon them wherever they go, and my hate shall pursue them to the ends of the world…they shall die without hope, cursing both life and death” (UT pg 66-67). And Morgoth sets Hurin “in a chair of stone upon a high place of Thangorodrim” and binds him there and gives him sight so that he may see the downfall of his family (UT pg 67).
Thus Turin grows up haunted by his father’s absence and the shadow of Morgoth that lies upon him. He is tall, handsome, valiant, strong…in short, he possesses all of the virtues of a heroic warrior, but he is also stubborn and prideful, and these two traits help to work Morgoth’s curse upon him.
The tale of Turin is long and tangled. He spends time in Doriath, with the Elven King Thingol, and is raised almost as a son. But he leaves Doriath an outlaw, and becomes the leader of a group of outlaws.
This is just the beginning of a life that will lead him through countless trials…the accidental slaying of a friend; an incestuous marriage; the downfall of Nargothrond; the killing of a dragon. Turin’s life is a tangled web of good and bad, fueled by his virtues and his tragic flaws.
The tales of Turin Turambar have been compared to Finnish Kalevala myth known as the “Legend of Kullervo”. Kullervo is a magically gifted character who is brought low by his own tragic flaws…his temper, desire for revenge, and pride.
There are many other parallels in the narrative. Kullervo unwittingly seduces his sister, who commits suicide when their relation is revealed. Kullervo also possesses a special sword, which he often talks to.
Tolkien knew the Finnish Kalevala very well, and likely had parts of the story of Kullervo in mind as he wrote the tale of Turin Turambar.
Whether Turin’s misfortunes and ill-luck were caused by Morgoth’s curse or his own tragic flaws (or, more likely, a combination of the two) is still up for debate.
Regardless, Turin’s narrative is a tale of heroism and woe, and a tale far darker even than The Lord of the Rings. It is a story more “mythological” in invention and telling than perhaps any of Tolkien other writings, and Turin Turambar his most tragic character.