Tolkien Essay:
Turin and Free Will

Tolkien concedes that Free Will must be operative in a story, for without free will there can be no rebellion, and with no rebellion there is no Fall of Man, and "there cannot be any 'story' without a fall-all stories are ultimately about the fall"(Letters #131). Free will then is the modus operandi for Tolkien's story, but it is a little more than that. His use of Free Will is a motif that reveals to the careful reader that choices have dire consequences and the motives behind those choices will determine the outcome-for good or ill. The motive most capable for good is self-sacrifice, the most devastating for ill is pride and possessiveness.

We can observe the operation of Free Will in Middle-earth and see it exercised by both Elves and Men. However, the operation of Free Will is qualitatively different amongst the Children of Middle-earth. As described in the Quenta Silmarillion Iluvatar gave a special gift to the Atani(Men), which was "that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else"(The Silmarillion).

So it would seem that the operation of "true" free will is only given to Men if we hold that once the Music of Creation was sung all things have been sung into being. This is a kind of predestination, and of course, it is true to a large extent for most of the beings of Middle-earth. We can see this foreknowledge expressed when certain future events are eluded to when Mandos speaks his doom/fate. An example of this is after the darkening of Valinor when Melkor stabs the Two Trees and the Valar ask Feanor to unlock the Light of the Silmarils to revive the trees. Feanor replies that if he has to break them, then so shall he and be the first of the Eldar to be slain. But Mandos proclaims, "Not the First"(The Silmarillion). Another more revealing foreknowledge is the "Doom of Mandos" wherein many future events in Middle-earth are told by Mandos during the Flight of the Noldor.

For the Elves, this is DOOM; it is fate and can not be gainsaid. For the Music has been sung and it is fate to them. Yet still, there is free will for the Elves. Perhaps it cannot shape the events of the world, as did the choices/actions of Beren, but the exercise of free will can effect the relation of Elves to the Music-they can be in harmony or in discord. A prime example of this is again found when Feanor is asked to yield up the Silmarils. A close reading of the situation reveals that at the moment Feanor is asked if he will grant the request of Yavanna he no longer possesses the Simlarils; Morgoth has stolen them. Therefore, his decision had no consequence in regards to external events in Middle-earth. What Tolkien is trying to demonstrate through the elves is that "free will is more important as a matter of internal governance than as a determiner of external events. The Music always has the same form, but how it is played, whether fast or slow... is up to the performers.(pg104 Splintered Light).

Yet we can see that these restrictions do not apply to Men. Witness the heights of achievement by Beren for Luthien; of free will did Beren accept the quest for a Silmaril out of Love for Luthien. Yet it is precisely because the motive behind Beren's choices was out of love and to sacrifice himself for that love, that he achieves his quest. Contrast this with the choices of Turin, and we see in stark contrast the consequences of free will when the motives are based in pride and anger.

The stage is set for Turin's tragedy when Morgoth confines Hurin to a stone chair in what has to be one of the most frightening scenes that shows the pure malice of Morgoth where he curses Hurin and his kin; "Behold! The shadow of my thought shall lie upon them wherever they go, and my hate shall pursue them to the ends of the world(Unfinished Tales)". Morgoth has carefully orchestrated the doom of Hurin's house, and has preyed upon the nature of man to bring about his evil purpose.

Throughout Turin's life there are choices that are made- an exercise of free will that will determine whether or not Morgoth's doom is realized. And Turin successfully chooses the path to darkness, and each time his pride and quick anger are to blame. When he cruelly pursues Saeros, the Nandorin elf, naked over a cliff to his death, his pride forebears the thought of having to ask pardon from King Thingol. He flees Doriath and so runs on his path to further tragedy. His pride causes Nargothrond to be revealed to Morgoth's malice when Turin convinces Orodreth to conduct bold and open acts of arms, and to construct a bridge over the river Narog. This results in the destruction of Narogthrond by the Great Worm, Glaurung. Turin's improper use of free will is exemplified in the words of Gwindor, the elf, who lay mortally wounded in the sack of Nargothrond: "But for thy prowess and thy pride, still I should have love and life, and Nargothrond should yet stand a while"(The Silmarillion). Even here, Turin is given another choice and chance to avoid his doom. Gwindor commands Turin with fey words of death to save Finduilas for "she alone stands between thee and thy doom. If thou fail her, it shall not fail to find thee"(The Silmarillion). Note how Gwindor foretells how Turin can avoid his doom (which is the curse of Morgoth). His choice must be for love; the love Finduilas has for Turin. This is the noble motive that can mean escape for Turin. Even though Turin does attempt to save Finduilas his course of action is rash and based on pride as his plan is no less than a direct confrontation with the dragon, Glaurung. The result is disastrous; Turin is mesmerized by the eye of the dragon, and Finduilas is led away to torment in Angband, right past a paralized Turin.

Poor Turin, if only he had done this, or done that. It is easy to blame him for all his choices(wrong ones in our eyes). Keep in mind that Morgoth's hate was in full force on all that he did. Morgoth was so successful in achieving Turin's ruin because he knew the weaknesses of man. Tolkien is trying to tell us that tragedy and Fall is a direct result of the exercise of free will in opposition and rebellion. Could you have done better than Turin if the eye of Morgoth was turned on you?