Fingolfin of the Noldor
Fingolfin in Valinor
Fingolfin was Finwë’s second eldest son, and his first with his second wife, Indis. He was therefore half-Noldor, half-Vanyar. Fingolfin looked like Finwë, tall, dark and proud.
The children of Fingolfin were Fingon, Turgon and Aredhel. His wife is not named in the Silmarillion, but in “People of Middle-earth”, she is called Anairë, a Noldo who refused to leave Aman, largely because of her friendship with Eärwen.
The meddling of Melkor
Melkor set rumours abroad among the Noldor, created to encourage turmoil among Finwë’s sons. Fëanor heard that Fingolfin and his sons were plotting to usurp the leadership of Finwë and the elder line of Fëanor, and to supplant them by the leave of the Valar. Fingolfin and Finarfin, on the other hand, heard that Fëanor was planning to exile them from Tirion.
The initial split between Fëanor and Fingolfin was, for once, not just caused by Fëanor:
“High princes were Fëanor and Fingolfin, the elder sons of Finwë, honoured by all in Aman; but now they grew proud and jealous each of his rights and his possessions.” (Silmarillion, Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor)
Fingolfin came to believe that Fëanor thought himself the leader of the Noldor, and he resented that fact, knowing that there was still only one King – Finwë. He then went to his father’s Hall, and pleaded with Finwë to restrain Fëanor and to stop his uprising. But while Fingolfin was talking to Finwë, Fëanor entered the hall, became enraged at what he thought was evidence of a conspiracy between Finwë and Fingolfin, drew his sword and told Fingolfin to leave the Hall.
“Fingolfin bowed before Finwë, and without word or glance to Fëanor he went from the chamber. But Fëanor followed him, and at the door of the king’s house he stayed him; and the point of his bright sword he set against Fingolfin’s breast. “See half-brother!” he said. “This is sharper than thy tongue. Try but once more to usurp my place and the love of my father, and maybe it will rid the Noldor of one who seeks to be the master of thralls.” (Silmarillion, Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor)
Fingolfin then left the King’s House, and went in search of Finarfin.
When the unrest of the Noldor came to the notice of the Valar, they judged Fëanor to be the main trouble-maker, even though they acknowledged that the entire race had become proud.
The exile of Fëanor
The Valar then exiled Fëanor from Tirion for 12 years. After that time, they said that the matter would be held redressed, if Fingolfin would forgive his brother’s drawing of swords against him. Fingolfin immediately said that he would pardon his brother, but Fëanor was silent, and he stalked away from Máhanaxar and left Valmar.
Fingolfin was left to rule Tirion.
When the twelve years were up, Fëanor was summoned down to Valmar from Formenos. The brothers were reconciled, at least superficially, with Fingolfin officially forgiving Fëanor the raising of his sword against kin. Tolkien’s choice of words there is interesting – an obvious premonition of the three kinslayings to come.
“Then Fëanor took his hand in silence; but Fingolfin said: “Half-brother in blood, full brother in heart will I be. Thou shalt lead and I will follow. May no new grief divide us.”
“I hear thee,” said Fëanor. “So be it.” But they did not know the meaning that their words would bear.” (Silmarillion, Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor)
Here again Fingolfin showed his willingness to be subservient to Fëanor. While he was the second son, and therefore nominally underneath Fëanor in terms of rank, Fingolfin had been de facto King of the Noldor for 12 years. I would imagine that both the Noldor and the Valar considered him the equal of the fiery Fëanor who abandoned his people and took their King with him. But still he was happy to defer to his older, more dazzlingly-bright brother.
The flight of the Noldor
After Finwë’s death, Fëanor delivered an impassioned speech to the already fairly fired-up Noldor.
“Fierce and fell were his words, and filled with anger and pride; and hearing them the Noldor were stirred to madness.
he was distraught with grief for the slaying of his father, and with anguish for the rape of the Silmarils. He claimed now the kingship of all the Noldor, since Finwë was dead” (Silmarillion, Of the Flight of the Noldor).
Fëanor and his seven sons then swore the Oath of Fëanor, vowing to regain the Silmarils and to pursue with vengeance and hatred any creature who hid the jewels from their rightful owners.
Fingolfin, Turgon and Finrod spoke angrily to the Noldor against Fëanor’s plans. Of Fingolfin’s children, only Fingon stood with Fëanor, eager to be gone to Middle-earth.
The host that did set forth soon became divided into two.
“indeed when Fëanor began the marshalling of the Noldor for their setting-out, then at once dissension arose. For though he had brought the assembly in a mind to depart, by no means all were of a mind to take Fëanor as King. Greater love was given to Fingolfin and his sons, and his household and the most part of the dwellers in Tirion refused to renounce him, if he would go with them; and thus at last as two divided hosts the Noldor set forth upon their bitter road.” (Silmarillion, Of the Flight of the Noldor)
While Fëanor’s reasons for travelling to Middle-earth are obvious, Fingolfin and Finarfin’s incentives for starting the journey seem less clear. While Fingolfin considered himself bound to Fëanor through his promise to follow wherever Fëanor led, it seems more likely that his main reasons for going were because Fingon urged him to go; because he would not be parted from his people; and because he would not leave his people to the rash counsels of Fëanor. 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)
Fëanor’s people were the first to reach Alqualondë, and when the Teleri tried to stop the Noldor from taking their ships, in their madness the Noldor started to slay the Teleri. Thrice were the Noldor driven back, but eventually they were aided in their battle by Fingon and the foremost of the host of Fingolfin. These last rushed into battle before they knew the cause of the fighting, and indeed some thought that the Noldor had been attacked by the Teleri on orders of the Valar.
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)
The burning of the Ships, and Fingolfin’s journey across the Helcaraxë
When they reached the Helcaraxë, Fëanor took those who he deemed loyal, and sneaked out to sea with all the ships. In Middle-earth, he burned the ships on the shore, leaving the rest of the Noldor stranded in Aman.
“And Fingolfin and his people saw the light afar off, red beneath the clouds; and they knew that they were betrayed. This was the firstfruits of the Kinslaying and the Doom of the Noldor.” (Silmarillion, Of the Flight of the Noldor)
Fingolfin and his people were left to cross to Middle-earth across the Helcaraxë – the Grinding Ice. Fingolfin himself became filled with bitterness towards Fëanor, and grew more and more determined to cross the Sea to meet him again.
“led by Fingolfin and his sons, and by Finrod and Galadriel, they dared to pass into the bitterest North; and finding no other way they endured at last the terror of the Helcaraxë and the cruel hills of ice.” (Silmarillion, Of the Flight of the Noldor)
The journey that Fingolfin’s people undertook must have been horrific. Many people died, including Elenwë, Turgon’s wife. The strength of mind that Fingolfin must have had to keep driving his people on and on must have been formidable. As most have been the love for him borne by his people.
Fingolfin’s entrance to Middle-earth
Fingolfin’s host eventually arrived in Middle-earth, over 20 years behind Fëanor, just as the Sun was arising for the first time.
Tolkien’s description of this second Noldor host in Middle-earth clearly shows his intention for Fingolfin’s people to be the opposite of Fëanor’s people – the light to Fëanor’s dark, the calmness to his chaos.
“Fingolfin unfurled his blue and silver banners, and blew his horns, and flowers sprang beneath his marching feet, and the ages of the stars were ended. At the uprising of the great light the servants of Morgoth fled into Angband, and Fingolfin passed unopposed through the fastness of Dor Daedeloth while his foes hid beneath the earth.” (Silmarillion, Of the Return of the Noldor)
Fingolfin’s people also camped out by Lake Mithrim, on the other side of the lake from Fëanor’s clan. By then, many of the first host of the Noldor had repented of the ship-burning at Losgar, and would have welcomed the new arrivals, but dared not, for shame.
However, the rift between the Houses soon started to be healed when Fingon, son of Fingolfin, rescued Maedhros, son of Fëanor, from his prison on Thangorodrim. Maedhros later begged forgiveness from Fingolfin for Fëanor’s desertion in Araman, and he ceded the kingship of the Noldor to Fingolfin.
The Mereth Aderthad
Twenty years into his reign, Fingolfin held a great feast in the spring near to the pools of Ivrin. It was known as the Mereth Aderthad, the Feast of Reuniting, and provided a golden memory in the days of shadow that were to come.
Many came from all over Beleriand, including:
– Maedhros and Maglor with warriors from the March
– Many of the chieftains and people of Fingolfin and Finrod
– Great numbers of grey-elves from Beleriand
– Círdan and his Falathrim
– Green-elves from Ossiriand
– Mablung and Daeron, messengers from Doriath
At the feast, many oaths of friendship and alliance were sworn, and the hearts of the Noldor were full of hope, as Middle-earth then seemed to have all that Fëanor had promised – freedom, peace, joy and fair places to dwell.
The Dagor Aglareb and the Siege of Angband
When Morgoth thought that the Noldor had settled down, and were no longer wary of attack, he launched a sudden offensive on Beleriand. Orcs poured out of Angband, down through the Pass of Sirion in the west and through the land of Maglor in the East.
Fingolfin and Maedhros met the main orc host in Dorthonion, and defeated Morgoth’s servants, pursuing them back to Angband’s gates. This battle formed the Dagor Aglareb, the Glorious Battle – one of the only battles of Beleriand which ended in victory for the elves.
After the end of the battle, the elves remained wary, and kept their defences tight. They strengthened their watch on Angband, setting in place the Siege of Angband, which lasted for over 400 years. During that time, none of Morgoth’s servants dared leave Angband openly, but spies did manage to get into Beleriand through devious routes from the northern lands. Morgoth spent the time he was trapped in his fortress devising new evils that he would, in time, unleash on his enemies.
However, during the Siege, Morgoth did make several smaller sorties. One hundred years after the Dagor Aglareb, he sent an army to try and catch Fingolfin unawares, sneaking up to Hithlum from the Firth of Drengist. But the army was seen, and Fingon battled them at the head of the Firth, where the orcs were driven into the sea and defeated.
After the Dagor Aglareb, Fingolfin and Fingon still held Hithlum. Most of Fingolfin’s people dwelt in Mithrim, along the shores of the lake there, while Fingon controlled Dor-lómin. Their chief fortress was at Eithel Sirion, from where they kept watch upon Ard-galen.
The Dagor Bragollach
After many years of comparative peace, during which the Elves became numerous and strong, Fingolfin pondered once more about an attack on Angband. But most of the Noldor were content to leave the impasse as it was, and not to risk the wrath of Morgoth. Of the lords of the Noldor, only Angrod and Aegnor sided with their King in favour of action.
However, while they were deciding what to do, Morgoth gathered his forces and sent rivers of flame and fire down from Thangorodrim, and poisonous gases rose from the Mountains of Iron. Ard-galen was utterly despoiled, and became a deserted waste, then being known as Anfauglith, the Gasping Dust. Many of the Noldor died in that burning, and it marked the start of the Fourth Battle of Beleriand, the Dagor Bragollach.
Glaurung the golden was at the front of Morgoth’s host, leading Balrogs and innumerable Orcs. They broke the Siege of Angband and assaulted the Noldor, as well as any allies who were with them (including grey-elves and Men). This sudden onslaught scattered the forces of Fingolfin, the grey-elves fleeing south – many to Doriath, but some to Nargothrond or Ossiriand.
The Dagor Bragollach proved absolutely devastating to the Noldor, and ended only when the forces of Morgoth retreated somewhat, having broken the back of the Elven defences – and their confidence. Fingolfin and Fingon’s hosts took great losses, and were driven back to the fortresses of the Ered Wethrin. Hithlum itself remained unconquered, but Fingolfin was parted from the other Noldor by the enemy.
The Fall of Fingolfin
By the end of the battle, it seemed to Fingolfin that all around him the Noldor were spiralling towards a bitter defeat that would signify the end of all their Houses. In despair he mounted upon Rochallor and rode forth alone to Angband.
“He passed over Dor-nu-Fauglith like a wind amid the dust, and all that beheld his onset fled in amaze, thinking that Oromë himself was come: for a great madness of rage was upon him, so that his eyes shone like the eyes of the Valar.” (Silmarillion, Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin)
Praise indeed – for the Vala Oromë was a particular foe of Morgoth:
“there Oromë would train his folk and his beasts for the pursuit of the evil creatures of Melkor.” (Silmarillion, Valaquenta)
“Then the sleeping earth trembled at the beat of his golden hooves, and in the twilight of the world Oromë would sound the Valaróma his great horn upon the plains of Arda; whereat the mountains echoed, and the shadows of evil fled away, and Melkor himself quailed in Utumno, foreboding the wrath to come.” (Silmarillion, Of the Beginning of Days)
Tolkien only ever referred to one other person as being like Oromë – and that was Théoden as he rode to his death at the Pelennor Fields. Fingolfin’s desperate charge has the same feeling as Théoden and the Rohirrim’s ‘death and glory’ charge – both were described as fey, both were sure that they went to their deaths, and both were a willing sacrifice for their people.
What distinguishes Fingolfin from Théoden is that Fingolfin didn’t need to ride to fight Morgoth. In Théoden’s case he had to be at the head of the army, giving the Rohirrim behind him courage and strength. Fingolfin’s charge was more of a suicidal impulse, which was pretty much guaranteed to leave his people kingless, and deeply wounded by his death. He left his people to face Morgoth without him.
But in his final deed, Fingolfin showed some of the Noldorin spark of life that was so prevalent in his half-brother, and he rode to Angband, sounded his horn, and challenged Morgoth to come forth to single combat.
“[Morgoth] issued forth clad in black armour; and he stood before the King like a tower, iron-crowned, and his vast shield, sable unblazoned, cast a shadow over him like a stormcloud. But Fingolfin gleamed beneath it like a star; for his mail was overlaid with silver, and his blue shield was set with crystals; and he drew his sword Ringil, that glittered like ice.” (Silmarillion, Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin)
Morgoth came forth, attacking Fingolfin with Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld. Fingolfin managed to injure the Vala seven times before he was borne down by Morgoth’s shield. Three times was he brought to his knees, and three times he rose up to fight again, but eventually he fell backwards at the feet of Morgoth, and Morgoth ended his life. With his last desperate stroke, Fingolfin hewed the foot of the Dark Lord with Ringil, and black blood gushed forth.
“Thus died Fingolfin, High King of the Noldor, most proud and valiant of the Elven-kings of old.” (Silmarillion, Of the Ruin of Beleriand and the Fall of Fingolfin)
Fingolfin died a hero’s death, the only one of the Children of Ilúvatar to injure a Vala. After he died, Thorondor came swooping down to rescue his body from the wolves of Morgoth, and his body was laid on a mountain top that looked north upon Gondolin. Turgon later built a cairn over his father.
In his challenge and death, Fingolfin echoed the actions of Fëanor many years before. But their motives could not be more different. Fingolfin’s charge showed the essence of doom-laden courage – going forth to fight evil even without hope of victory. Fëanor’s charge, on the other hand, was full of pride, anger and self-interest. Fingolfin’s death seemed courageous – in the best traditions of chivalry – and wholehearted. Fëanor’s seemed a waste, a life thrown away through madness and arrogance.
References: The Silmarillion, The Lord of the Rings