Unfinished Tales – Part One: The First Age – II. Narn i Hîn Húrin – The Tale of the Children of Húrin – The Journey of Morwen and Nienor to Nargothrond

Winter gives way to spring, and word of Nargothrond reaches Doriath via survivors attempting to reach King Thingol.  Reports differ, but all know that Túrin is the Blacksword.  Thingol believes him dead, but would have the full story of Nargothrond in any case.  Seeking to spare ill tidings, he bids Morwen and Nienor to remain in the safety of Melian’s Girdle.  In keeping with the running motif from The Silmarillion, Melian’s advice to Morwen is ignored as she is determined to learn the fate of her son.  Nienor, no longer a child, defies her mother’s command and accompanies her.  Mablung is set to protect them, ordered to go forth as far as he can and learn what he may.

Upon reaching Doriath, they encounter Glaurung.  Through the slip of the tongue, he learns Nienor’s identity as the daughter of Húrin, mocking her brother, and seizing control of her mind.  She seems unable to move of her own will, and only when Mablung takes her hand to guide her.

During the return to Doriath, the party is waylaid by Orcs.  Nienor takes off quicker than any can follow while Mablung and his Elves defeat the Orcs.  They attempt to track Nienor over the course of days, but they can find no trace of her.  Mablung returns to Doriath in personal disgrace, for both Nienor and Morwen are lost.  Thingol and Melian dismiss his claims of dishonor, for he succeeded in his mission to bring back news of Nargothrond, and the foes set against him were too great.  Mablung would not forgive himself, however, and for three years he set about in search of the lost.

Going all the way back to when I first read The Hobbit, the thing that’s always impressed me most about Tolkien’s dragons is how incredibly intelligent they are.  It doesn’t seem like that big of a deal today for most, given the sheer amount of smart dragons there are, and how many fantasy readers got their feet wet by playing Dungeons & Dragons.  But for myself, it’s always worth a reminder that D&D liberally cribbed from Middle-Earth, and all fantasy literature today rests squarely in the shadow of Tolkien.  I’m also reminded when I read these stories of the First Age that the first dragon Tolkien unleashed upon his readers in The Hobbit, the dreaded Smaug, was tiny when compared to his kindred in the earlier times.  That lesson got drilled into me during my studies of The Silmarillion.  It may or may not be wholly accurate, but this was the scale comparison I found at the time, and it’s served me well since as a reference.

And that brings me back to the point of draconic intellect.  A beast the size of Glaurung could do some serious damage in a sheer mindless rage.  Mablung and his Elves are right to fear him.  But like his Dark Lord, strength isn’t enough.  Glaurung operates through lies and deceit, preying upon the truth as we see in this chapter when he ensnares Nienor.  This is always the lesson worth remembering when dealing with Tolkien’s dragons.  Always.

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