Turin and Pridefulness

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.

1 Comment

  1. I think this discussion confuses a number of things, though I am not entirely sure where that confusion arises (it may, for instance, be in the discussion you are, at least in part, responding to), so please bear with me …

    First, mixing Tolkien’s concept of eucatastrophe with the theodicy of The Silmarillion is, in my opinion, a mistake. Tolkien’s concept of eucatastrophe is strictly a literary device – a device he invents to describe the idea of the happy ending as a required feature of a ‘proper’ fairy-story (whatever we may think of this idea, that is how Tolkien presents it) – something that exists in the analysis of the literary critic.

    The theodicy of the Ainulindalë (“And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that has not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall be but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.”), however, is a story-internal device: it justifies presence of evil within Tolkien’s sub-creation by claiming that Eru (let’s keep God and Eru separate for the time being) will eventually turn it to a greater good.

    The eucatastrophe of the story of The Children of Húrin is not this theodicy – such an idea would, I think, be alien to Tolkien’s thinking of the eucatastrophe concept, but it is rather in the detail that is omitted from the published Silmarillion (and also, sadly, from the published Children of Húrin): Túrin’s role in the Last Battle, where Túrin has a role to play:
    “Tulkas shall strive with Morgoth, and on his right hand shall be Fionwë, and on his left Turin Turambar, son of Húrin, coming from the halls of Mandos; and the black sword of Turin shall deal unto Morgoth his death and final end; and so shall the children of Húrin and all Men be avenged.”
    (The Lost Road and Other Writings, History of Middle-earth volume 5, p. 333)

    To some extent, this eucatastrophe obviously relies on the theodicean concept – or one could say that Tolkien here uses the Túrin eucatastrophe to exemplify what Eru meant, but these are nonetheless distinct ideas.

    The last statement regarding the Last Battle, about the avenging of the children of Húrin, also, to me, suggests that Túrin’s pride (or his ofermód to adopt Richard West’s analysis, which I found compelling), insofar as this is what is the driving force behind Túrin’s most catastrophic decisions, is a result of Morgoth’s meddling with his family’s fate. The exact mechanics of this are not revealed, and it is left open to what extent Morgoth works through manipulating the circumstances around Túrin and to what extent he is able to manipulate Túrin’s personality, but Túrin’s haplessness (and that of Niënor Níniel, of Lalaith and others wound up in the curse) is clearly, by the author of the story, blamed on Melkor the Morgoth.

    None of this does, I think, begin to address the main questions of your posts (this one and the preceding), but it is a beginning towards sorting out the threads.

    As for the main questions, I am somewhat confused at what question you are actually asking. Or, perhaps rather, who is asking whom and on what basis?

    One way of asking the question would for the commenter to ask what Tolkien’s answer would be (this might, at least to some extent, depend on which version of the Túrin story we’re discussing), based on his conception (at that point in time) of his sub-created mythology as a whole. This question could then be followed by an analysis of how well Tolkien seems to implement that answer in the Túrin story (I admit that this way of asking these questions would be the one I would favour). There does seem to be elements of this in your discussion, but then you seem to reject Tolkien’s answer elsewhere as relevant.

    Another way of asking would of course be for the commenter to ask how they, themself, perceive this based on the Túrin story alone (or on some other selection of texts). This is a matter of what Tolkien called applicability, and will of course depend things such as e.g. the faith of the commenter (particularly the commenter’s own beliefs regarding fate, free will, theodicy etc.). In this case it doesn’t really make much sense to be critical of the answers provided by others as they will trivially vary quite a lot.

    I dare say that there could be other ways to ask these questions, but I have so far been unable to identify one that would make for a consistent perspective for your discussion – not necessarily because it isn’t there, but quite possibly simply because I cannot see it. In any case it confuses me.

    One other, in my opinion very important, aspect that needs to be taken into account here is the incomplete nature of most versions of the Túrin story – particularly including the versions in the published Silmarillion and in The Children of Húrin. The only complete versions we have are from The Book of Lost Tales (Turambar and the Foalókë) and the Quenta Silmarillion from the mid-thirties (whence the quotation about the Last Battle above). These versions both have the advantage of having been written before Tolkien became overly concerned with the metaphysical aspects of his evolving mythology (and before his idea of the ‘consolation’ of fairy-stories evolved into his eucatastrophe conjecture).

    Again, this does not prevent us from analysing the versions we have e.g. in the stand-alone book, but it is something a careful critic must take into account.

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