David writes irregularly for his blog The Warden’s Walk, where he reviews stories of a fantastical and science-fictional nature. An unashamed student of Tolkien, Lewis, and George MacDonald, he tries to balance academic analysis with more passionate responses, each having their place. At a very basic level, he’s just extremely grateful that there are people who have stories they are willing to tell.
“Of the Ruin of Doriath” is a complicated story, deeply entangled in the mythical web of The Silmarillion, the elaborate history Tolkien wrote for his invented world. Before this story comes the great romance of Beren and Lúthien, and the tragic tale of Túrin Turambar. After it comes the Fall of Gondolin, the Voyage of Eärendel, and the Fall of Númenor. Every major event in the tale is tied to something that happened before; a common trait of Tolkien’s stories that strengthens the emotional pull and internal reality of his mythology. Of course, it can also make it difficult reading for someone unfamiliar with the history of Middle-Earth.
Which, in turn, puts me in the unenviable position of having to educate the average reader on said fantastical history before I can talk about Tolkien’s story. So let me explain.
No, there is too much. Let me sum up:
“Of the Ruin of Doriath” progresses in roughly three stages.
First Stage, about Húrin: Húrin, father of the now-dead hero Túrin Turambar, is released from his long imprisonment in the fiery mountain stronghold of the devil Morgoth. He finds the amazing Necklace of the Dwarves—the Nauglamír, the greatest craft of jewelry ever forged by the Dwarves—and gives it to Elf King Thingol, who rules a kingdom in the greatforest ofDoriath.
Second Stage, where Doriath falls: King Thingol commissions the Dwarves to set within the Nauglamír the Silmaril he owns—the Silmarils being the greatest, most beautiful jewels made by the Elves, and the objects of a terrible curse. The Dwarves do this, thus creating an even greater piece of jewelry. Then they demand the right to keep the perfected Necklace for themselves. Thingol says no. The Dwarves kill him in his throne room and run for their lives. The Elves pursue them and recover the Nauglamír and Silmaril, but two of the Dwarves escape the slaughter and reach the mountains of the two Dwarven kingdoms. These Dwarven kingdoms then send out an army that succeeds in destroying Doriath and taking again the Nauglamír and Silmaril.
Third Stage, where Dior tries and fails to restore Doriath: Beren and Lúthien hear of the tragedy, and Beren leads an army of Elves that ambushes and destroys the Dwarven army on its way home. He takes the Nauglamír and Silmaril to his home in the south, where Lúthien wears it and becomes such a shining beacon of beauty that even the curse of the Silmaril is held at bay for awhile. Dior, their son, and the rightful heir to the throne of Doriath, returns to the forest kingdom and tries to rule over its nearly empty, ruined halls. Shortly thereafter he learns that his parents have both died, and have given him the Nauglamír and Silmaril. He wears the Necklace, as is his right, but he also grows in pride. The other Elven lords—the ones bound by a terrible Oath to reclaim the Silmarils for the family of Fëanor no matter what—attack Dior in his fledgling kingdom and slay him and the people of Doriath. But a remnant escapes, including Elwing, Dior’s daughter, who carries with her the Silmaril in safety to the shores of the sea.
Got all of that?
This is all just so that I can tell you about two particular moments in the story—the moments that always stand out to me the most when I read it—that don’t (apparently) have much to do with it. Yet they are, tellingly, incredibly important for the characters involved. The first takes place very near the tale’s beginning, and the second very near the end.
1. Húrin finds Morwen, his wife
For twenty-eight years Húrin was tortured in the dungeons of Morgoth, and then released as a shadow of himself, wandering the wilds of Beleriand seeking old friendships in vain. Haggard, weary in body and soul, he comes at last to the deep river chasm where the son and daughter he had never seen had perished. Perhaps Morgoth’s cruelest torment was to allow Húrin to watch the tragic lives of his children, Túrin and Nienor, and their unwittingly incestuous marriage that ended in their despair and deaths. Yet he is too weary with heart-scars to mourn them openly anymore. Because he knows their doom already, he does not read the inscription on their burial stone. But beneath the towering stone sits his wife, Morwen, once among the most beautiful of mortal women, but now gray and fearful.
“You come at last,” she says. “I have waited too long.”
“It was a dark road. I have come as I could,” he replies.
“But you are too late. They are lost,” says Morwen.
“I know it,” he said. “But you are not.”
But Morwen said, “Almost. I am spent. I shall go with the sun.”
(Paraphrased from The Silmarillion, page 283.)
So they sit in silence together until the sun sets, and she passes with it. He buries her, and for a time remains still as a stone, until a cold wind rouses in his breast anger and a thirst for vengeance. He rises, cloaked in black and with a black staff, and goes to Doriath, the forest kingdom of the Elf Thingol, bearing with him the great jewelry Nauglamír.
We know what this husband and wife have gone through, and their last meeting his heartbreaking even as there is a sweetness to it. They have been denied the best years of their lives together. They have known tremendous pain and hardship at the hands of enemies. They have felt rejection from friends. They have watched their whole world come nearer to crumbling around them. And, I think they must feel themselves to be failures as parents, because of the terrible doom that befell their children.
All this is behind this tiny, quiet little scene that Tolkien wrote. They are too old and wearied for outpourings of joy at their reunion. Morwen cannot even contain her disappointment that her husband could not save their family. And yet…and yet…they are together. Though she dies with the setting of the sun, Húrin is with her, a silent companion, but her companion, watching over her at last. Words are superfluous for them. Twenty-eight years apart in sorrow and hardship, but it seems to my mind that the love between them did not break.
2. Dior learns of his parents’ deaths
Another melancholy moment, I’m afraid. And one the comes soon after a victory, however bitter. Though King Thingol and Queen Melian have fallen, and their kingdom nearly dissolved, Dior, the noble son of heroes Beren and Lúthien has returned to Doriath in the hopes of restoring it. Perhaps the great kingdom can rise again! Perhaps joy and peace might reign, after all this darkness. Dior’s parents still live peacefully in the south, surrounded by friends and far from Morgoth’s reach, and with the Necklace and its Silmaril seemingly protected by the saintliness of his beautiful mother Lúthien. Indeed, Beren and Lúthien are still living in relative happiness and safety, and Dior has every reason to be hopeful about the future.
Then “there came an autumn night” (The Silmarillion, 291). A messenger knocks on the doors of the palace at Doriath, and no mean one at that—this messenger is himself an Elven lord, from the south. He enters the throne room, where King Dior sits alone, and silently lays a box at the king’s feet, and leaves. In the box is the Nauglamír, with its inlaid Silmaril, and Dior knows that his parents have died.
“Long did Dior gaze upon the Silmaril, which his father and mother had brought beyond hope out of the terror of Morgoth; and his grief was great that death had come upon them so soon” (292).
We know little of Dior himself, in the histories of Tolkien. There are no stories that deal exclusively with him, nor are many of his deeds known. But his parents we know and love, for they, having suffered as much as any in Middle-Earth, managed what few could—a happy ending, a eucatastrophe, and the triumph of love. Though we do not know Dior himself very well, we know through this scene that he loves his parents as we do.
There is more that can be said about Tolkien’s tale “Of the Ruin of Doriath.” About King Thingol’s enduring pride despite his surprising tenderness towards Húrin; about an angel’s heart breaking in the breast of Queen Melian; about the Dwarves and their petty greed; about Húrin’s brutal, disturbing vengeance against a Dwarf who had betrayed his son; about the terrible mix of honor and foolishness that provokes the sons of Fëanor—the greatest Elven lords—to pursue the Silmaril at the end and destroy Doriath for good, along with Dior, in needless bloodshedding, and losing the jewel anyway! But when I read the story, what remains in my mind and in my heart are the deep loves of Húrin, Morwen, and Dior. It is worth creating an entire fictional world just to write moments like these.
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