In the previous post, I listed three reasons various commentators have given in order to absolve God/the Valar of responsibility for the suffering endured by the characters in The Children of Hurin and the Turin tale in general. As I explain there, it has always seemed odd to me that some readers should be so intent on foisting a theological explanation, or overlay, onto the narrative fabric of the story in order to show that it accords with the overall supposed ‘arc of history’ within Tolkien’s universe which is, supposedly, a Christian one. That is, the eucatastrophic element of Tolkien’s fiction is said to be paramount, and any and all events taking place within the historical timeline can be explained, or explained away, only by recourse to this larger, cosmic perspective.
But, as I have previously argued, the eucatastrophe idea functions within Tolkien’s universe as a kind of theodicy. In other words, it is a kind of catch all explanation for suffering which supposedly works on any level. Turin’s life is beset by grief? Well, The Silmarillion ends with a eucatastrophe, and God’s plan is therefore fulfilled. It all works out in the end. Turin’s life is therefore an aberration, or at the very least, a sad and pitiable example of humanity gone wrong. In order to better uphold this explanation, it is necessary, or at the very least desirable, to show that Turin himself is responsible, at least in part, for the maledictions which are brought to bear upon him. One such approach is to argue that Turin is himself a kind of defective character. In particular, the great sin of Pride is often bandied about as an all encompassing explanation for his bad decision-making. To be sure, this argument would appear to find support in the text, as Turin’s decisions, such as when he deigns to remain at Amon Rudh, are sometimes framed in terms of his prideful nature. This cannot be denied, but as a poster in this thread observes,
Turin’s hopelessness is very much tied in with his own perception of himself as a man of ill fortune. The whole issue of him refusing to return to Doriath, and thus be protected from Morgoth, is related to his pride – but was his pride the result of his ill fortune, or vice versa?
The perception that Turin is prideful is true, but why is he prideful in the first place? In some sense, he is ill fated to be. It is an aspect of his character that he himself cannot appear to escape from. It is not therefore a moral flaw, but merely a flaw in his ‘design’. Moreover, pridefulness is related to a major theme of the Children of Hurin novel (less so the chapter in The Silmarillion): the terrible reality of mortality, especially when contrasted with the immortality of the Eldar. Humans are given to pridefulness because their lives are so short, the novel seems to imply. The Elves can afford to eschew pridefulness (although they often don’t) because their lives work out over millennia. But humans must face a cruel world, somehow, and thrive within it. When the odds are so heinously stacked against you, as they are against Turin, what other response seems reasonable? The Christian reader might object that Turin should have practiced a considered humility, but what would this have gained him? In the world of the Turin saga, there are no answers to the existential question of life after death, even if we as readers “know” the answers contained in The Silmarillion. Our ‘knoweldge’ of the Ainulindale myth, for example, is useless within the space of the Turin story, because the characters themselves are unaware of it (witness the conversation of Sador and Turin. If Sador has heard of it, he doesn’t believe it). The narrative of the Turin story undermines the theodicy of the Ainulindale, which, it must be remembered, is an Elvish myth. It may be objected that this is an example of dramatic irony – if only the characters knew what we do, but that seems unworkable. Presumably, having lived amongst them, the humans of the story would be familiar with the Elvish myths, but even so those stories appear not to have inculcated them with a sense of Christian piety. If the Ainulindale is meant to function as a theodicy (Eru turns evil to his own purpose, etc.) it appears to have garnered only scepticism from Sador and Turin himself.
So, what are we to make of Turin’s pride? Does it absolve Eru, and the Valar? In short, I don’t believe it does, because Turin’s pride is itself a response to the cruelty of the world he inhabits. Interestingly, the book makes no moral judgement upon Turin, and it is this quality that makes his story, for me, so appealing. We are all, like Turin, obliged to face a world which we cannot ourselves exert much control over. What is the correct response this scenario? No one knows, but at the very least assigning blame to Turin because he reacts with pridefulness in the face of his circumstances does not cut it.