Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
I am a fan of a lot of J.R.R Tolkien’s works, chief among them, the Silmarillion. And I have long wanted to do something of a psychological profile on some of the characters. (Specifically, characters whose actions are blamed on fate rather than their own choices.) The line between free will and predestination in the Middle-Earth universe is a deep topic by itself, but I wanted to explore the characters’ motivations and thoughts from an in-universe perspective, rather than what Tolkien’s intentions were. Using the Silmarillion and The Children of Hurin as a source, I am going to start with the family of Hurin, and in this blog, Hurin himself.
Now regarding the curse over Hurin’s family I’ll say this. For reasons that will expounded upon in the profiles, I feel that the family’s end is less a matter of fate and more the result of bad choices on their part. Vala and Elves are capable of getting impressions about the future, but nothing in the stories indicates a forcing of will upon any of them, with the exception of Nienor. Now that I have said that, let’s begin.
A Warrior's Life
The Silmarillion tells the tale of the First age of Middle-Earth from the perspectives of the Elves and angelic Valar and Miar. Humans eventually came into the story in the middle of the ages-long conflict between the Elves of the land of Beleriand, and the renegade Valar, Morgoth. At the time of their arrival from the east, they were less civilized, but the Elves eventually taught them civilization and in return, many humans went to war on their part. The Elves gave portions of land to their Human allies and the younger race created their own ruling houses. And in return, the Humans would act as auxiliary forces to the main Elven armies.
Hurin comes from one of these houses in the land of Dorlomin, the House of Hador. Along with his brother, Huor, he fought in the wars when they were just young boys and the brothers were known for their skill in battle. They were also known for a preference for seeking war rather than waiting for it, more so Hurin though than his brother.
This preference for war also shows itself when Hurin and Huor are rescued from battle and taken to the hidden elf city of Gondolin by eagles. The city was renowned for being well known and yet secret, as no one knew of its location. Sort of like the El Dorado of Middle-Earth.
Its king, Turgon, took a liking to Turin and Tuor and the brothers remained there for a year. Yet after a time, Hurin respectively, yet insistently told King Turgon that he and his brother wanted to return to the war. This is important to the profile because in Gondolin, Hurin could have had peace, and also in the fact that Turgon had a law that forbade anyone to leave the city who found it. To purchase their departure the brothers swore never to reveal the location of Gondolin, though they didn’t know its exact location either: just its general, geographic location.
Along with this eagerness, Hurin also had a quick-tempered and could be very violent when it was set off. Decades later as an old man, he killed the dwarf, Mim in a hot rage for betraying his son decades before and just about challenged King Thingol about the same time for his perceived ill-treatment for his family. He was so extreme on the battlefield that it took large numbers of Orcs and a balrog to defeat him, and long after his death he retained the moniker of being the greatest human warrior of any age of Middle-Earth. Ironic given he was smaller in height than most warriors and even Turin, his son.
Charisma With Silver Linings
Hurin displays a talent for leadership and is charismatic, similar to the real world, Native American war leaders of the Western half of the United States. He leads by example and his enthusiasm is infectious to those around him, including the high Elf-lords. Though his brother, Huor is also a lord among men and just as experienced, Hurin is the one making the executive decisions.
Perhaps Hurin’s strongest quality is his extreme optimism regarding the Elves, moral righteousness, and humanity’s purpose in history. He greatly looks up to the Elves and sees them as some people today see aliens, teaching real world humanity it’s achievements. As his wife, Morwen comments to him, he sets his sights high.
This commitment to battle and lofty goals seems to reflect on his family, as Turin while still a child, reflects that Hurin is not happy unless he is around the Elves and doesn’t seem to understand this preference fully.
What is stranger is Hurin’s ability to maintain his extroverted and positive view in despite of his past, having seen war since he was a boy and losing his father, forcing him to rule at an early age. This armored optimism gives him a near-absolute faith in the Elven armies and their eventual victory against Morgoth. You could almost consider him an Eldar-phile, if you pardon the pun.
However this faith also tends to cause Hurin to ignore the sins of the very race he admires so much, something his wife in contrast does not forget. When preparing Mowren for the possibility of defeat from the upcoming Nirnaeth Arnoediad war, Hurin refuses to call it ‘doubt’ but refers to it rather as prudence. He doesn’t spend much time thinking about the ‘what if’s and focuses on the now.
However this faith is not totally blind, as he still maintains a strategic awareness of the battlefield. During the conflict, he cautions the hot-headed elf lords from riding out too early to battle against the orc army that is goading them. He also tells his family on the chance of their defeat to flee the land and go to their cousins in Brethil and to not wait for him.
But they relate to him more as a war hero than a father.
Hurin seems most at home on the front lines than at the household. When cautioned by his wife against going to war, he remained hopeful in the strength of the gathered allies against Morgoth and would not be dissuaded. This causes some strain I believe in his family. He never really saw his kids grow up. Circumstances any military family would understand.
This absence may have had an indirect affect on the temperament of his son, Turin. Turin would have much less patience than his father, would scarcely control his violent rages, and though quick to learn, learned only what he wanted and not what was needed. So Hurin played little to no part in his children’s’ character development, though his kids still respected him and he still loved them. But they relate to him more as a war hero than a father.
Hurin’s character is also almost entirely opposite of Mowern. In brief, Morwen is much more introverted, being a refugee from the earlier war of the Dagor Bragollach. During that conflict, while her husband spent his youth fighting and being taught by Elves, Morwen spent hers seeing her land devastated, her family nearly annihilated, and was forced to leave the remainder that survived behind.
So while war was no stranger to either spouse, Morwen had lost everything where as Hurin, though he lost his father, still retained his home and most of his family. Hurin remained ever the faithful optimist, Morwen was the quiet pessimist, dwelling on what could go wrong, because she had lived through it. I think this creates something of a divide between the two. Yet, she submits to him and it is clear that there is a strange love between them that defies the odds. It is amazing to me that the marriage between the two even worked given their polarities.
Hurin also displayed tenacious loyalty and this was often tied with his other traits. He displayed it to his house when he returned to the war from Gondolin, a land separated from war, and also to his Elf-lords during the war of the Dagor Bragollach. His loyalty even out weighs that to his family by refusing to give away any hint of the location of Gondolin to his father and wife. And again when Morgoth threatens to curse him if he did not submit to his authority. It seems plain that Hurin, while not maliciously, is more of a military man than a family one.
When he was taken captive at the end of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad and when interrogated by Morgoth himself, Hurin remained loyal and maintained hope that victory would one day be achieved. In a feat done only by handful of beings on Middle-Earth, he openly insulted and defied the evil Vala, doing everything but spit in his face. This was why Morgoth cursed him, his failure to succumb to despair as others had who had challenged him. Hurin was steadfast against all that the enemy could do to him and never faltered for most of his life, but once only.
Even after the death of his children and decades being a slave, optimism is still with Hurin when Morgoth releases him, though it becomes misshapen into a purpose, seeking to avenge his family. His faith in humanity’s purpose in the defeat of Morgoth kept the warrior going when he was younger. The Elves and everything they represented to Hurin were just. Revenge was still a kind of faith in justice, even if it comes by his own hands rather than of Elves and Valar to right a wrong.
Where as other characters fell into despair and lost all fellowship with their rulers and/or race, Hurin’s sense of purpose kicks in when his faith in Elf-lords and skill in battle fail him. It would continue to do so until it was finally broken in Menegroth when he realizes the extent of Morgoth’s malice and deceptions. Optimism is the core of who Hurin is and it’s when he loses that when he finally gives into despair and commits suicide.
His integrity and honor were everything to him and even if it led to ruin, which it did, he wouldn’t run from it.
Hurin’s also has a strong streak of stubbornness. To quote another franchise, “Never tell me the odds” definitely applies to Hurin and his family as well. Though Hurin’s own stubbornness as not as severe as his wife’s or his children’s’, it was no less unrelenting. Though in most cases coming from good cause, he not only spurned armies of Orcs and Balrogs when victory was clearly not possible, but Vala and Elven royalty as well. Once Hurin’s mind is made up, there is no changing it. His integrity and honor were everything to him and even if it led to ruin, which it did, he wouldn’t run from it. He was very much like the Game of Thrones character, Ned Stark, in a way.
This is both his strength and bane, as while his stubbornness is why he was known as the greatest, mortal warrior Middle-Earth had ever seen, it also him the target of powerful enemies who were use to their enemies’ submission. Yet, even knowledge of this would not change Hurin’s mind.
The one question that is never really answered for from within the Silmarillion is if Hurin's family suffered under some genetic disposition to extreme depression and suicide (yes I know there's no genetics in fantasy). Granted he was the last to fall to it and Morwen never succumbed, being the only one of the family to die of natural causes. Yet, it is very telling that three out of the five members kill themselves when falling into bouts of extreme depression: Hurin, Turin, and Nienor.
In all three cases, the person felt they had fallen into such a level of depravity, hopelessness, or loss that their motivation for life simply ceased. Zeal for the moment is the strongest trait in Hurin's line, but it is on steroids. In Hurin's case, this manifested in his optimism and patriotism. Once the zeal is gone, it was like the switch finally turned off: rising high and then a sharp drop down. Moreover, other contemporaries like Beren, also went through extreme events, yet did not kill themselves under the weight. There's nothing concrete but the circumstances do make me wonder.
The Greatest Warrior of Men
In conclusion of this profile, Hurin’s temperament borders on extreme though he never quite crosses it. What you see is what you get and there is little undercurrent machinations to him. His single-mindedness brings him great success and powers his extroverted charisma over others around him. It drives the man when all else fails and in despite of everything around him, even old age.
His strengths are what create his flaws, but those flaws are not intentional or malicious. Hurin focuses on the moment and trust the future to hope, until his hope is corrupted to undermine that future. And while both sets of traits are passed down to his children, of his entire family, Hurin is the most successful at balancing them out.