[This post contains spoilers for the story of The Children of Húrin by nature; only a brief account is given and, while many plot points are exposed here, including the ending, I highly encourage everyone to read the story even if you know the end.]
Tolkien began writing the genesis of his mythology in the 1910’s. There were three foundational stories that survived the span of years and were eventually published in The Silmarillion. One of these tales, seeing many different titles over the course of its life, came to be known as The Children of Húrin.
It is difficult to describe the story briefly. There are many characters and locations and the events span the lifetimes of the main characters and then some. The protagonist is Túrin, son of Húrin and follows him from his childhood in the woods of Beleriand, during the First Age, through his coming of age and full adulthood. Though Túrin is the main focus of the tale, it is very important to understand the story of his father, Húrin. In short, Húrin is captured by Morgoth and cursed to be able to see “as he sees.” A curse is laid upon his children as well, that they should be doomed and everything they love and care for will always fail them. This curse is played out in the events of CoH and, while not mentioned often, it is important to note that Húrin’s curse enables him to see all the grief and hardship his children face and he is not able to do anything about it.
Túrin grows up with his mother as his father leaves for war (to be captured) when he is about eight years old. His mother is pregnant with his sister at the time as well. Fearing the approach of the Enemy into their lands, his mother sends him away to ask for shelter in the nearby Elven kingdom of Doriath, ruled by Thingol and Melian, while his pregnant mother remains at their home, hoping to follow him soon after.
Túrin is granted entrance to Doriath and is highly favored by the king. He makes friends with many of the residents there and lives comfortably, learning much about combat and the ways of the elves. An unfortunate accident occurs: an elf that does not particularly like Túrin is killed out of misfortune and he flees from the kingdom fearing the king will think he is responsible. Many, many things occur during his self-exile as he groups up with a band of outlaws, meets dwarves, and kills many orcs. He changes his name to help hide himself for fear of the wrath of Thingol (which doesn’t actually exist; the King wants Túrin to return, having nothing against him).
During this time, his sister has been born is now reaching adulthood. She leaves with her mother for Doriath and finds shelter there as well, unknown to Túrin. His sister’s name is Nienor.
Further odd events play out and the great wingless dragon Glaurung is introduced as a chief instrument in Morgoth’s forces. He descends upon many elven strongholds and destroys all who oppose him. In a strange turn of events, Nienor is put under a spell by Glaurung, flees into the forest, faints, is stumbled upon by Túrin, is taken back to his new home away from Doriath (in the woods of Brethil) and wakes up not remembering anything, including her name. Not knowing she is his sister, Túrin cares for her and eventually falls in love with her.
Time moves forward and the dragon Glaurung is said to be on the move towards Brethil. Túrin leaves to confront the dragon, against Nienor’s wishes, and actually slays Glaurung. Nienor follows after Túrin and finds him in the midst of the ruin of Glaurung, seeming to be dead. Glaurung stirs, not yet dead, and talks to Nienor, telling her of the truth of her and Túrin’s relation. In grief, she throws herself over the nearby cliff and dies. Túrin wakes up not long after and learns of the tragic news from those nearby and slays himself with his sword.
Though a tragedy this story may be, it does a marvelous job of portraying authentic human characters. Tolkien loved history, straight and true, and does not hesitate to allow his history to play out a little less appealing, with murder, death, incest, etc.
This story was published in The Silmarillion in a very complete and cohesive form but was later released as a stand alone book that is much more comprehensive and elaborate. I can’t recommend it enough and it’s probably my favorite story from the extended mythology.
[Credit to Jack Moore for proofreading and corrections.]