The Noldor were much diminished as a race in Middle-earth by the Second Age, many having returned to Valinor at the end of the War of Wrath.

There is little told about them as a race after the First Age, with really only ‘snapshots’ about particular members being shown in any detail. The members of the Noldor that we know about in the Second and Third Ages are:

% Noldor Name
100% Celebrimbor, Galadriel, Gildor Inglorion, Glorfindel, Maglor(?)
50% Gil-galad*, Celebrían
25% Elrond, Elros
Smaller % Arwen, Elladan, Elrohir, Eldarion (and beyond), Line Of Elros (going down to Aragorn)

* Though see below the section on the question of Gil-galad’s parentage.

The House of Fëanor

Celebrimbor

Celebrimbor was the son of Curufin and the last of the House of Fëanor. His name meant “Hand of Silver”. Little is known of his history.

When Celegorm and Curufin were exiled from Nargothrond by Orodreth, Celebrimbor repudiated the deeds of his father, and remained in Nargothrond.

In the Third Age, he dwelt in Eregion, and was the greatest in skill of the Gwaith-i-Mírdain, the People of the Jewel-smiths. His skill in craftsmanship was second only to that of Fëanor, and he made the signs that were wrought on the Doors of Moria, where he was described as Celebrimbor of Hollin. “Unfinished Tales” says that he also created the two Elessars, the second for Galadriel, whom he loved.

When Sauron tried to give the Eldar false counsel, it was in Eregion that his advice was most gladly received.

“In that land the Noldor desired ever to increase the skill and subtlety of their works. Moreover they were not at peace in their hearts, since they had refused to return into the West, and they desired both to stay in Middle-earth, which indeed they loved, and yet to enjoy the bliss of those that had departed. Therefore they hearkened to Sauron, and they learned of him many things, for his knowledge was great. In those days the smiths of Ost-in-Edhil surpassed all that they had contrived before; and they took thought, and they made Rings of Power.” (Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age)

Sauron’s aid was given to the elves for the forging of the Nine Rings and the Seven Rings, but Celebrimbor forged the Three Elven Rings on his own. When Sauron revealed his Ruling Ring, the Elves became aware of him, and knew him, and perceived that he wished to be master of them all. They took off their Rings, and Sauron was betrayed. He was filled with wrath and came against the Elves in open war. In that conflict, Eregion was laid waste, and Celebrimbor slain.

The House of Finarfin

The House of Finarfin gave rise to some of the greatest elves of the Second and Third Ages – Gil-galad and Galadriel to name but two.

Gil-galad

Surprisingly enough, not much is told about the life of Gil-galad. After the Dagor Bragollach, he was sent to live with Círdan, and he became High King of the Noldor in Exile after Fingon’s death.

After the breaking of Beleriand, he remained King and lived in Lindon with his people, those Eldar who were reluctant to leave Middle-earth where they had fought and laboured so long. With him remained Elrond and Elros.

When Sauron set out to ensnare the inhabitants of Middle-earth, it was only to Lindon that he dared not go, for Gil-galad and Elrond both doubted his intentions, though they did not know who he was exactly. They also sent messengers to the other elves warning them about Annatar, but the messages were seldom heeded. Sauron, in an echo of Morgoth causing trouble between Fingolfin and Fëanor, told the other elves that:

“A mighty King is Gil-galad, and wise in all lore is Master Elrond, and yet they will not aid me in my labours. Can it be that they do not desire to see other lands become as blissful as their own? But wherefore should Middle-earth remain for ever desolate and dark, whereas the Elves could make it as fair as Eressëa, nay even as Valinor?” (Silmarillion, Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age)

The power of Gil-galad remained strong in Lindon while the rest of Middle-earth fell under the wiles of Sauron. And, when Sauron returned from Númenor, he even found that Gil-galad’s power had increased, spreading over wide regions of the north and west, beyond the Misty Mountains and the Great River, even to the borders of Greenwood the Great.

When the Faithful sailed out of Númenor, Elendil was cast up in Lindon, and befriended by Gil-galad. Towards the end of the Second Age, they made a league called the Last Alliance – Men and Elves united to stop Sauron before he became too strong.

In the ensuing battle, all the Elves followed Gil-galad, and the host of the Last Alliance had the victory, with none of the enemies being able to stand against Aeglos, Gil-galad’s spear. Then Gil-galad and Elendil passed into Mordor, and laid siege to the stronghold of Sauron for seven years. After that, Sauron himself came forth onto the slopes of Orodruin, and wrestled with Gil-galad and Elendil. Both were slain.

(For a fuller account of the War of the Last Alliance, see the Elrond’s Library article here.)

The Fall of Gil-galad was remembered in a song sung to the Fellowship by Samwise Gamgee:

Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea.

His sword was long, his lance was keen,
his shining helm afar was seen;
the countless stars of heaven’s field
were mirrored in his silver shield.

But long ago he rode away,
and where he dwelleth none can say;
for into darkness fell his star
in Mordor where the shadows are. (Fellowship of the Ring)

The parentage of Gil-galad

The parentage of Gil-galad is fairly enigmatic. The Silmarillion says that his father was Fingon son of Fingolfin, but Christopher Tolkien readily explains (in the Shibboleth of Fëanor, Peoples of Middle-earth) that this was an error due to the incredible complexity of the source material:

“Gil-galad as the son of Fingon… was an ephemeral idea.” (Shibboleth of Fëanor, Peoples of Middle-earth)

Tolkien changed his mind about Gil-galad’s ancestry several times, originally supposing that he was the son of Finrod Felagund. This idea remained foremost through the time of the writing of The Lord of the Rings, as can be seen in an addition to the Quenta Silmarillion where it was told that Finrod send away his wife and son Gil-galad from Nargothrond to the Havens. However, when it was decided that Finrod had no wife, instead leaving his love Amárië in Aman (Grey Annals of 1951), Gil-galad’s parentage needed to be changed.

Enter Orodreth. Orodreth’s earliest incarnation was as the son of Finrod (named Artanáro Rhodothir). He was the second King of Nargothrond and the father of Finduilas. But when Amárië was created, Orodreth moved from being Finrod’s son to being the son of Finrod’s brother, Angrod. The name of Angrod’s son was then changed from Artanáro to Artaresto.

Tolkien’s last writing on the subject came from 1965, when he suggested that the best solution to Gil-galad’s parentage would be to have him as the son of Orodreth:

“Angrod’s son was Artaresto, who was beloved by Finrod and escaped when Angrod was slain, and dwelt with Finrod. Finrod made him his ‘steward’ and he succeeded him in Nargothrond. His Sindarin name was Rodreth (altered to Orodreth because of his love of the mountains .. ….. His children were Finduilas and Artanáro = Rodnor later called Gil-galad. (Their mother was a Sindarin lady of the North. She called her son Gil-galad.) Rodnor Gil-galad escaped and eventually came to Sirion’s Mouth and was King of the Noldor there.”

The final genealogy thus had Orodreth as the son of Angrod, and Gil-galad and Finduilas as the children of Orodreth. Gil-galad was thus the nephew of Finrod. About this decision, Christopher Tolkien said:

“There can be no doubt that this was my father’s last word on the subject; but nothing of this late and radically altered conception ever touched the existing narratives, and it was obviously impossible to introduce it into the published Silmarillion. It would nonetheless have been very much better to have left Gil-galad’s parentage obscure.”

Galadriel

For the history of Galadriel, please see our Middle-earth articles ‘Galadriel: Past, Present and Future’ and ‘Galadriel, Lady of Light’.

Gildor Inglorion

Gildor was a Noldorin elf of the House of Finrod mentioned only in “The Lord of the Rings”. Gildor and his company came across Frodo, Sam and Pippin in the Water-valley on their way out of the Shire.

House of Fingolfin

The House of Fingolfin gave rise to Elrond and Elros, and through the marriage of Elrond to Celebrían of the House of Finarfin, Arwen, Elladan and Elrohir. Thus the noblest of the Houses of the Noldor continued down into the Fourth Age and beyond through the line of Aragorn and Eldarion.

Middle-earth articles on Elrond, Elros and Aragorn are under
preparation.

The Noldor towards the end of the Third Age

By the ending of the Third Age, the Noldor lands had become countries of legend, even to other elves. As Haldir said to the Fellowship:

“It is said that there are still havens of the High Elves, but they are far north and west, beyond the land of the Halflings. But where that may be, though the Lord and Lady may know, I do not.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, Lothlórien)

At the end of the Third Age, the Ringbearers returned to Valinor, along with many of the Noldor who wished to stay no longer in Middle-earth. Thus did Galadriel and Elrond passed into the West.

Fourth Age

There remained a very reduced Noldorin presence in Middle-earth into the Fourth Age, not least through Elladan and Elrohir:

“though Elrond had departed, his sons long remained [in Middle-earth], together with some of the High-elven folk.” (The Lord of the Rings, Prologue)