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Part I – Twilight and Dragon-Fire: The Children of Húrin and the Völsungasaga

Page history last edited by Kaðlín Quickhand 11 years, 11 months ago


This project, broken into five parts, takes a look at one of the most popular and well-known of Norse myths -- the story of Sigurd the Volsung -- and one of the most popular and well-known 20th century authors -- J.R.R. Tolkien -- and the influence the Norse myth had on him. The purpose of it is two-fold. First, who doesn't love Tolkien? and second, a comparison of the two stories reveals a lot about Tolkien's philosophy behind his story-telling. The man famous for the fairy-tale "eucatastrophe" -- the sudden happy ending -- wrote a story that starts and ends darkly, and yet wrapped up in it is one of the most powerful statements of his worldview and his beliefs about the struggle between good and evil, light and dark, life and death, which is central to all of his stories.


Jump To:


Project Outline

Part II - Plot

Part III - Character

Part IV - Mood

Part V - Conclusion & Sources



Twilight & Dragon-Fire:

The Children of Húrin  and the Völsungasaga



By K.C. Resch







                Since the earliest days of The Lord of the Rings’ popularity, scholars have focused on the influence of “Northernness” – that is, Celtic, Norse, Teutonic, and Finnish mythology and literature – in J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. Even a casual appraisal of his works, including The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, shows that these northern traditions had greater appeal for Tolkien than classical Greek and Roman works or popular, courtly-romance versions of Arthurian legend, and in spite of his strong Catholicism, had a greater impact on the psyche of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth than even the Bible. “Tolkien ‘from early days’ found himself deeply affected by Scandinavian and Germanic legends [Letters, 144]…Norse language and myth also provided inspiration for Tolkien’s early creative efforts.” (Lazo, 194)

J.R.R. Tolkien in his WWI uniform 

These “early creative efforts,” written when Tolkien was a young man during World War I, are now known as The Book of Lost Tales; in later drafts they became The Silmarillion, a work of mythic history that gives The Lord of the Rings the “‘flavor of rootedness’ that Tolkien himself detected [in the Kalevala and the Edda].” (Shippey, 149) These more ancient tales make up the earthy foundations of Middle-earth of the Third Age, the Middle-earth with which people are the most familiar. This late Middle-earth, full of Hobbits, Wizards, and Ringwraiths, has become fixed in popular culture, but there are a select few who prefer the cold gleam of The Silmarillion and the First Age; for them, heroes like Tuor and Fingolfin will always take precedence.


While much effort has gone into analyzing The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and their sources, little attention has been given to the myriad of undeveloped, and often unfinished, tales, poems, and characters that constitute Tolkien’s greater work both in volume and detail. Based on the number of versions of it that he created, the life of Túrin Turambar, son of Húrin (told in brief in The Silmarillion) was perhaps Tolkien’s favorite story; while the high romance of Beren and Luthien has long been the favorite among readers, Tolkien devoted far more time and energy to the creation of Túrin’s life in draft after draft, in both prose and poetry, than he ever did to Beren and Luthien. With the recent publication of The Children of Húrin, a full, beautifully rendered version of the life of Túrin Turambar compiled from Tolkien’s notes and drafts and edited by his son Christopher Tolkien, it is now possible to consider the much deeper, richer, purer adaptation of “Northernness” in a story that lies closer to Tolkien’s wild, Norse heart than even Aragorn’s royal heritage and Frodo’s ring-quest. 

Cover Photo of The Children of Hurin


The Children of Húrin is a precious literary work not only because of its importance to Tolkien, but because of its clear Norse roots. Its themes of dragon-slaying, doom, and heroism were part of Tolkien’s imaginary life from a young age: “After discovering the story of Sigurd and Fafnir in the pages of Lang’s Red Fairy Book, Tolkien went on to explore the story further in William Morris’s translation of the Völsungasaga.” (Shippey, 194) Few of Tolkien’s tales bear such obvious parallels to a single external work as The Children of Húrin does to the Völsungasaga, the Old Norse story of Sigurd the Dragon-slayer, known to many as the inspiration for Richard Wagner’s operatic Ring Cycle. In my project, I will discuss the influence that the Völsungasaga had on Tolkien as a primary source in his crafting of the life of Túrin. The first part will be mostly concerned with similarities and differences: I will compare the two stories on the basis of plot and the strong similarities between them, and I will contrast the characters, highlighting their differences so as to further understand Tolkien’s own ideals for his work. Finally, in the last section I will consider Tolkien’s construction of fate as compared to the idea of doom that is so prominent in the Icelandic sagas and the mythology of the Old Norse. Specifically, I will discuss Tolkien's personification of evil, the use he makes of Eucatastrophe, and the significance of the Glaurung the dragon, and how these three elements relate to his re-statement of Norse philosophy. 


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