Finarfin of the Noldor
Finwë had three sons, of whom Finarfin was the youngest. He was the second child of Finwë and Indis, and thus he was Fingolfin’s full brother, and Fëanor’s half-brother. He was half-Noldor, half-Vanyar, and looked more Vanyar than Noldor. He had their golden hair, their gentle and noble temper, and their love of the Valar. As much as possible, he kept aloof from the struggles of his brothers, and he often sought peace among the Teleri, eventually marrying Eärwen, the daughter of the Telerin king Olwë.
Their sons were Finrod (Felagund), Orodreth, Angrod and Aegnor, and their daughter was Galadriel.
Finrod was like his father in his golden hair, and also in his noble and generous heart, though he had also the courage of the Noldor, and, in his early days, their eagerness and unrest. From Eärwen, he had his love of the sea and dreams of far lands he had never seen. He was the wisest of the exiled Noldor (Morgoth’s Ring, Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth), more concerned than all others with matters of thought.
Galadriel was beautiful even among the Eldar. Her hair was golden, yet somehow still including a memory of her mother’s star-like silver tresses, and the Eldar said that the light of the Two Trees had been caught within her locks. She was tall, strong of body, mind and will, proud and self-willed. Like Finrod, she had dreams of far lands and dominions that might be hers to order as she would, but underneath, she had the noble spirit of the Vanyar, and a reverence for the Valar.
Aegnor was also named Aikanár, the Sharp-flame. He was a warrior, swift and eager and loved a mortal – Andreth (Morgoth’s Ring, Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth).
The flight of the Noldor
Little is known about Finarfin until his part in the flight of the Noldor.
After Fëanor and his sons swore their Oath, and incited the Noldor into fervour, Finarfin and Orodreth tried to act as peacekeepers, calming the situation down and asking the elves to consider their actions before being hasty and rash. Of his children, Galadriel, Aegnor, and Angrod stood with Fëanor, eager to be gone to Middle-earth.
However, Finarfin did eventually agree to follow Fëanor, though his host lagged somewhat behind the other Noldor. Finarfin’s incentives for starting the journey seem fairly unclear, especially as he was loath to depart the Blessed Realm. One must wonder what would have happened to the Noldor – and to Middle-earth – if Fingolfin and Finarfin had stayed strong, refusing to leave Valinor and refusing to acknowledge Fëanor’s leadership.
“the House of Fëanor hastened before them along the coasts of Elendë: not once did they turn their eyes back to Tirion on the green hill of Túna. Slower and less eagerly came the host of Fingolfin after them. Of those Fingon was the foremost; but at the rear went Finarfin and Finrod, and many of the noblest and wisest of the Noldor; and often they looked behind them to see their fair city, until the lamp of the Mindon Eldaliéve was lost in the night.” (Silmarillion, Of the Flight of the Noldor)
Finarfin and his people did not take any part in the Kin-slaying, not least because Finarfin’s wife was Olwë’s daughter.
The Doom of the Noldor
After the evils of the Kin-slaying, the Doom of the Noldor was pronounced on the rebels by Mandos, denying them access to the Blessed Realm, and hinting at the terrible sorrows that would befall them in Middle-earth.
“Tears unnumbered ye shall shed; and the Valar will fence Valinor against you, and shut you out, so that not even the echo of your lamentation shall pass over the mountains. On the House of Fëanor the wrath of the Valar lieth from the West unto the uttermost East, and upon all that will follow them it shall be laid also. Their Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever.
“Ye have spilled the blood of your kindred unrighteously and have stained the land of Aman. For blood ye shall render blood, and beyond Aman ye shall swell in Death’s shadow. For though Eru appointed to you to die not in Eä, and no sickness may assail you, yet slain ye shall be: by weapon and by torment and by grief; and your houseless spirits shall come then to Mandos. There long shall ye abide and yearn for your bodies, and find little pity though all whom ye have slain should entreat for you. And those that endure in Middle-earth and come now to Mandos shall grow weary of the world as with a great burden, and shall wane, and become as shadows of regret before the younger race that cometh after. The Valar have spoken.” (Silmarillion, Of the Flight of the Noldor)
At the pronouncement of the Doom, Finarfin and most of his people turned back and returned to Valinor. There the Valar forgave them, and Finarfin became the ruler of the Noldor of the Blessed Realm. However, Finarfin’s sons continued onwards with Fëanor.
So what did that say about Finarfin? There are two very different views on this. One is that he was the only truly upright and moral of the Noldorin princes, choosing to return to possible disgrace rather than take part in the Kin-slaying. It must have taken great courage and strength to admit that he was wrong. He led his people home rather than letting his pride and ego lead his people into terrible hardship. In this view, Finarfin represented the possibility of the Children of Ilúvatar repenting of their sins and coming back to a pure state of Arda before its Fall.
The other view is that he was a coward – returning to an easy life when he heard the Doom of the Noldor rather than staying with the Noldor to whatever end. It may have been a wise decision for him and his people to return to Valinor, but what did they actually accomplish there? What deeds of theirs are told in stories? None. Fëanor and Fingolfin, on the other hand, led their people on a crusade that became legendary. They knew full well of the power of their enemy and the danger that they faced and yet it did not stop either from setting out. Finarfin was known for his wisdom, and his ability to stay calm and impassionate. In Middle-earth, he could have done much to heal the rifts that opened among the elven races, and the people that he led back to Aman could have made the Noldor strong enough to consider a direct assault on Angband. Instead, Finarfin abandoned the people who needed him most and returned to safe life of luxury. A quote from Edmund Burke sums up this argument: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Back in Valinor
Only two more mentions are made of Finarfin.
1) After his son Finrod died:
“But Finrod walks with Finarfin his father beneath the trees in Eldamar” (The Silmarillion, Of Beren and Lúthien)
2) During the War of Wrath, where he led the forces of the Noldor who had never departed from Valinor.
References: The Silmarillion, Morgoth’s Ring