“And their own true name in High-elven is Noldor, Those that Know; for of the Three Kindreds of the Elves in the beginning, ever the Noldor were distinguished both by their knowledge of things that are and were in this world, and by the desire to know yet more.

They belonged to a race high and beautiful, the Elder Children of the World, who now are gone. Tall they were, fairskinned and grey-eyed, though their locks were dark, and their voices knew more melodies than any mortal speech that now is heard. Valiant they were and their history was lamentable.” (Peoples of Middle-earth, The Appendix on Languages)

From Middle-earth to Valinor

Finwë was the original leader of the Noldor, and one of the Elves born at Cuivíenen. He was one of the three elves taken to Valinor as ambassadors for the Eldar, and he came back counselling his people that they should move from Middle-earth to Valinor. They agreed, and formed the second of the hosts to leave Middle-earth for Eldamar (the first being the Vanyar, and the third being the Teleri).

“Next came the Noldor, a name of wisdom, the people of Finwë. They are the Deep Elves, the friends of Aulë; and they are renowned in song, for they fought and laboured long and grievously in the northern lands of old.” (“The Silmarillion”, Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor)

The Vanyar and the Noldor were led to the lands of the Sirion by Oromë, and there Ulmo uprooted an island from the middle of the sea, and anchored it in the Bay of Balar. The elves set sail upon that isle, and were taken over the Sea to the lands of Aman. When many years had passed, the Noldor beseeched Ulmo to bring the Teleri from Middle-earth to Aman, if they would come.

In the Blessed Realm, the Noldor and Vanyar lived in Tirion in friendship for many years, and Yavanna made a tree for them in the image of Telperion. This was known as Galathilion, the White Tree of Tirion.

The Noldor were beloved of Aulë, and the Vala and his people came among them often. Their skill became great, but greater still was their thirst for even more knowledge, and in many things they soon surpassed even their teachers. They had a great love of words, and forever sought to find fitting names for all things they knew or imagined. They delighted in the building of high towers, and one day while quarrying, they discovered earth-gems. They excavated the gems in countless myriads, and devised tools for their cutting, shaping and carving. They gave them to others freely, and so initially their labour enriched all of Valinor. When the Teleri arrived, the Noldor gave them opals, diamonds and pale crystals which they strewed upon the shores and scattered in pools.

Eventually, the Vanyar decided to move to Valinor, to be nearer the Valar, but the Noldor remained in Tirion, living in the Calacirya and in the hills and valleys within sound of the western sea. However, many of the Noldor did travel extensively, making far journeys in search of the secrets of land and water and all living things.

Finwë and Míriel

Even though he founded one of the most important Elvish dynasties, the amount of information we have on Finwë himself is sparse. He was “dark-haired and white-browed”, with an eager face and thoughtful eyes. His voice was pleasant and he had a great mastery of words.

Míriel, Finwë’s first wife, was slender and graceful, and of gentle disposition, though she could show an obstinacy that counsel or order would only make more unyielding. She had a beautiful voice, speaking swiftly but with delicate and clear enunciation. Her chief skill, however, was a marvellous dexterity which she used in embroidery, producing pieces of work that were finer and more intricate than any seen before. She was therefore named Þerindë, or needlewoman.

Fëanor’s birth consumed Míriel in both body and spirit, and she began to long for release from the labour of living. She forsook her body and her fëa went to the Halls of Waiting while her body slept in the gardens of Lórien. Finwë took up long vigils by her body until Míriel eventually she informed them that she was never coming back. Then Finwë deserted her body, and wandered far and wide in loneliness and grief, and found no joy in anything he did – until he met Indis of the Vanyar.

This caused a bit of a problem for the Valar, who had not foreseen that an elf might wish to die, and therefore that they also might wish to remarry. They were forced to choose between two courses – to condemn Finwë to bereavement of a wife for ever, or allowing one of the Eldar to take a second wife. They made for this a great Debate, and at its end, they decided that Finwë’s bereavement was unjust, and by persisting in her refusal to return, Míriel had forfeited any rights that she had, and had lost the capability to become again a living member of the Eldar.

Fëanor was unimpressed both by Finwë’s wish to re-marry, as well as the Debate that ensued.

“During the time of his Finwë had little comfort from Fëanor. For a while he also had kept vigil by his mother’s body, but soon he became wholly absorbed again in his own works and devices. When the matter of Finwë and Indis arose he was disturbed, and filled with anger and resentment; though it is not recorded that he attended the Debate or paid heed to the reasons given for the judgement, or to its terms except in one point: that Míriel was condemned to remain for ever discarnate, so that he could never again visit her or speak with her, unless he himself should die. This grieved him, and he grudged the happiness of Finwë and Indis, and was unfriendly to their children, even before they were born.” (Peoples of Middle-earth)

The Children of Finwë

“Fëanor was the mightiest in skill of word and of hand, more learned than his brothers; his spirit burned as a flame. Fingolfin was the strongest, the most steadfast, and the most valiant. Finarfin was the fairest, and the most wise of heart.” (Silmarillion; Of Eldamar and the Princes of the Eldalië)

Finwë had three sons – Fëanor, the eldest, whose mother was Míriel, then Fingolfin and Finarfin, whose mother was Indis. All three were intensely different, and all had significant parts to play in the shaping of the First Age of Middle-earth.

Fëanor

For a full discussion of Fëanor, please see this Middle-earth article.

Much of the character of Fëanor can be summed up in two quotes, given below:

“Fëanor was the greatest of the Eldar in arts and lore, but also the proudest and most selfwilled.” (“The Lord of the Rings”, Appendix A)

“Fëanor loved his mother dearly, though except in obstinacy their characters were widely different. He was not gentle. He was proud and hot-tempered, and opposition to his will he met not with the quiet steadfastness of his mother but with fierce resentment. He was restless in mind and body, though like Míriel he could become wholly absorbed in works of the finest skills of hand; but he left many things unfinished.

Her death was a lasting grief to Fëanor, and both directly and by its further consequences a main cause of his later disastrous influence on the history of the Ñoldor.” (People of Middle-earth, The Shibboleth of Fëanor)

Curufinwë, better known as Fëanor, was the only pure-blooded Noldor of the children of Finwë, being born to Finwë’s first wife, Míriel. With the death of his mother, there arises a parallel between the childhood of Fëanor and Tolkien – who also lost his mother at an early age, and whom Tolkien considered to have died for her sons.

Finwë forever adored his firstborn son, even after Finwë’s second marriage. “of all whom he loved Fëanor had ever the chief share of his heart.”

Fëanor grew swiftly as if a secret fire had been kindled within him.

“He was tall, and fair of face, and masterful, his eyes piercingly bright and his hair raven-dark” (The Silmarillion, Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor)

He became the most subtle in mind of any of the Noldor, then or after, and the most skilled in hand. He invented the alphabet of Fëanor, and discovered how gems might be made that were greater and brighter than the gems from the earth. He created something similar to a telescope, and started making gems that would blaze blue and white under starlight.

It is also possible that he created the palantíri:

“The Noldor made them. Fëanor himself, maybe, wrought them, in days so long ago that the time cannot be measured in years.” (The Two Towers, The Palantír)

“Fëanor remained driven by the fire of his own heart only, working ever swiftly and alone; and he asked the aid and sought the counsel of none that dwelt in Aman, great or small, save only and for a little while of Nerdanel the wise, his wife.” (Silmarillion, Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor)

When Finwë remarried, disliked the idea and also didn’t like Indis. His aversion soon spread to his new half-brothers, Fingolfin and Finarfin, and Fëanor spent most of his time apart from them, gaining knowledge and learning crafts.

“many saw the effect of this breach within the house of Finwë, judging that if Finwë had endured his loss and been content with the fathering of his mighty son, the courses of Fëanor would have been otherwise, and great evil might have been prevented

But the children of Indis were great and glorious, and their children also; and if they had not lived the history of the Eldar would have also diminished.” (Silmarillion, Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor).

Fingolfin and Finarfin

Fingolfin and Finarfin were the children of Indis, and therefore were half-Noldor, half-Vanyar. They had their mother present throughout their childhood, and they also had the constant love of their father. What they did not have was the adoration of their father – that belonged solely to Fëanor.

Fingolfin looked like Finwë, tall, dark and proud, while Finarfin resembled more one of the Vanyar. 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 the daughter of the Telerin king Olwë.

Marriage and children

Fëanor – Fëanor married Nerdanel the Wise, daughter of the Smith Mahtan. Many of the Noldor wondered at the match, for Nerdanel was not among the fairest of her people. But she was strong, filled with the desire for knowledge, and had wandered extensively in her youth, beside the shores of the Sea and in the hills. Thus had she and Fëanor met, and became companions in many journeys. She was firm-willed, and more patient than Fëanor, desiring to understand minds rather than to master them. When in company, she would sit and listen, watching gestures and the movement of faces.

She bore him seven sons – Maedhros the tall, Maglor the mighty singer, Celegorm the fair, Caranthir the dark, Curufin the crafty, Amras, and Amrod. While Nerdanel managed to restrain Fëanor’s fire, the marriage was a happy one, but when his later deeds upset her, they separated.

Fëanor and his sons seldom stayed in one place for long, travelling far and wide around Valinor, going even to the borders of the Dark and the cold shores of the Outer Sea, seeking the unknown. They were often guests in the House of Aulë, but Celegorm went more often to the house of Oromë, where the Vala gave him Huan, the wolfhound.

“People of Middle-earth” records several versions of the names of the Sons of Fëanor, including their Quenya and Sindarin forms, and their mother-names. While these are interesting for themselves, they also give us a good amount of information about their characters and appearance.

Sindarin Quenya Quenya meaning Mother-name Mother name meaning
Maedhros Nelyafinwë “Third Finwë in succession” Maitimo “Well-shaped one”. Maedhros was of beautiful bodily form, with the rare russet-red hair of Nerdanel’s kin.
Maglor Kanafinwë “Strong-voiced Finwë” Makalaurë Uncertain meaning. Usually interpreted as “forging gold”
Celegorm Turkafinwë “Powerful Finwë” Tyelkormo “Hasty-riser”. Because of his quick temper and his habit of leaping up when suddenly angered.
Curufin Kurufinwë Fëanor’s own name Atarinkë “Little father”. Refers to his physical likeness to Fëanor.
Caranthir Morifinwë “Dark Finwë” Carnistir “Red face”. He was brown haired, but had the ruddy complexion of his mother.
Amrod Pityafinwë “Little Finwë” Ambarto Either “Fated” or “Exalted”
Amras Telufinwë “Last Finwë” Ambarussa “Top Russet”. Like Maedhros, he had the rare russet-red hair of Nerdanel’s kin.

Fingolfin – 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.

Finarfin – Finarfin married Eärwen of Alqualondë, daughter of 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 meddling of Melkor

“Fëanor, being come to his full might, was filled with a new thought, or it may be that some shadow of foreknowledge came to him of the doom that drew near; and he pondered how the light of the Trees, the glory of the Blessed Realm, might be preserved imperishable. Then he began a long and secret labour, and he summoned all his lore, and his power, and his subtle skill; and at the end of all he made the Silmarils.” (Silmarillion, Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor)

All who dwelt in Aman were filled with awe and delight at the sight of the Silmarils. Varda hallowed them so that nothing evil could touch them without being burnt and shrivelled, and Mandos foretold that the fates of Arda – earth, air and sea – lay with them. But Melkor lusted after them, and from then onwards his heart was constantly searching for ways to gain the Silmarils, destroy Fëanor and end the friendship between the Elves and the Valar.

Melkor then set about planting lies and hatred in the hearts of the Noldor, suggesting to them that the Valar wanted to keep them in Aman so that Middle-earth could be given over to Men – the Second Children of Ilúvatar. The hot-headed and proud Noldor began to murmur against the Valar, forgetting how much they owed those of the Ainur.

Melkor then set new rumours abroad – this time 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.

When his lies were rife through the kingdom of the Noldor, Melkor spoke to the elves about the need for weapons, and the Noldor began the smithying of swords, axes, spears and shields. Fëanor even made a secret forge, where he created eight fell swords for him and his seven sons. Finwë’s eldest son then began to speak openly against the Valar, saying that he wanted to leave the Blessed Realm, and that he would deliver any that would follow him from thraldom.

The split between Fëanor and Fingolfin

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.”

When Melkor saw this, he steeped up his campaign to interfere in Fëanor’s life:

“Thus with lies and evil whisperings and false counsel Melkor kindled the hearts of the Noldor to strife; and of their quarrels came at length the end of the high days of Valinor and the evening of its ancient glory. For Fëanor now began openly speak words of rebellion

Then there was great unrest in Tirion, and Finwë was troubled; and he summoned all his lords to council.” (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 what 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.

There are a few interesting points that come out of that paragraph.

– It is Fingolfin who first utters words to Finwë against Fëanor – though they could either be interpreted as trying to create peace, or trying to cause turmoil.
– Fingolfin still absolutely saw Finwë as in charge of the Noldor, and would acknowledge only his authority. He also had the presence of mind to ignore Fëanor’s scorn.
– Fëanor’s real issue with Fingolfin was to do with his father’s love. Sibling rivalry was at the base of the argument – as with much of the problems of the early Noldor – as Fëanor was determined that Fingolfin would not replace him in the affections of Finwë. The affections of the Noldor race came only second in his mind.
– Fëanor still did not consider Fingolfin as a true brother – saying “my father”, not “our father”.

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.

Finwë and Fëanor’s seven sons went into banishment at Formenos with him, Finwë simply because of the love he bore Fëanor:

“While the ban lasts upon Fëanor my son, that he may not go to Tirion, I hold myself unkinged, and I will not meet my people.” (Silmarillion, Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor).

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 is happy to defer to his older, more dazzlingly-bright brother.

The death of Finwë

While Fëanor was answering the summons of the Valar, Finwë died during an attack of Morgoth and his forces on Formenos. Fëanor cursed the summons of Manwë that had brought him to Valmar, thus leaving his father (as he thought) unguarded and abandoned to his fate. Yet again we see the influence of love in Fëanor’s life. Never did Fëanor again seem so “human”, so unguarded in his emotions:

“Then Fëanor ran from the Ring of Doom, and fled into the night; for his father was dearer to him than the Light of Valinor or the peerless works of his hands; and who among sons, of Elves or of Men, have held their fathers of greater worth?” (Silmarillion, Of the Darkening of Valinor)

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).

That the emotions of the Noldor were running high at that point is probably an understatement. An early abandoned poem on the Flight of the Noldoli shows this madness wonderfully well:

“Then a mighty murmuring was moved abroad
and the harkening host hailed them roaring:
‘Let us go! yea go from the Gods for ever
on Morgoth’s trail o’er the mountains of the world
to vengeance and victory! Your vows are ours!” (The Lays of Beleriand, Poems Early Abandoned)

Fëanor and his seven sons then swore the Oath of Fëanor (for the full oath, see the Middle-earth article on 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, while 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 Fëanor’s brothers and his brothers’ children, only Galadriel, Fingon, Aegnor, and Angrod 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. Finarfin’s reasons for going seem even more obscure, as he was also 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)

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. 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.”

Looking at the Oath in more detail:

“Tears unnumbered ye shall shed” – a foreshadowing of the Nirnaeth Arnoediad.

“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.” The wrath of the Valar is mainly upon the House of Fëanor, but is extended to those who follow his madness. When they left for Middle-earth, the Blessed Realm became closed to them – a situation that stayed in place for some time, and for Galadriel, even to the end of the Third Age.

“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.” This part of the Oath would seriously disturb me. Unless I was a half-mad Noldor who thought that the Valar were liars and not to be trusted. Which unfortunately Fëanor was – for which we can blame the trickery of Melkor.

“The Dispossessed shall they be for ever.” When Maedhros handed over the Kingship of the Noldor to Fingolfin, this part of the prophecy was fulfilled.

“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”
Many people interpret this as introducing some idea of mortality to the Elves, but that isn’t true. Míriel had already died (though through her own choice), and Finwë had been slain by Morgoth. Here Mandos is foretelling the fate of the Noldor in Middle-earth, that their days there will be full of pain and suffering, death and 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.
This I find one of the saddest parts of the Doom. That the Noldor should be doomed to wander the Halls of Mandos when out of all the Elves, they have the brightest spirits, and seemingly such a great joy in life and adventure. “Find little pity” – is this suggesting that the Noldor themselves would ever find pity for their ‘victims’, or that others in the Halls would feel no pity for their disgrace?

“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 fulfilment of this part of the prophecy is easy to see. Just think of the Third Age – Celebrían, Galadriel, Elrond – all products of the waning of the Elves, and all eventually leaving the world and returning to the Blessed Realm. This part also raises an interesting question. If the Fall of the Noldor had not occurred, would the fate of Elves in Arda be different? Might they not have faded through the ages?

Finarfin

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.”

The burning of the Ships, and Fingolfin’s journey across the Helcaraxë

When they reached the Helcaraxë, Fëanor took those who had deemed loyal, and sneaked out to sea with all the ships. When they had landed on Middle-earth, Maedhros asked how many ships Fëanor would send back to Aman to allow the other Noldor to cross. Then Fëanor laughed, and he and his sons (save Maedhros) 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.

The early Noldor: Heroes or Villians?

Tolkien always seemed to hover between condemning the Noldor and glorifying them. He denounced their mistrust of the Valar, their selfishness, and their destructiveness, while at the same time showing a grudging respect for their fire, their brilliance and their wilfulness.

The history of the Noldor seems to show that bad deeds can sometimes have good consequences. Yes, the Rebellion spoiled the bliss of Valinor and drew the blood of other Eldar, but when in Middle-earth, the Noldor helped save the Sindar from the wrath of Morgoth and his minions.

“If we consider the situation after the escape of Morgoth and the reëstablishment of his abode in Middle-earth, we shall see that the heroic Noldor were the best possible weapon with which to keep Morgoth at bay, virtually besieged, and at any rate fully occupied, on the northern fringe of Middle-earth, without provoking him to a frenzy of nihilistic destruction. And in the meanwhile, Men, or the best elements of Mankind, shaking off his shadow, came into contact with a people who had actually seen and experienced the Blessed Realm.” (Morgoth’s Ring, Myths Transformed)

More than anything, I would say that the Noldor were agents of change – not necessarily good, not necessarily bad. Sometimes they did things in a fairly orderly fashion, sometimes in a completely chaotic fashion. But as anyone who has studied biology or ecology will know, it’s usually change that stimulates growth, new thinking, new ideas. And even though great deeds of evil arose from their rebellion, I can’t help but think that overall, the Noldor were a force for good in the evolution of Middle-earth.