Tuor in The Fall of Gondolin and JRR Tolkien’s Heroes (Discussion)

Tolkien's Heroes

Introduction

As I was reading The Fall of Gondolin by J.R.R. Tolkien recently (read my review here), I was struck by a passage in the final version of the story where the protagonist Tuor walks into an abandoned city/throne room, finds a dazzling set of arms left behind, and promptly claims them as his own.  For the briefest of moments, I was confused.  Who finds expensive armor and just puts it on? But then I realized that Tuor’s sense that this was right, that the armor was meant for him (…turns out it was, actually) is something I love about Tolkien’s work.  Tuor is a hero with confidence, someone who knows he can achieve and is determined to set out to do it.  In this moment, the readers see Tuor as he is meant to be seen, a stern and mighty hero, destined to change the fate of Middle-Earth.

This isn’t something I see a lot of in other fantasy, which tends to emphasize the uncertainty of the hero/heroine as a way to help readers “relate” to a protagonist who is objectively doing extraordinary things.  Tolkien’s work, in contrast, often does not shy away from emphasizing the heroic nature of its characters (think, for instance, of Aragorn).  That isn’t to say that these characters don’t work hard or face challenges or have doubt.  They do.  But the world building of Middle-Earth and the existence of a higher power invests the characters with a steadiness of spirit I don’t always see in other protagonists.

Before I explain more, here’s the passage from The Fall of Gondolin I’m thinking of:

As he stood before the great chair in the gloom, and saw that it was hewn of a single stone and written with strange signs, the sinking sun drew level with a high window under the westward gable, and a shaft of light smote the wall before him, and glittered as it were upon burnished metal.  Then Tuor marvelling saw that on the wall behind the throne there hung a shield and a great hauberk, and a helm and a long sword in a sheath.  The hauberk hone as it were wrought of silver untarnished, and the sunbeam gilded it with sparks of gold.  But the shield was of a shape strange to Tuor’s eyes, for it was long and tapering; and its field was blue, in the midst of which was wrought an emblem of a white swan’s wing.  Then Tuor spoke, and his voice rang as a challenge in the roof: ‘By this token I will take these arms unto myself, and upon myself whatsoever doom they bear.’   And he lifted down the shield and found it light and wieldy beyond his guess; for it was wrought, it seemed, of wood, but overlaid by the craft of elven-smiths with plates of metal, strong y et thing as foil, whereby it has been preserved from worm and weather.

Then Tuor arrayed himself in the hauberk, and set the helm upon his head, and he girt himself with the sword; black were sheath and belt with clasps of silver.  Thus armed he went forth from Turgon’s hall, and stood upon the high terraces of Taras in the red light of the sun.  None were there to see him, as he gazed westward, gleaming in silver and gold, and he knew not that in that hour he appeared as one of the Mighty of the West, and fit to be the father of the kings of the Kings of Men beyond the Sea, as it was indeed his doom to be; but in the taking of those arms a change came upon Tuor song of Huor, and his heart grew great within him.

The Qualifications of a Hero

I read a lot of YA fantasy, so it makes sense that the protagonists, who are young people  finding their way in the world, often tend toward being uncertain about their roles as heroes.  Many of them don’t want the tasks that have been pressed upon them.  Many of them are “ordinary” people without particular skills that would “qualify” them to save the the world, the kingdom, their friends, etc.  Authors often think this helps make them “relatable” to readers, who generally also do not have badass archery skills or training in martial arts or a family with a history of greatness.  These are the stories of the Everyman rising up to do what needs to be done.  (Also, a lot of readers just hate the perceived arrogance of Chosen Ones.)

However, the difference between Tolkien’s heroes and these other fantasy heroes isn’t just their age or uncertainty or “unsuitableness” to be heroes because Tolkien has his Everyman heroes, too, most notably the hobbits in The Lord of the Rings.  The difference is how confident even the Everyman can be when there is a sense of a guiding force in the universe.  Gandalf mentions this explicitly in The Lord of the Rings:

Frodo:
I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.

Gandalf:
So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us. There are other forces at work, Frodo, than the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the ring. In which case you also were meant to have it, and that is an encouraging thought.

Although the characters of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (the two of Tolkien’s works that are most familiar to readers) don’t have religious rituals, the world of Middle-Earth is a deeply religious one, ruled over by Iluvatar and shaped by the Valar .  Iluvatar’s existence and the sense that he actively intervenes in the fate of Middle-Earth (not a trait shared by all deities) allow the characters to believe that, even if the journey is difficult, they will find the strength and resources to do what needs to be done.

It is this belief, I think, that allows Tuor to don that armor with such confidence.

A Higher Power

I’ve talked briefly before about how I don’t see a lot of religion in fantasy, not in the sense that the characters’ believes or actions are actively shaped by their faith.  (Sure, a character might stop by a temple or take the name of a god in vain, but I rarely see characters who say, for instance, “I am going to do x” or “I am not going to do y because of my faith.”)  And in a world where no higher beings exist, or the characters don’t think those deities care about humans or intercede on their behalf, then heroes must rely on their own skills, their own determination, and the help of their friends or allies to succeed at their missions.

Tolkien’s heroes, however, believe that Iluvatar and the Valar will intercede on their behalf, maybe not directly, but enough that they can always have hope, even in the darkest of places.  After Tuor takes his armor, he goes out to the sea and receives a mission from that Vala Ulmo to journey to the hidden city of Gondolin and warn King Turgon that he must march against Morgoth, if there is to be a chance of defeating the Dark Lord.

Tuor is willing but a bit skeptical, and Ulmo tells him:

“If I choose to send thee, Tuor son of Huor, then believe not that they one sword is not worth the sending.”

Even when things go wrong, Tuor, like Frodo, can find solace in the fact that he was meant to undertake the journey.

Conclusion

So, while I initially began reading Tuor as oddly presumptive and arrogant, I quickly came around to the idea that his confidence is warranted; he has the guidance and love of higher powers who will help him on his journey.  That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard.  It doesn’t even mean the the journey will succeed.  It simply allows him to have faith in his own mission and his ability to do what must be done.

Briana

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11 thoughts on “Tuor in The Fall of Gondolin and JRR Tolkien’s Heroes (Discussion)

  1. Kim @ Traveling in Books says:

    I see Aragorn acting in a similar vein to Tuor in his own story. Many see the version of Aragorn from the books as arrogant because he is going forth to claim the kingship of Gondor, but it is his by right of his lineage and Gondor’s tradition. That doesn’t mean his road will be easy or certain, but it does mean that he knows what he will gain, should he survive long enough until then.

    As much as I like a relateable character, I also like the distance that a real fairy story provides. There is something to be said for genuine escapism, and you don’t always get that when you can relate to every character in a story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      Yes, I do think people sometimes forget this because the LOTR movies made Aragorn very reluctant to take up his role as king, perhaps in the attempt to make him relateable. I feel as if the Chronicles of Narnia movies did something similar (ex. make Peter more of a jerk who didn’t want to stay and help save Narnia, ostensibly because this is either more relateable to audiences than someone being automatically selfless or because it’s more “dramatic.”) And it’s very interesting to me that filmmakers feel the need to make heroes less heroic or good because I do think they are missing that point that, yes, it is HARD even if you are chosen, it is your right, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ireadthatinabook says:

    “Who finds expensive armor and just puts it on?” Every RPG hero ever? Or at least that’s what I do whenever I find a cool armour when I’m gaming, but I agree, outside of the gaming world it is unexpected.

    Like

  3. Karlita says:

    Tbh, I haven’t read any of these. It’s actually the first time Iknew about these books other that The Hobbit and LOTR.😂 Thank you so much for sharing! And btw, your photos are amazing!☺️

    Like

  4. k8neville says:

    The other side to this is what I remember from The Silmarillion: that Turgon was instructed by Ulmo to make that armor to a specific size. It was meant for Tuor before Tuor came into the world. But I also note that the recent book emphasized Tuor’s response to the design of the shield. It has become a two-way pull. Tolkien knows that it’s not enough to be called… the one being called needs to be open and to choose to respond. Which is, from a Catholic perspective, a reflection of Mary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana | Pages Unbound says:

      I love the comparison to Mary! I really like your point that being the Chosen One for a task isn’t enough in Tolkien’s work; you have to accept the calling and then put all the effort into completing the task.

      Like

  5. Michael J. Miller says:

    I second Karlita’s point above. Your photos on this site are always wonderful but they seem extra gorgeous here. As to the heroic discussion, this is what I’ve always loved best about Tolkien. The way he understands theology and they way he then uses it in his stories – there’s no one else who really does it like this, like so many facets of his work. And it does make all the difference!

    Like

  6. Beth Gould says:

    I don’t quite get the cynical reaction to Tolkien ’ s heroic characters either. But I think I find most of Tolkien ’ s other heroic characters easier to identify with than Tuor, for some reason. I guess it has to do with the way his story is written; he seems more remote, somehow, even compared to some of the other First Age characters Iike Beren. I don’t think he is arrogant though, just less exciting and memorable than some of the others.

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