What separates a cursed hero from a monster? Reading “Of Túrin Turambar” and the poem Kalevala, we see two great men, Túrin and Kullevro, one born cursed, the other born into horrible circumstances, who seek to overcome the circumstances of their birth but are ultimately unsuccessful. Through their actions, though good in intent, they bring ruin to the people who love them, many who counseled them against these very actions, and at the end of their trials they commit suicide; their swords gladly claim their lives. What I want to know is whether or not they are monsters. Neither is overtly evil, but none of their actions lead to positive ends. I would argue that Kullvero is a primarily tragic figure, whereas Túrin treads the line between good and possible evil.
Kullvero, born into enemy hands, has attempts on his life starting at three months of age, after a tumultuous childhood growing up among those that he hates and who hate him, he is sold into slavery and abused. This is a tragic story, and given his background, his maturation into brash, stupid adult, makes sense. He cannot do any of the work his family sets him to, because he doesn’t listen. On his way back from collecting taxes, he tries to seduce a number of women who all rebuff him, before dragging a beggar girl into his boat, showing off his wealth and then sleeps with her. She turns out o be his sister, and she commits suicide in shame. He then reports this news back to his family, and decides to kill Untamo, the man who sold him into slavery and killed his people. His brother, sister and father council him not to go, and say they will not cry for him when he’s gone and they will have another brother or son, a much better one who is cleverer and handsomer. Only his mother says she will cry for him, and councils him not to go. He ignores everyone’s advice and goes to fight. He is ultimately successful, but when he returns to his family, he finds them all dead, and in despair he asks his sword would be willing to take his life. He swords says yes, gladly, and Kullevro kills himself. At the end of the tale, Väinämöinen, a god of sorts, councils against giving away or mistreating children, because they “won’t grasp things/ have a man’s understanding/ though he should live to be old/ or should grow strong in body.”
Kullevro, tragic and stupid, is not a monster, just a fool. His actions spring from his abusive childhood, and the desire for revenge for those who wronged him. Revenge, however poorly carried out, does not make one a monster. Kullevro did not know where his actions would lead, and in contrast to Túrin, he did not have a curse over his family which at the very least should have alerted him to the possibilities of all of his actions going astray. His refusal of advice is motivated by pride, not ignorance. At age eight he was sent to be raised by elves, and became the foster son of the King. He lacked for nothing, but he still sought revenge on his enemies. In this I do not fault him, but most of his actions are motivated by pride, which always leads to doom. When Beleg comes to tell him that he was pardoned by the King, “the pride in the hear of Túrin refused the pardon of the King, and the words of Beleg were of no avail to change his mood.” He is given the choice to return to his foster home, from which he could continue his quest, but his pride keeps him in the wild, where more trouble befalls him and the men who follow him. Later, after much strife, when he is in Nargothrond, he become angry with Gwindor telling him “you have done ill to me, friend, to betray my right name, and call my doom upon me, from which I would lie hid.” He knows of the curse on his family and would seek to hide it from others. It is this action, he desire to hide his curse, that causes me to question his status as a hero.
Túrin knows the burdens of his name, and tries to overcome them, but tragedy after tragedy befalls him. His pride and arrogance lead to the destruction of Nargothrond, the results of which eventually lead to the destruction of the people of Haleth as well. Pride and ignorance are not the same; and pride coupled with knowledge that one is cursed does not a hero make. All of Túrin’s accomplishments result in pain and loss; he saves someone’s life only to accidentally kill his friend in rage. The monster in this story, Galurung is evil yes, but he isn’t hiding anything of his nature to others. He is acting in better faith that Túrin does. Even taking into account Galurung’s thrall of Nienor, Túrin’s actions still cause the doom of a number of people, which could have been averted had he been less prideful and more aware of what his curse was capable of. This is not to say that he should have sat at home, waiting to die, but whenever he meets a new people, he is accepted into their council, they accept his advice over the protests of others, and they are lead to their downfall. This might be his ultimate curse; were he to do nothing, awful things still would have befallen his loved things, but by trying to overcome, he is still led into doom. He may not be evil, but there is no way he could be considered good. To lead oneself into doom is one thing, but bringing other’s with you is quite another. Kullevro is ignorant, but well meaning. Túrin is well meaning, but knowledgeable. The former is a tragic fool, the latter is also a fool, but a darker sort. Not a monster, but perhaps monstrous.