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Part V – Conclusion and Sources

Page history last edited by Kaðlín Quickhand 10 years, 5 months ago

Twilight & Dragon-Fire:

The Children of Húrin and theVölsungasaga



By K.C. Resch



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Project Outline

Part I – Introduction

Part II – Plot

Part III – Character

Part IV – Mood







Writing on the tale of Túrin as portrayed in The Silmarillion, Gergely Nagy says, “Certainly the tale bears many traces of compression: a quick-paced narrative; few descriptive details; and little or summary dialogue and characterization and some mere remarks; some short dialogues….This evidence suggests that an expansion text would not so much be expanded in content but rather in form, or the handling of that content. We expect a more leisurely narrative with more incidents (broken down to smaller narrative units), more descriptive detail, more vividly drawn characters, and more attention to their interactions, etc.” (Nagy, 244) The Children of Húrin fulfills these expectations, and gives even more. In conclusion, The Children of Húrin is the saga as Tolkien meant it to be: a convincingly Norse masterpiece woven with the characters, themes, and turns of the Völsungasaga, which give it the ring of authenticity.


Yet Tolkien did not simply mimic the Völsungasaga; he took it as a frame and then crafted his own tale within that frame, a tale with purpose and power that, for Tolkien, exceeded both the Norse myth and The Lord of the Rings. He used it to give his own re-statement of Norse fatalism. “Is Tolkien an optimist or a pessimist, a believer in salvation or a believer in pagan doom?” Burns asks. (Burns, 176) Tolkien himself said that “the wages of heroism is death.” (Beowulf, 77) Yet in many ways, The Children of Húrin is the inverse of the Völsungasaga: the plots are similar, but the characters stand on opposites sides of the spectrum of light and dark, and in The Children of Húrin, “‘the real battle is between the soul and its adversaries’” (Burns, 178) "Evil will triumph, but it will still be evil; those killed resisting it, even those killed beyond death like Odin’s Einheriar, will still be in the right. This is not a consolation, but it is a fact.” (Shippey, 152) The force of supernatural evil represented in Glaurung and in Morgoth vindicates both father and son. They are not like Sigurd, who fell from glory to betrayal in the hands of men (or a woman); Húrin and Túrin are not failed heroes, they are valiant men, and that is the difference between the Völsungasaga and The Children of Húrin.







The Völsungasaga is Public Doman. William Morris’s "Saga of the Volsungs," the translation Tolkien read in his youth, is available here.


 The Children of Hurin

 Tolkien, J.R.R. The Children of Húrin. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007. Print.

        The primary source for this paper, it is the recently released, complete version of the story of Túrin Turambar, which is told in brief in The Silmarillion. For more information, read my five-part project.



The Tolkien Reader

 Tolkien, J.R.R. “On Fairy-Stories.” The Tolkien Reader. New York: The Ballantine Publishing Group, 1966. 33-99. Print.

         In his famous essay on the nature of fairy-tales, Tolkien discusses both the definitions and origins of fairy-tales, and the deep attraction they have always exercised on people in general, and himself specifically. He writes eloquently about the purpose of fairy-tales, the themes of Escape and Consolation, and the “eucatastrophe,” the single miraculous feature that distinguishes fairy-tale from tragedy. This essay is immeasurably valuable because contains much of his philosophy behind his own “fairy-stories.”



Tolkien, J.R.R. “Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics.” An Anthology of Beowulf Criticism. Ed. Lewis E. Nicholson. University of Notre Dame Press, 1963. 51-103. Print.

                In this essay, Tolkien takes a fresh look at Beowulf by focusing on it as a poem, criticizing past analysis of it as history or language or myth when it is first and foremost work of poetry and can only thus be understood. He talks mainly about the monsters in the work – Grendel and the dragon – which have been problematic to other critics, but he also discusses the role of Christianity in the text and the mood of “Northernness.”

 The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun


 Tolkien, J.R.R. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing, 2009. Print.

        In this brand new collection of recently discovered poetry, Christopher Tolkien presents his father’s rendition of the Völsungasaga and portions of the Elder Edda. The works are powerful evidence of Tolkien’s admiration of the Old Norse works. The liberties he has taken with the characters and the finer points of the plot are fascination; his subtle re-workings, while remaining faithful to the sources, almost blend the myth right into Arda of the First Age. Most interestingly, the way he uses the force of fate, and the curse of Fafnir, to drive the plot forward highlights the similarities between Tolkien’s vision of the Völsungasaga and the life of Túrin Turambar.

 Perilous Realms



Burns, Marjorie. Perilous Realms: Celtic and Norse in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005. Print.

                   Burns details the well-known influences of Norse mythology and the lesser-known influences of Celtic mythology on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. She focuses primarily on his development of complex characters by means of comparison, pairing, and literary and mythic associations. Combining biographical knowledge of Tolkien’s life, a familiarity with mythology, and a deep understanding of Tolkien’s works through mood and color, she gives an intriguing look into his literary psyche.



Shippey, Tom. “Tolkien and the Appeal of the Pagan.” Tolkien and the Invention of Myth. Ed. Jane Chance. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2004. 145-162. Print.

                Shippey discusses the idea of “rootedness” in Tolkien’s work, that is, a sense of belonging to older, sometimes half-forgotten stories, a flavor that was very important to Tolkien. In particular, Shippey focuses on Sturluson’s Prose Edda and Lönnrot’s Kalevala. He traces the history of these two works, as well as Tolkien’s own relation to them. He also takes a close look at similarities between the two works and aspects of Tolkien’s tales.


      Lazo, Andrew. “Gathered Around Northern Fires.” Tolkien and the Invention of Myth. Ed. Jane Chance. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2004. 191-227. Print.

           Probably half the essays on Tolkien and the influences that colored his works are essays about Tolkien and C.S. Lewis together. Lazo uses a discussion of the Old Norse reading group known as “Kolbítar” of which Lewis and Tolkien were both a part to explore Old Norse patterns and images in both Narnia and Middle-Earth. He talks about the idea of “Northernness” so important to both of them. Lazo also touches on the T.C.B.S., another literary group that involved both men, and on the spirituality and Christianity that they shared.




Nagy, Gergely. "The Great Chain of Reading." Tolkien the Medievalist. Ed. Jane Chance. New York: Routledge, 2003. 239-258. Print.

          An essay that discusses the evolution of the Turin story from its first drafts in The Book of Lost Tales to its form  in The Silmarillion, and also examines the references made to the story within The Lord of the Rings, and how these developments qualify Tolkien's works as "mythopoeic," or "productive of myth." Nagy talks about myth within myth and "the use of allusion and reflection into a deeper past." (239)





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