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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2007 4:43 am 
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This was a vagrant thought that occurred to me today. I don't know if it has any value, but I'll try to share it nonetheless.

It is well know that the tale of the Children of Húrin was loosely based on the on the story of Kullervo from the Kalevala. But it occurred to me that there was another inspiration for Tolkien's creation of his most flawed hero (with the possible exception of Fëanor, of course). It seems to me that the real model for Túrin was Tolkien himself!

Like Tolkien, Túrin 'lost' his father at a very young age, and became very close to his mother, his remaining parent, only to 'lose' her as well not long afterward. I think that Beleg's death could in a sense by symbolic of the deaths of Tolkien's close friends in World War I, since he was full of guilt that he survived and they did. And Túrin's marriage to Niniel could be analogized to Tolkien's marriage to Edith, in that Edith was someone who was forbidden to him (he was not allowed to see her from the time that he was 16 until he was 21, at which time she was already engaged to someone else). Even though he consider her "his Lúthien" there relationship was not always a model of harmony.

I know this is all a stretch, but I still think there is something to it. Carpenter in his biography called Tolkien "a man of antitheses" (which Verlyn Flieger uses as the title of the first chapter of her book "Splintered Light). I think that is an accurate description of him. I think that, like Túrin, he had great confidence in his abilities, but at the same time he had a very bleak outlook about the world around him, as well as his own role in it. Obviously, he did not have as tragic a life (and death) as Túrin did, but I do wonder how much Túrin's tragic existence reflected the way that Tolkien saw himself?

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2007 3:43 pm 
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Beren and Túrin are two sides of the same coin, are they not? Children of Fate? Although I would point to Finduilas instead of Nienor as the forlorn object of affection...Túrin's tale is in many ways a dark reflection of Beren's, and I think they did come in some measure from the same impulse in JRRT's mind to show the upside and downside of the same structures.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 05, 2007 9:50 pm 
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:shock: interesting observation V. Túrin is truly a unique character in The Sil and indeed in all of Tolkien's work. That his characteristics are so like Tolkien himself seems to me to be an indication of how real Tolkien wanted Túrin to seem. Unlike most of Tokien's characters Túrin was neither good nor bad and yet he accomplished a great thing, did he not? Túrin seems to me to be representative of all of mankind and not just Tolkien himself.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2007 2:09 am 
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Here is a quote from Verlyn Flieger's Splintered Light that sort of set off this thought process:

Verlyn Flieger wrote:
What in Tolkien's life was an imbalance in temperament, a contradictionof moods, becomes in his art an oscillation of forces. The antitheses so evident in the man become in his myth the paradox that is at once the governing principle and the central mystery.


I think that Túrin reflects that paradox more then any other character in Tolkien's work.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2007 8:35 pm 
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I agree with you Voronwë: it is a stretch. This brings to my mind Tolkien's commentary regarding analogy and applicability, one being in the mind of the author and the other being in the mind of the reader.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2007 9:43 pm 
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More goes into any published work than the author consciously intended. I don't for a second think JRRT sat down and said, "I'm going to write about some unfortunate aspects of my life via a character named Túrin." On the other hand, noticing the connections between unfortunate aspects is valid literary analysis. The sensibilities of authors do not exist independently from their lives and times, nor do they merely echo them.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 07, 2007 9:50 pm 
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:shock: I was just about to hit send on a post that said virtually the same thing that you did, Ax, but since I was sidetracked for a while with work I refreshed the page to make sure that no one else had said anything. I'm sure glad I did. :D

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 1:20 am 
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I totally agree with you, Ax, but I don't find Túrin's unknowingly slaying his friend Beleg in the dark particularly reminiscent of Tolkien's friends dying in WWI nor do I find Tolkien's marriage to Edith remiscent of Túrin's relationship with Niniel.

Father Francis presumably didn't allow Tolkien to see Edith because Tolkien's guardian felt that it would detract from the young man's personal and professional development, not because their relationship was an incestuous one. The only impediment to Túrin's and Niniel's relationship was a vague sense that something wasn't quite right.

So what we're left is that Tokien lost his mother and his father as a child. Túrin's father never returned from war (Húrin was held captive by Morgoth, not slain), and lost his mother when he was a young adult.

Voronwë's notion is an interesting one, but to me it does not stand up to close examination. I'm sorry, but that's how I feel.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 1:47 am 
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You're looking too hard, I think, for a direct correspondence. Still, if we look at the Finduilas relationship instead of the one with his sister, the motif of a paternal figure interposing is in fact there. As to any echoes of JRRT's experience in WW I and Túrin slaying Beleg in the dark...who knows what he saw in the trenches. Night raids were common on both sides, and it's not impossible that he witnessed, or heard about, a case of friendly fire that stuck with him at some level. It's not something he went into a great deal of detail about on paper that I know of, so it's probably impossible to document one way or the other...but I know there are far less graphic tableaux from my own life that find their way, often sub rosa, into my writing.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 2:23 am 
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Old_Tom_Bombadil wrote:
I totally agree with you, Ax, but I don't find Túrin's unknowingly slaying his friend Beleg in the dark particularly reminiscent of Tolkien's friends dying in WWI.


The event itself of Beleg's slaying may not be reminiscent, but the emotion surrounding it may bear a greater similarity. Although Tolkien didn't accidentally kill any of his friends in the war, as I recall all but one of them died. If other cases are anything to go by, he may have had a good deal of survivor's guilt that may have been similar to Túrin's guilt upon actually killing Beleg. Like a lot of the other similarities Voronwë points out, I don't think Tolkien put that in consciously, but something as horrid as WWI and seeing so many people die could easily make it into his work in such a way.

So, essentially, I agree with Ax. It's an interesting theory, but I think that if it is true at all, Túrin isn't really an autobiographical figure so much as he is a reflection, if that makes sense.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 2:28 am 
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Yes, it makes sense, and is essentially what I had in mind.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 2:32 am 
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To put it another way--the horror of Beleg's death feels real because JRRT understood the emotion. The yearning and frustration associated with Finduilas feels real because JRRT understood the emotion. His understanding is rooted in his life experience, but shaped by his knowledge of the Volsungsaga and the Kalevala and everything else he had read.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:19 am 
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MaidenOfTheShieldarm wrote:
It's an interesting theory, but I think that if it is true at all, Túrin isn't really an autobiographical figure so much as he is a reflection, if that makes sense.

Exactly. Calling Tokien's similarities to Túrin "autobiographical" is overstating it, I think.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:34 am 
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Well, if what "autobiographical" means is some elements were borrowed (and outside true autobiography, I think that's usually right), then I agree with Voronwë. Tolkien's actual experiences gave emotional depth to what happened to Túrin. I think there is a noticeable difference when Tolkien is writing with that kind of emotional understanding of the material, as with Frodo and Sam in Mordor. The "loftiness" diminishes, and whether that is a gain or loss depends I suppose on your outlook. But I almost get the sense that it is involuntary, that Tolkien strays onto this uncomfortable ground without having intended to do so. It's a mark of his quality that he stays there and finishes the story. Or that's my outlook.

(At least, that is why I prefer Tolkien to Lewis; the emotional dimension in Lewis, if it's there at all, usually feels conventional to me, not coming from anything true in the writer—as if he's consciously hitting the required notes.)

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:35 am 
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Thanks for your comments, Tom. But I'm curious to know what possible context you thought that I meant, other then in the sense that Mossy stated? Did you think that I thought that Tolkien actually lived in Middle-earth, that he killed his best friend, and married his sister? Obviously not.

But I stand by my assertion that of all of Tolkien characters, Túrin best reflects Tolkien's life experiences and his outlook on the world. I think that is an observation that can be instructive in understanding both the man and his work, regardless of the semantics of using the word "autobiographical" (which after all is just a way of entering into the discussion). You obviously do not believe that it is a worthwhile observation to make. That is certainly your perogative.

Edit: Cross-posted with Prim.

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Last edited by Voronwë the Faithful on Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:38 am 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
But I stand by my assertion that of all of Tolkien characters, Túrin best reflects Tolkien's life experiences and his outlook on the world.


Better than the hobbits? Especially Frodo or Sam?

ax wrote:
To put it another way--the horror of Beleg's death feels real because JRRT understood the emotion. The yearning and frustration associated with Finduilas feels real because JRRT understood the emotion. His understanding is rooted in his life experience, but shaped by his knowledge of the Volsungsaga and the Kalevala and everything else he had read.


Exactly. I love when people know what I'm trying to say better than I do and state it more eloquently to boot.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:48 am 
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MaidenOfTheShieldarm wrote:
Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
But I stand by my assertion that of all of Tolkien characters, Túrin best reflects Tolkien's life experiences and his outlook on the world.


Better than the hobbits? Especially Frodo or Sam?


I would say yes, although a good argument could be made for Frodo (though definitely not Sam, in my opinion). I'll have to come back and address this further when I have more time (and a clearer head).

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:48 am 
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What I meant was that the parallels between Tolkien and Túrin are too weak to be termed "autobiographical". I would agree that that Tolkien's life experiences informed his characters, including Túrin, but the same could be said of many other writers of fiction and the characters they've created.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 7:00 am 
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Tom, you seem to have a more literal understanding of what the word "autobiographical" can be used for then I (and others) have.

I do intend to come back and talk about Frodo (and Sam) some more, but for now I wanted to point out that the character that Tolkien most closely identified himself with was probably Beren. After all, his tombstone actually has Beren's name on it (just as Edith's has Lúthien's name). But, as Ath has so eloquently pointed out in the past, Túrin is in essense the "anti-Beren" and I think he better reflects Tolkien's conflicted personality.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 08, 2007 4:39 pm 
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Voronwë_the_Faithful wrote:
Tom, you seem to have a more literal understanding of what the word "autobiographical" can be used for then I (and others) have.

Yes, I do.

Autobiographical is the adjective from of autobiography.

Quote:
au·to·bi·og·ra·phy (ôt-b-gr-f) KEY

NOUN:
pl. au·to·bi·og·ra·phies
The biography of a person written by that person.


An autobiographical novel, however, is something different. From Wikipedia:

Quote:
An autobiographical novel is a novel based on the life of the author. The literary technique is distinguished from an autobiography or memoir by the stipulation of being fiction. Names and locations are often changed and events are recreated to make them more dramatic but the story still bears a close resemblance to that of the author.

The key to this definition is "bears a close resemblance to that of the author". That is where you and I disagree, Voronwë.

It is interesting that in your initial post you were very unsure of the merits of your "vagrant thought". However, when I agreed with your feeling that "this is all a stretch", you took that as a challenge. Now you seem ready to fight tooth and nail (figuratively speaking) to defend this theory. What gives, Voronwë?

I think I expressed my opinion pretty well in my previous post. I'm not going to give in because popular opinion is against me. (That point is debatable in itself.)

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