Preface: In the first part of my series of short essays on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, I began with a critique of the least sympathetic of the "good guys" among the Eldar - the sons of Fëanor. These seven princes of the Noldor, children of the eldest prince and later High King, led their people into Exile under his flag. Cursed by fate and driven by destiny, they nonetheless forged a realm in Middle-earth that outlasted themselves and their war against the forces of darkness. In this second part, I would like to look at their uncle, the secondborn of the Noldor, and his children.
Fingolfin was the second son of Finwë, High King of the Noldor in Aman, who had remarried Indis of the Vanyar after the death of his first wife, Míriel. Accounts of him in The Silmarillion portray him as unwavering in valor, perseverant, and visionary. He had a troubled relationship with his tempestuous older half-brother, Fëanor, who exhibited violent jealousy at his close relationship with their father. An incident related in the tales of Aman before Morgoth's theft of the Silmarils involves one of the few acts of violence between Eldar in the Blessed Realm, and actually laid the foundations of the Noldorin Exile. Once, after Fingolfin called upon their father to restrain the rashness of Fëanor, he was confronted by his brother at sword-point and threatened with death if he dared to "usurp" their father's love. It is not recorded that Fingolfin quailed from this threat, but when Fëanor was consequently brought before the Valar for judgment, he tried to pardon his brother. Thus, one of the first biographical accounts of Fingolfin shows him to be a strong character, able to stand up for himself, but capable of compassion.
Though the cause of their strife are not spelled out precisely, it is implied that Morgoth fomented envy on the part of Fëanor against his stepmother and her children, which we may speculate was met with some defensiveness. Nevertheless, Fingolfin is said to have always shown himself willing to mend differences with his headstrong firstborn brother. Conciliation is a somewhat rare quality among middle children, while Fingolfin's fiercely independent character is more typical. We can see from this, and from Finwë's regrets in the Halls of Mandos about remarrying, that Fingolfin was very likely cherished by Indis and her Vanyarin kin as a first-born.
The Valar exiled Fëanor from Tirion upon Tuna for twelve years due to his threat, during which time Finwë abdicated and returned to Formenos. It was during this time that Morgoth, released from Mandos, was able to destroy the Two Trees, then attack Formenos and steal the Silmarils, murdering Finwë. This loss had a profound and devastating effect on Fëanor's later relationship with his brothers, for whom he felt little accountability as a leader, but who followed him out of a deep sense of regret for his loss. In the greater scheme, though, it was the loss of all Eldar and indeed all dwellers in Aman, whom Fëanor had unwittingly made vulnerable by committing the offense that got him exiled.
I will now discuss some of Fingolfin's qualities that made him an effective High King - more deserving of the mantle of leadership than his nephews - and that served as a model for human leadership in after centuries.
Perseverance, flexibility, and proactiveness
Fingolfin's unconditional loyalty throughout the prelude to the War of the Jewels shows his steadfastness and sense of duty. We can see this sense reflected in his three children with Anairë that are attested by The Silmarillion: Fingon, Turgon, and Aredhel. (Later writings mention a youngest brother, Argon, who died in an ambush at the first rising of the Moon during the Battle-under-Stars, but nothing is written of his character.) I will discuss Turgon and Aredhel in the Gondolin essay (sixth of seven), but Fingon deserves mention here.
Three strengths of Fingolfin's character stand out above others:
Perseverance. In Valinor, and later during the crossing of Helcaraxë, he showed a dogged determination that seemed quite superhuman. He braved not only death threats and environmental extremes, but extreme tests of character such as the Kinslaying. While some followed Fëanor further into exile out of shame and despair, it is apparent from Fingon's friendship with Maedhros that Fingolfin and his children did so out of friendship and personal responsibility.
Flexibility. Fingon's rescue of his cousin Maedhros, originally a mission to recover him from the balrogs who had taken him alive, became momentarily an attempt at mercy-killing when he found Maedhros chained on the side of a cliff, and it seemed impossible to save him. In the end, however, Thorondor was able to get Fingon up to where Maedhros was fastened so that he could be cut loose. Ultimately it took severing his hand at the wrist. In battle, Fingolfin and Fingon were shown as valiant against overwhelming odds, adaptive, and highly resilient.
Proactiveness. "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Seldom even in fantasy fiction has the truth of this sentiment been demonstrated more vividly than in the story of how the Third Battle transpired:
Now Morgoth, believing the report of his spies that the lords of the Noldor were wandering abroad with little thought of war, made trial of the strength and watchfulness of his enemies. Once more, with little warning, his might was stirred, and suddenly there were earthquakes in the north, and fire came from fissures in the earth, and the Iron Mountains vomited flame; and Orcs poured forth across the plain of Ard-galen. Thence they thrust down the Pass of Sirion in the west, and in the east they burst through the land of Maglor, in the gap between the hills of Maedhros and the outliers of the Blue Mountains. But Fingolfin and Maedhros were not sleeping, and while others sought out the scattered bands of Orcs that strayed in Beleriand did great evil they came upon the main host from either side as it was assaulting Dorthonion; and they defeated the servants of Morgoth, and pursuing them across Ard-galen destroyed them utterly, to the least and last, within sight of Angband's gates. That was the third great battle of the Wars of Beleriand, and it was named Dagor Aglareb, the Glorious Battle.
A victory it was, and yet a warning; and the princes took heed of it, and thereafter drew closer their leaguer, and strengthened and ordered their watch, setting the Siege of Angband. which lasted wellnigh four hundred years of the Sun. For a long time after Dagor Aglareb no servant of Morgoth would venture from his gates, for they feared the lords of the Noldor; and Fingolfin boasted that save by treason among themselves Morgoth could never again burst from the leaguer of the Eldar, nor come upon them at unawares.
Fingolfin's preparation proved highly visionary and his determination in pursuing Orcs, both here and at the Second Battle (Dagor-nuin-Giliath, the aforementioned Battle-under-Stars), showed the importance of follow-through. His words concerning the Siege of Angband also proved prophetic: it was treachery by human turncoats that allowed Morgoth's host to gain the upper hand at the Fifth Battle (Nirnaeth Arnoediad).
The Siege of Angband was maintained by Fingon and the people of Hithlum. One of the most interesting episodes in the history of Beleriand illustrates their vigilance:
Again after a hundred years Glaurung, the first of the Urulóki, the fire-drakes of the North, issued from Angband's gates by night. He was yet young and scarce half-grown, for long and slow is the life of the dragons, but the Elves fled before him to Ered Wethrin and Dorthonion in dismay; and he defiled the fields of Ard-galen. Then Fingon prince of Hithlum rode against him with archers on horseback, and hemmed him round with a ring of swift riders; and Glaurung could not endure their darts, being not yet come to his full armoury, and he fled back to Angband, and came not forth again for many years. Fingon won great praise, and the Noldor rejoiced; for few foresaw the full meaning and threat of this new thing. But Morgoth was ill-pleased that Glaurung had disclosed himself over-soon; and after his defeat there was the Long Peace of wellnigh two hundred years.
It speaks most highly of Fingon's proactive defense that Glaurung, who was overconfident and rash at the time, was driven back until his dramatic return in the Battle of Sudden Flame.
Execution, institution, and cooperation: Fingon, Dor-lómin and the House of Hador
As the immediate heir to his father and an indirect successor to Fëanor as High King of the Noldor, Fingon was a capable leader. Maedhros abdicated his heirdom at the very beginning of the First Age; thus, Fingon had over four hundred fifty years to prepare for a reign that lasted under seventeen years, but began and ended in crushing military defeats.
Execution. The Fingolfinians embraced an execution culture, comprising integrated strategy, operations, and personnel. Prior to the Third Battle, they fostered the Noldorin realm of Hithlum and prepared more than adequately for the first wars. Afterward, they formulated a siege plan for keeping Morgoth's forces contained within his vast stronghold of Angband, then divided up responsibilities for keeping the watch. They trained even in times of peace, well enough to be prepared for Glaurung's surprise attack in 260 FA, as shown above. After Men appeared in the West circa 400 FA, they brought mortals into the fold and added their strengths to the team, granting them the fiefdom of Dor-lómin. In this, they were more successful than any of the other elvenkings save Maedhros, whose vassals included Bór, and Finrod, to whom the eldest house of the Edain (Bëor and his descendants Barahir and Beren) were sworn. Until the Fourth Battle, Dor-lómin was prosperous, and its people, the Third House of the Edain, were led by three of its greatest heroes: Hador the Goldenhaired, Galdor, and Húrin.
Institutional memory and successorship. Fingolfin gained the trust of Marach, founder of the Third House, and granted a significant portion of his kingdom to Marach's descendants. After he fell in the Fourth Battle, his eldest son Fingon was able to step into his role, like his second son Turgon after the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. Unlike Turgon, Fingon could not rely in strength in secrecy: Dor-lómin was a prime military target, and after the Fourth Battle turned Ard-Galen into an arid wasteland, it was highly exposed. Fingon and the Marachians were able to keep it guarded and sustainable even as Morgoth unleashed biowarfare (pestilent winds) and stepped up his attacks, deploying his troops openly in the years after the siege of Angband was broken.
Cooperation with other groups. In forming his Union, Maedhros called upon the Men of Beleriand. Halmir, Chieftain of the Second House (the Haladin), answered this call in the last days of Fingolfin, but he was old by the time of the Fourth Battle and died a year before the Fifth (the Battle of Unnumbered Tears). His son Haldir, grandfather of Brandir the Lame in The Children of Húrin, served Fingon and died defending the rearguard of his lord in the Fifth Battle. It is remarkable that the Fingolfinians not only had the loyalty of the Edain, but the utterly loyal service and sacrifice of two of the three branches of human colonists in Beleriand. They were able to forge this bond in just two or three generations, and it lasted far beyond the seven or eight that their kingdom endured, as the folk of House of Hador became the ancestors of the Numenoreans (and Fingolfin's own descendants via Turgon, Idril, and Earendil). Another bond that deserves mention is that of Amlach, grandson of Marach, who was disgruntled with Fingolfin's leadership, but repented after Morgoth sent a doppleganger to a council of the Edain in his form. Amlach was raised in the House of Marach, under Fingolfinian rule, but entered the service of Maedhros. This shows that Fingolfin and Fingon had not only commerce with the Union of Maedhros but produced at least one leader who was adopted into the Fëanorian culture.
All told, Fingolfin and his descendants were probably more directly responsible than any other Elves for the foundation of the empires of Men in the Second and Third Age. Elros and Aragorn were among Fingolfin's descendants, and the heritage of the Numenorean kings was mostly of Hador's people, though there may have been more Bëorian blood and culture passed down to them via Beren than to the other Numenorean nobility. The influence of Fingolfin lasted far beyond Beleriand, sowing even the seeds of resurgent Arnor and Gondor and the origins of prehistoric human society in Tolkien's legendarium.
The last stand: failures of risk management
A final assessment of Fingolfin and Fingon would not be complete or fair without a critique of the manner in which both laid down their kingship and their lives: in valiant last stands. Fingolfin, more than any elvenking, showed the dangers of despairing rage by riding to challenge Morgoth to single combat. In the end, the once "mightiest of all dwellers in Arda" prevailed in an arguably fair fight, but the duel itself was a greater challenge than any Child of Iluvatar - even Fëanor himself - could claim to have faced, as it is not recorded that Finwë fought Morgoth hand-to-hand before being struck down. Fingon, following in his father's footsteps, later faced Gothmog, the Lord of Balrogs, in single combat, and was killed only when another balrog restrained him from behind with a thong of fire.
Determination in the face of ultimate danger. In retrospect, the last stand of Fingolfin might at least be deemed a tactical error. Morgoth was never one to fight fair, as Fingolfin himself seemed to recognize in calling him craven and a lord of slaves. Morgoth apparently accepted Fingolfin's challenge to single combat because he feared the loss of authority entailed by ignoring this insult. Fingon's death in the Fifth Battle seemed more inevitable, especially considering the tide of battle, but like Fëanor, the Fingolfinians were fell and heedless of danger in the heat of combat. Comparing this with the narrow escapes of the sons of Fëanor and Finrod Felagund (who was rescued by Barahir in the Fourth Battle), it seems possible that the Fingolfinians, themselves so hardy, took too little account of the susceptibility of their mortal subjects to fear and stress.
Both kings of the Noldor demonstrated indomitable valor even in the face of death. Their noble cause, strength, and sacrifice are reflected in their people's actions, in particular the heroic deeds of the House of Hador, which truly do echo in eternity.
This is the second part of a seven-part series.