Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Children of Húrin: Where's the Eucatastrophe?

"In Middle-Earth, curses work."1

So begins one review of the newest posthumous release of JRR Tolkien's work, edited by his son Christopher with the help of Adam Tolkien, Christopher's son.

The Children of Húrin is indeed about a curse. Christopher Tolkien tells us in the Introduction (p.18) that JRR Tolkien's proposed alternative title was Narn e-'Rach Morgoth, The Tale of the Curse of Morgoth. However, in making such a generalized statement ("In Middle-Earth, curses work."), the reviewer misses the point. The curse "works," not because of some quality within Middle-Earth. but because of who Morgoth is. "Morgoth is not 'invoking' evil or calamity on Húrin and his children, he is not 'calling on' a higher power to be the agent: for he,'Master of the fates of Arda' as he named himself to Húrin, intends to bring about the ruin of his enemy by force of his own gigantic will." (Ibid.)

The whole thing reminds me of Job. Much as Morgoth, the "Master of Arda," set his hatred on Húrin and his children, so Satan, the "god of this world,"2 set his hatred upon Job and destroyed his children.3 In the book of Job, we get a glimpse into Heaven and and see that God was at work withholding Satan's worst, although certainly we can not comprehend fully God's purpose--which is one of the lessons of the Old Testament book. God is in charge, even when we can only see the hand of the enemy.

So it is with Morgoth in Tolkien's mythology. It looks as if Morgoth is "in charge" and can bend Arda, and everything in it, to do his will. But we know--from another part of Tolkien's mythology--that his will only helps accomplish the Will of Ilúvatar, the creator of the "gods" of Arda. In the "Ainulindalë"--The Music of the Ainur--Morgoth's discord in the Song only ends up adding to its beauty. When the song is finished, Ilúvatar rises and speaks:

Mighty are the Ainur,and mightiest among them is Melkor [Morgoth]; but now
that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye
have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see that no theme may be played
that hath not it uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my
despite. for he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the
devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined.4

God is Sovereign, even though He gives Free Will to His creatures. Even the evil they do can only work out to the fulfillment of His plans. Tolkien often uses this seeming contradiction. The evil intentions of Gollum culminate in the destruction of the Ring. The covetousness of the Orcs causes the distractions that allow the Hobbits to escape on at least two occasions. Túrin's tragic life allows him to be in a position to slay Glaurung. It is not that God is the Author of Evil, but He is able to turn the results of Evil to His own purposes. But my intention is not to explain the relationship of Sovereignty and Free Will. I leave that to the Theologians.

The lives of the Children of Húrin do end tragically, which may cause some Tolkien fans to ask "Where is the eucatastrophe? Where is the Recovery and Consolation Tolkien speaks of in "On Fair Stories"? The quick answer is that The Children of Húrin was not intended to be a Fairy Story. In his letter to his editor quoted in the Second Edition of The Silmarillion, Tolkien describes what was in his mythology. The story of Beren and Lúthien is, he says, a "heroic-fairy-romance," while The Children of Húrin is a "tragic tale," admitting that it is "derived from the elements in Sigurd the Volsung, Oedipus, and the Finnish Kullervo."5

When Tolkien spoke so positively about the Fairy Story, and the Consolation one feels by the "sudden miraculous grace" (eucatastrophe), he was not saying that all stories should be written that way. Life does not always give us joy; sometimes it is just the pits, as Jeremiah the Prophet quite literally discovered.6 Sometimes life ends, like it did for Adam and Eve, "outside the Garden" with the promise of the Deliverer unfulfilled.7 Sometimes people die in Exile, never to experience the promised return to the Land of Palestine.

But Tolkien would remind us that all stories are just a snapshot or painting -- a "fragment of the Seamless Web of Story."8 They do not show us the ending. Perhaps what is lacking in The Children of Húrin is not the eucatastrophe, but the promise of Grace and Consolation to come.

1Tish Wells, McClatchy-Tribune News Service, sited in and others.
22 Corinthians 4:4
3Job 1:18-19
4The Silmarillion, Houghton Mifflin Second Edition, p.17
5The Silmarillion, p.xvii
6Jeremiah 38:6
7Genesis 3:15
8Tree and Leaf, Harper Collins 1988, p. 80

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