Middle-Earth Profiles: Nienor
Welcome to Middle-earth profiles, where I do in-universe psych profiles on characters from Tolkien’s world that I find interesting. This profile covers the last member of Hurin’s family, Nienor.
Diamond in the Rough
Nienor’s background is convoluted and twisted, making her the second most complicated person in her family after Turin. She was the third child of Hurin and Morwen, the younger sister of Turin and Lalaith. Unlike her brother and sister, Nienor was not born during a time of peace and prosperity, but rather of turmoil and harship. Conceived before the Nirneath Arnoediad, she was born during the occupation of Dor-lomin after the allied armies of elves, men, and dwarves lost to Morgoth’s forces from the north.
With her father lost and her brother sent away to Elf kingdom of Doriath before she was born, all Nienor had was her mother and letters from Turin letting them know he was well. After a time, they stopped getting letters from him and between that and the increasing hardship of living in an occupied land, they left Dor-lomin for Doriath. Once there, they discovered Turin had left years before and became an outlaw leading a guerilla band against the invading orc armies. However, tidings from this had stopped as well and Morwen, constrained by the elves to remain in Doriath for her remaining family’s safety, looked for information regarding her son.
Sometime later, when her mother leaves Doriath to find Turin, Nienor disobeys her command to stay with the elves and follows her instead. It is during this journey she meets Glaurung the dragon and engages in a contest of wills with him, but eventually falls. Glaurung blocks her memory so she remembers nothing of her past except emotional sensations, and leaves her witless and oblivious for the elves to find her. Upon barely making it back to Doriath’s borders, they are ambushed by orcs and Nienor flees both orcs and elves in terror and is never found.
This is how she comes across Turin, finally finding him though she doesn’t know why it means anything to her. She is near death after days in the forest of Brethil with no knowledge for how to care for herself and is discovered by her long lost brother. Unaware of their relation they eventually fall in love and marry. A year after their marriage, Turin goes out to finally kill the dragon that was now coming near Brethil. Nienor, again disobeys a command and follows him. She finds him lying next to a near-dead Glaurung and thinks him dead. The dragon then awakes briefly, removing his amnesia spell with his last words, allowing the woman to remember everything.
Overwhelmed with horror and despair, Nienor runs off and commits suicide by jumping into a river at the bottom of a nearby gorge. This tragic background reflects an equally tragic personality.
Like Lalaith, Nienor resembles her father in appearance with his blonde hair, but unlike her sister, survives to adulthood. And in this form, she bears resemblance to her mother Morwen, being tall in stature.
She also inherited Hurin’s toughness and endurance of body that her sister did not have. A helpful asset when she was forced to go on the run to Doriath and then later wandering the woods of Brethil with no memory or how to survive. She had Hurin’s speed and capable of outrunning elves and humans. Before her encounter with Glaurung, Nienor displays fearlessness and determination like her father and brother. So fearless that it crosses over into stubbornness and recklessness. Nienor doesn’t think about consequences or in the long term, but only about her family loyalty. Her sense of bond to kin even supersedes their commands to her for her own safety. This lack of forethought is also something she shares with her brother and therefore wanders into the argument if her temperament would have different with her father’s guidance.
Her temperament though for what it was, bears a strong resemblance to Morwen due to the similarities of their past histories. Morwen was born of the noble house of Beor from Dorthonion, a human realm that had fallen decades before during the Dagor Bragollach war. As a young girl herself, Morwen had seen war and when her family and their remaining allies took to guerrilla warfare against the orcs, had also lived in hardship. This was increased further when she and the remaining women and children left Dorthonion. War and life as a refugee had all but removed any affectionate emotions from Morwen and had hardened her for survival.
Nienor was become much the same way, much to the chagrin of her mother. Before Glaurung, Nienor was not noted for being affectionate or warm, not that she had the opportunity to be given her isolation. Her only priorities were with survival and family. This made her incredibly stubborn, more so than her parents and maybe even Turin himself. However, her stubbornness also contributed to her strength of will. While Glaurung was known for outright incinerating people, he also possessed a powerful mind. That Nienor was able to engage him in this area, even for a short time, is nothing short but impressive.
Nienor was very practical and goal-centric. Like her mother, she did not share her father’s optimism or ideals. She also did not share her sister’s wonder for Middle-earth and natural joy. Once Nienor had a goal, all her energies were directed to accomplishing that and she could not be dissuaded from it. To put it in a more modern sense, Nienor was a woman who got shit done.
But that was before she met Glaurung.
She learns to listen to others and is not as bullheaded as she was before. Maybe in this way she comes close to resembling Lalaith had she lived longer.
When she had lost her mental battle with the dragon, Nienor’s personality was reset to zero. This made sense in that it was her experiences that forged her personality and now she had no recollection of them whatsoever. She was almost a completely, blank slate of a human being.
Left standing on a hill, not knowing how to survive, she was found by the elven escort that accompanied her and her mother, who were also in dire straits. Later, when she was found by Turin after fleeing the orc ambush, she was near death and in terror. Had that this been her sister, she would not have survived. Fortunately for Nienor, her inherited physicality and endurance remained.
From this point on, the woman develops an almost entirely new personality. While she relearns basic knowledge, she develops an immediate and intense loyalty to Turin. This loyalty may be a part of her original personality, but her lack of knowledge about her past made it more intense and overwhelming and Nienor becomes clingy to Turin. Another part of her new personality was learning to have normal relationships with other people outside of family and maybe elves. Being in exile didn’t allow her to form relationships with other humans, if she encountered them at all while she was in Dor-lomin. So while Nienor stays with the people of Brethil, she knows peace and joy for the first time and is named by the community, Niniel. She learns to listen to others and is not as bullheaded as she was before. Maybe in this way she comes close to resembling Lalaith had she lived longer.
However, though suppressed, her stubbornness was still a part of her core personality. Turin proposes to her, but she refuses at first. It takes Turin’s declaration/threat to go back to war if she does not marry him to change her mind, though she did so gladly. And just like what happened with Morwen before, when her now-husband, Turin orders her to remain while he goes to kill Glaurung, she disobeys him out of an overwhelming sense of loyalty. When Brandir, another man who is in love with Nienor, urges her to leave Brethil and roam the woods in safety with him, she rejects him and his counsel. And moreover, there was a darker side to this new personality of Niniel.
When Glaurung had hypnotized her, his forcing her to forget everything left a blacked-out area in her mind. It is similar to people who have an experience so severe and traumatic that the mind literally blocks it out just so it can function. You could say Glaurung violated her mind and spirit by hypnotizing her. Therefore when Nienor does not talk about her past, even to Turin, it’s not just because she doesn’t remember it, but because she is terrified of it.
This is a massive change as well as traumatic and evil one because Nienor was well known for being a woman without fear. No danger would dissuade her from her chosen courses or loyalty to kin. Now even Turin could not get her to recall her life before her finding by him. Nienor didn’t know fear before—but was now all too familiar with it.
And this may have been what finally caused her to commit suicide. Being forced to remember her past later on by Glaurung as the daughter of Morwen and Hurin, Nienor could not reconcile what she had done as Niniel, wife of her brother, Turin. All the joy she had experienced with her time in Brethil felt utterly wrong and corrupt. The two personalities were almost complete opposites and it overwhelmed her fragile psyche, driving her mad.
The Flower’s Meaning
There are two other aspects worth mentioning in this profile. The first is regarding Nienor’s ‘relationship’ with Glaurung and the curse of Morgoth upon Hurin’s family. In Hurin’s profile, I mentioned how I did not put much stock in a curse causing the downfall of the family because there was little to no interactions where an outside force manipulated or forced them into their decisions.
However, Glaurung is that ‘little interaction’.
Twice he manipulates them into paths that would eventually lead to their ruin. The first is when he sends Turin on a wild goose chase back north after the sack of Nargothrond, and erasing Nienor’s memory is the second. If you wanted to believe in the curse, you could point to these two events.
Nienor more so than Turin could be a case of the curse at work, though not through some invisible hand, but rather through direct manipulation of a physical agent at the opportune time. Still, just as with her brother’s choices to not heed the advice of others or think about the consequences of his actions led to his own end, Nienor’s own choice to disobey Morwen and leave Doriath similarly started the series of events that would lead to her encounter with the dragon.
The second aspect worth mentioning is the symbolism between Nienor and Lalaith. In the profile on Lalaith, I mentioned how she was arguably a representation of everything Hurin and his family should have been. From her birth and up until her young death, Lalaith is like a beacon of the family’s positive traits.
Nienor contrasts the life in every way. She was born during a time of hardship and not peace. She never knew her father and though she knew of Turin, she never met him until her encounter in Brethil. She never knew joy for most of her life and what little she did know of it was cruelly taken away from her by Glaurung’s last words to her. Her personality before her first meeting with the dragon arguably incarnated what the family of Hurin had become, compared to her personality afterwards being what it should have been.
Nienor’s suicide is the result of two incompatible personalities, two incompatible lifestyles and past histories, forced to recognize each other and thus cancel each other out. This is what makes her psychology so convoluted and ultimately tragic.