This biography takes Orodreth as Finarfin's son to be its canon foundation. Although there were some genealogical changes made late in Tolkien's life, these were not incorporated into the narrative, and therefore make a grossly inadequate basis for the character's biography. Thus, this essay will focus on Orodreth's history as it is given in narrative.
Orodreth is the secondborn son of Finarfin, son of Finwë, and Eärwen, daughter of Olwë, and brother to Finrod, Angrod, Aegnor, and Galadriel. He was born in Valinor, presumably Tirion, sometime during the Years of the Trees. His Quenya name, Artaresto (arta ‘noble' + resto [unknown]), was later changed to Artaher, meaning ‘noble lord' (arta ‘noble' + her- ‘lord').1 The Sindarin name Orodreth is an alteration of Rodreth, containing the same component rod ‘noble' and the unknown component reth; the component orod signifies ‘mountain'. It is possible that the component reth means ‘patient', coming from REÞ, RES ‘remain in same place', ‘be unmoved, patient'2, making Rodreth ‘patient noble'. This contradicts Parma Eldalamberon's own entry for Orodreth as ‘mountain climber' (orod ‘mountain' + reth from RETE ‘climb'), but this lexical note might link back to the very earliest drafts of the narrative rather than the later Silmarillion. Given the translation in History of Middle-earth: The Peoples of Middle-earth, and the consistent use of the component arta / rod in the names of Finarfin's house (Finrod, Angrod, Amrod , Artanis), it seems likely that the most final translation of Rodreth is rod ‘noble' + reth ‘patient', rather than rod ‘noble' + reth ‘climb', which was then altered to Orodreth in form but without sensical meaning.
Not much is said of Orodreth's early life, though one can assume that he enjoyed the privileged life accorded to Noldorin royalty. There is nothing to hint at Orodreth's hobbies or talents, save for the Sindarin translation of his name being altered to Orodreth on account of his love of mountains. In some versions of the texts, Orodreth, along with his brothers Angrod and Aegnor, is said to have "great fellowship"3 with the sons of Fëanor, especially Celegorm and Curufin. This affinity may or may not have begun in childhood, and the peer groups among the cousins vary throughout the drafts.
Nothing is said of Orodreth throughout the events leading up to Melkor's theft of the Silmarils and the Darkening of Valinor. It is not until after Fëanor and his sons swear their oath during the debate of the Noldor that Orodreth reappears. Here, he is the only one of the Noldorin princes to side with Finarfin and speak for caution.
But Finarfin spoke softly, as was his wont, and sought to calm the Noldor, persuading them to pause and ponder ere deeds were done that could not be undone; and Orodreth, alone of his sons, spoke in like manner.4
Despite this counsel, Orodreth sets out with the host of the Noldor from Tirion. Like his father and brothers, he did not participate in the kinslaying at Alqualondë, being in the hindmost and most slow-moving part of the host. Interestingly, despite his earlier demonstration of solidarity with Finarfin, when Finarfin turns back to Valinor in Araman, Orodreth does not go with him. Thus, he falls under the Doom of the Noldor, enduring the arduous journey across the Helcaraxë after Fëanor's betrayal at Losgar, and so comes to Middle-earth.
In earlier versions, Orodreth ruled the lands of Dorthonion with his brothers, Angrod and Aegnor, specifically the easternmost portion of the highlands, "nighest to his friends the sons of Fëanor".5
A tower they had on an island in the river Sirion, which guarded the valley between the northward bending mountains on the borders of Hithlum and the slopes where the great pine-forest grew... But in those days it was wholesome, if thick and dark, and the people of Orodreth, of Angrod and Egnor, ranged therein and watched from its eaves the plain below, that stretched to the Mountains of Iron.6
This is apportionment of lands is not stated in the published Silmarillion, nor is it mentioned in the History of Middle-earth, volume XI, where in both texts Orodreth is only specifically mentioned as being the lord of Minas Tirith.
Between Dorthonion and the Shadowy Mountains there was a narrow vale, whose sheer walls were clad with pines; but the vale itself was green, for the River Sirion flowed through it, hastening towards Beleriand. Finrod held the Pass of Sirion, and upon the isle of Tol Sirion in the midst of the river he built a mighty watch-tower, Minas Tirith; but after Nargothrond was made he committed that fortress mostly to the keeping of Orodreth his brother.7
The text of The Silmarillion refers to Tol Sirion and Orodreth's stewardship of the isle only after the completion of Nargothrond, and so does not directly contradict the demarcations set out in the History of Middle-earth, volume IV. It may be that Orodreth did hold lands in the easternmost part of Dorthonion prior to the construction of Nargothrond, though this is no more than a supposition. HoMe XI reads quite similarly to The Silmarillion, though an earlier passage states that "Inglor and Orodreth held the pass of Sirion…"8 and a penciled note placing Orodreth in Dorthonion was struck out, making Orodreth's rule of eastern Dorthonion a questionable point at best.
There is again a gap in the story of Orodreth between the coming of the Noldor into Beleriand and the Siege of Angband. It is reasonable to assume that Orodreth did attend the councils and festivals that occurred during this time, but it is not until the Dagor Bragollach that Orodreth is again mentioned. Here Angrod and Aegnor are slain, but Minas Tirith withstands the onslaught that ravages Dorthonion. Orodreth continues to hold the pass of Sirion for two years after the Battle of Sudden Flame, until he and his people there are forced to retreat to Nargothrond.
…at length, after the fall of Fingolfin, Sauron, greatest and most terrible of the servants of Morgoth, who in the Sindarin tongue was named Gorthaur, came against Orodreth, the warden of the tower upon Tol Sirion. Sauron was become now a sorcerer of dreadful power, master of shadows and of phantoms, foul in wisdom, cruel in strength, misshaping what he touched, twisting what he ruled, lord of werewolves; his dominion was torment. He took Minas Tirith by assault…9
The details of the fall of Tol Sirion shift back and forth in Tolkien's notes and drafts, where some versions have Celegorm and Curufin aiding Orodreth's flight10 being struck out and then reintroduced.11 The Grey Annals also present an altered timeline, in which Sauron overthrows Minas Tirith in the same year as the onset of the Battle of Sudden Flame, before the fall of Fingolfin.
After the Dagor Bragollach, Orodreth resides in Nargothrond with Finrod. This seems like a good place to point out that the population of Nargothrond was especially diverse. There were not only Noldor of Finrod's following, but refugees from Dorthonion, Grey Elves12, and Celegorm and Curufin and the remnant of their following. It is quite possibly the most heterogeneous of the realms of Beleriand. During this time, Celegorm and Curufin gain a considerable constituency in Nargothrond, presumably not only their own people but others in the kingdom as well. After a time, Beren comes to beg Finrod's aid in gaining a Silmaril as Lúthien's dowry, and Celegorm and Curufin speak out passionately against him, reminding the people of Nargothrond of the oath of Fëanor and the consequences of crossing it. Thus, the people of Nargothrond refuse to go with Beren and Finrod, save ten. Finrod then "gave the crown of Nargothrond to Orodreth his brother to govern in his stead…".13
The focus of the Nargothrond setting of the narrative then shifts to the deeds of Celegorm and Curufin, who kidnap Lúthien with the intention of securing "all the might of the Elf-kingdoms"14 through a political marriage of Lúthien to Celegorm.
Orodreth had no power to withstand them, for they swayed the hearts of the people of Nargothrond…15
There is little point in defending the motivations of the Fëanorian brothers, and whether Finrod's decision to pass on the kingship in favour of Beren's quest is in the best interest of his people is unfortunately beyond the scope of this essay. Let's look back for a moment at Celegorm and Curufin's oration, specifically the words of Celegorm:
"Know this: thy going is vain; for could ye achieve this quest it would avail nothing. Neither thee nor this Man should we suffer to keep or to give a Silmaril of Fëanor. Against thee would come all the brethren to slay thee rather. And should Thingol gain it, then we would burn Doriath or die in the attempt. For we have sworn our Oath."16
The fact remains that Celegorm and Curufin's words are wholly true. This is a key point to keep in mind when considering Orodreth's inability to win back the support of Nargothrond's population, as the text implies he should have done. In fact, we have no textual evidence of Orodreth's own thoughts or counsel during this time, and moreover the very truth of Celegorm and Curufin's fearsome proclamations makes it incredibly difficult to argue against them. It may be that the words of Celegorm and Curufin did indeed give Orodreth pause, and it would be unfair to ignore the rock and hard place that Orodreth is caught between. Although the narrative of The Silmarillion accords great acclaim to heroic rescues (such as Fingon's rescue of Maedhros from Thangorodrim), the feasibility and wisdom of such an attempt is likely not in the best interest of the realm of Nargothrond. Indeed, later in the chronology of the legendarium it is said that:
[Orodreth] was a wise lord, according to the wisdom of those who considered first their own people…17
So despite the implication of the text given in The Silmarillion, the population's overriding support of Celegorm and Curufin is almost certainly down to more than simply the oft-assumed weakness of Orodreth's character.
After Lúthien's defeat of Sauron at Tol-in-Gaurhoth, many now-free captives returned to Nargothrond, bringing with them news of Finrod's death. The people of Nargothrond
lamented bitterly the fall of Felagund their king…and turned again to the house of Finarfin; and they obeyed Orodreth.18
Then Orodreth forbids that Celegorm and Curufin should be slain, lest the Doom of the Noldor be bound more tightly on them; instead he banishes Celegorm and Curufin from Nargothrond, saying that
there should be little love between Nargothrond and the sons of Fëanor thereafter.19
of love no more shall there be bond
between your house and Nargothrond!20
Because of Celegorm and Curufin's actions, Orodreth refuses to join the Union of Maedhros, and he grudgingly allows only a small company, led by Gwindor, to join the war in the north. This may be attributed to pride only, but The Silmarillion also says that "the Elves of Nargothrond trusted still to defend their hidden stronghold by secrecy and stealth",21 implying that the greater populace supported the decision. What effect the presence of Nargothrond might have had on the outcome of the Fifth Battle is impossible to say, though this author suspects Morgoth still would have been victorious.
Some years after the Nirnaeth, Túrin Turambar, son of Húrin Thalion, comes to Nargothrond, accompanied by Gwindor. Here we learn that Orodreth has a daughter, Finduilas, who recognises Gwindor, and so Gwindor and Túrin are admitted into Nargothrond. Now Morgoth had captured Húrin in the Nirnaeth, and cursed him and his house, saying,
"Wherever they go, evil shall arise. Whenever they speak, their words shall bring ill counsel. Whatsoever they do shall turn against them."22
The curse of Morgoth echoes strongly the curse of Mandos on the Noldor:
"To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well…"23
Thus, Nargothrond is enmeshed twofold. What this signifies, put simply, is that there is no "right answer" when it comes to choosing the road Nargothrond is to take.
Túrin becomes well-loved and respected by all of Nargothrond, on account of his noble manner and prowess in war. He earns a seat on Orodreth's counsel, and "his counsels weighed with the King ever the longer the more".24 It is during this time that the fateful bridge is built over the river Narog. While doubtless this is one of the pieces of evidence that Tolkien uses against Orodreth's strength of will, it is difficult to accept out of hand that the advice of one would be enough to completely overturn years of policy. Far more likely is that Túrin spoke what some on the council, possibly even Orodreth himself, had already begun to think:
"Secrecy is not finally possible: arms are the only wall against Morgoth. If you do nothing to halt him, all Beleriand will fall under his shadow before many years are passed, and then one by one he will smoke you out of your earths. And what then?"25
In addition, looking back at the expulsion of Curufin and Celegorm despite much of the population's desire for their deaths suggests that Orodreth's will is not so easily swayed by the will of others when he believes his decision is the right one. It is impossible to definitively state what Orodreth's line of thinking was between Túrin's coming to Nargothrond and the ultimate overturn of its policy of secrecy, but whatever his reasoning for hearkening to Túrin, the result is not solely evil even from the very early versions of the tale.
Then were days of great happiness and for a while men lived openly again and might fare far abroad from their homes in safety…26
Then the servants of Angband were driven out of all the land between Narog and Sirion eastward, and westward to the Nenning and the desolate Falas…27
At this time Morgoth's control extends throughout a significant portion of Beleriand. Dorthonion and Thargelion he defeated in the Dagor Bragollach, and Hithlum he granted to the Easterlings for their betrayal of the sons of Fëanor in the Nirnaeth. Only a few Eldarin strongholds remain: the havens in the south, Gondolin, Nargothrond, and Doriath, defended still by the Girdle of Melian. Thus, there is something to be said for a land free of Morgoth's servants where a man might walk freely. And we shall see that in Gondolin and Doriath, isolationist policies are no more sustainable than open warfare.
Spring sees the arrival of Gelmir and Arminas, bearing a message to Orodreth from Ulmo through Círdan. Gelmir says to Orodreth:
"The Evil of the North has defiled the springs of Sirion, and my power withdraws from the fingers of the flowing waters. But a worse thing is yet to come forth. Say there¬fore to the Lord of Nargothrond: Shut the doors of the fortress and go not abroad. Cast the stones of your pride into the loud river, that the creeping evil may not find the gate."28-30
Túrin dismisses this warning, but Orodreth is troubled by the words. However, ultimately he refuses the counsel of Ulmo, and the bridge over Narog stands.
But let's look at the admission Ulmo makes here, and look also at the very beginnings of the attack on Nargothrond. "The Evil of the North has defiled the springs of Sirion, and my power withdraws from the fingers of the flowing waters" (emphasis mine), followed by "…[Glaurung] defiled the Eithel Ivrin …".31 Now, all civilisations need water, for drinking, for agriculture, and also for smithing. It is quite fair to assume that the river is Nargothrond's primary source of clean water. With Ulmo's power withdrawing and the rivers and springs poisoned, what reasonable option is there for Nargothrond other than to openly defend their lands or be starved out slowly? The finger is pointed at Túrin for his bridge, and Orodreth for his "weakness of will" which allowed its building, as the cause which revealed Nargothrond to Morgoth. However, placing the blame squarely on these two is unreasonable, and on some level insulting to the great enemy they face. In fact, there is a rare reference to Nargothrond's farming and agriculture in the Turambar saga, and the "Lay of the Children of Húrin" contains the line "a pathway plain by passing feet/was broadly beaten",32 which means that there was evidence of civilisation in that region. The dark Vala is not ignorant of Nargothrond's existence:
Of Nargothrond he knew indeed the name…33
And knowing its name, it's hard to imagine that Morgoth lacked a reasonable guess as to its location, given the clear association between the words ‘Nargothrond' and ‘Narog'. Perhaps if Finrod had named his realm for the river Adurant, the case against Túrin and Orodreth might be better made. As it is, Nargothrond is doomed to fall, in one way or the other.
Nevertheless, the bridge surely hastens the overthrow of Nargothrond. Morgoth prepares a great host, led by Glaurung the dragon. Eithel Ivrin is poisoned, the Talath Dirnen burned, and the Elves of Nargothrond driven back and penned between the rivers Ginglith and Narog.
At the forefront of the battle, Orodreth is slain.
Orodreth is often remembered (or forgotten) for his milder-mannered and soft-spoken nature. Very little is said of his personality in the published Silmarillion, but other sources paint a wildly varied picture. Many also assume him to be, as Tolkien noted in his drafts, "rather a weak character",34 or as Curufin states, "a dullard slow",35 though perhaps unfairly. As Christopher Tolkien points out, and in this instance I agree, this conclusion may have come about because of "the position imposed on [Orodreth] by the movements in the legend".36
…the emergence of Felagund pushed him in any case into a subordinate role, as the younger brother of the founder of Nargothrond, and the concomitant development whereby Celegorm and Curufin remained in Nargothrond as powerful interlopers weakened his position still further.37
In essence, the narrative moves from point A to point B, and greater importance is given to the movement of that plot, rather than to the motivations or characterisation of Orodreth. As to the second, Curufin's opinion is hardly impartial.
Rather, Orodreth is described as wise and slow-spoken, deep-counseled, and a wise lord.38-40 It is also said that "…the lords of [Finarfin]'s house were less haughty and more fair…".41 The Lays of Beleriand present a somewhat contrasting picture: formidable, ruthless, quick to anger, long-enduring in wrath and capable of both fierce love and hate. How this might reconcile with the softly speaking, wise lord above is beyond the scope of this essay, although the nature of the legendarium as a historical compilation suggests that the "true" character of Orodreth is likely to fall between the two extremes. The Children of Húrin and the Unfinished Tales even give us a glimpse of a rather snarky Orodreth:
"Then tarry not in Nargothrond," he said; "for here you will hear no news of Turgon. And I need none to teach me that Nargothrond stands in peril."42
Other attributes may be inferred from Orodreth's actions and associations throughout the narrative. He is likely to have the pride and nobility that is so evident in the House of Finwë, and is thoughtful, as shown in his reaction to Gelmir and Arminas and his words during the flight of the Noldor. It is also clear that he possesses some strength of will, and temper too, as evidenced by his banishment of Celegorm and Curufin from Nargothrond.
Orodreth appears very early on in the evolution of Tolkien's legendarium, in connection with the Túrin saga. In The Book of Lost Tales II, Orodreth exists from the first written mention of Nargothrond (then referred to as the unnamed caves of the Rodothlim),43 preceding Finrod. In this early draft, Finduilas is not related to Orodreth, and Orodreth himself is not yet identified as a prince of the Noldor. Here it is Orodreth who reproaches Túrin for ignoring his counsel. However, even from this early version, some crucial elements are present which remain intact as the narrative progresses: the policy of secrecy and its overturn on account of Túrin.
The evolution of the founding of Nargothrond story becomes quite tangled in the "Sketch of the Mythology" (HoMe VI) and the "Lay of the Children of Húrin" (HoMe III), with some lines of the poem contradicting the later story. In the poem, Finduilas becomes Orodreth's daughter. Orodreth, however, remains the ruler of the Elves of Nargothrond after the breaking of the Leaguer of Angband and the Battle of Unnumbered Tears. The legends of Nargothrond and Beren and Lúthien become entwined in the "Lay of Leithian" (HoMe III) and HoMe IV, and though various shifts occur, most of these do not deviate from the published Silmarillion where Orodreth is concerned.
Moving into the late 1920s, with Orodreth now accounted one of the princes of the Noldor, the events of the Flight of the Noldor begin to take shape. Orodreth becomes the brother of Finrod, being first the eldest and then second-eldest son of Finarfin.44 At first, Orodreth, with Angrod and Aegnor, sides with the sons of Fëanor. There is friendship between these three and Celegorm and Curufin,45 enough so that in early versions of the legendarium, all three are allowed passage on the Telerin ships and did not cross the Helcaraxë.46 In the Annals of Aman, Orodreth's role changes to having stood aside during the debate, and then almost immediately to supporting Finarfin's suit for forethought.47 At the same time, the idea of Orodreth, Angrod, and Aegnor crossing on the ships is also removed. The relationships of the second generation of princes also shift; Orodreth, with his brothers, becomes close with the sons of Fingolfin.48
Late in his life, Tolkien made significant changes to the genealogies of the house of Finwë. Finrod is given a son, Artanaro Rhodothir, father of Finduilas. Then Artanaro is moved laterally to become Angrod's son instead. The name changes relatively rapidly from Artanaro to Artaresto and finally to Artaher, the right Sindarin translation of which is Arothir. In an effort to parse Gil-galad's parentage, Orodreth/Arothir becomes father of both Gil-galad and Finduilas.
The lateral shift in ancestry and accompanying name changes are relatively straightforward. However, the downward shift in generation from the second to the third is entirely unexplained. By the time Orodreth becomes Angrod's son, Arothir only remotely resembles Orodreth, the name which had stood unchanged throughout the narrative from the early 1920s.49
So what then of Orodreth? None of these late genealogical demotions made it into narratives, and it is impossible to state with any certainty what would have become of Orodreth. While it is possible to argue that the Lord of Tol Sirion and second King of Nargothrond would simply undergo a name change from Orodreth to Arothir, there remain instances early in the chronology of the narrative where a simple name change is not sufficient. If we accept that Orodreth/Arothir is indeed Angrod's son, it is most probable that he is of an age similar to Turgon's daughter Idril, who "was the only child in the third generation from Finwë to go with the exiles, save only Arothir…".50 This makes it unlikely that Orodreth, son of Angrod, speaks in support of Finarfin during the rally in Tirion, and it is even less likely that the words of a child would be recorded in history books. Who then stands by Finarfin that night, or does he stand entirely alone? There would almost certainly be a domino effect on Orodreth's character, significantly altering, for instance, his relationships with his cousins-removed and Finrod. And what does all of this mean for the events that follow? The fact remains that we can never know for certain how Tolkien would have handled these irregularities.
As Christopher Tolkien points out, the character of Orodreth experiences a decline in significance51 as the narrative evolves. This is not wholly true; rather, Orodreth endures a noticeable deterioration in characterisation. However, he still holds several key roles without which the tale would be drastically altered: ruler of Nargothrond, father of Finduilas (and potentially of Gil-galad), and ally of Túrin.
There are no reasons posited for this decline. What does removing Orodreth from the second generation of Finwë's descendants to the third generation accomplish? In terms of his overall part in the story as it stands, this seems to do little more than make Orodreth less related and less equal to Finrod. But why?
To make any sort of educated guess in answer to this question, it is necessary to first examine these two characters in comparison to one another. Finrod Felagund is a quintessentially noble character, portrayed throughout Tolkien's legendarium as venerable, honest and generous. Although he is bound to have his own set of flaws, these have been glossed by the author of Middle-earth's history. He is the shining heir of the golden house of Finarfin.
Orodreth, despite being apparently close in his relationship with Finrod, is portrayed in a very different manner. By turns he lacks the inspiring charisma of Finrod yet shows shreds of the same nobility, has the pride of a Noldorin prince yet displays the temperance of Finarfin. Yet he endures quite a different treatment in the text than his brother. Unlike Finrod, it is Orodreth's merits that are overlooked while his fatal flaws – a lack of the riveting persona of his kin and his portion of Noldorin pride – are given page-time. He is portrayed as altogether less dazzling than Finrod.
But what is the qualitative issue with fair Finrod Felagund's brother and successor being subjected to the same failings as the rest of his kin? This appears to be less a question of literary value than an issue of authorial, whether internal or external, partiality. The text subjects Orodreth to the same criticism experienced by Finwë for his remarriage, the sons of Fëanor, and Turgon. Finrod, however, enjoys a series of positively portrayed events that culminate in heroic tragedy.
If the late-stage genealogical changes are incorporated into the legendarium with no further changes to the narrative itself, then Orodreth loses a degree of relation to Finrod and Finarfin while retaining all of the character flaws seen in The Silmarillion and other texts. This suggests that these flaws are necessary for the progression of the story: Celegorm and Curufin's power in Nargothrond, Orodreth's succession upon news of Finrod's death, and later Túrin's coming to Nargothrond, the bridging of Narog, and the downfall of Nargothrond.
How does the lesser degree of kinship to Finrod affect the storyline? It does little more than removing Finrod from the tarnished character who would otherwise be his brother. In striking Orodreth from the second generation of the house of Finwë, Tolkien would have not only diminished Orodreth's status further, but elevated Finrod's. The final effect is that two characters who were at the start unequal become even more disproportionate to each other.
Compared to the rest of the house of Finarfin, Orodreth is something of a conundrum. While Finrod, Angrod, and Aegnor are given heroic deaths, and Galadriel plays a significant part in later ages, Orodreth gets somewhat passed over in the text, even when his deeds are noble. Hardly a popular character within fandom, he nonetheless plays several key roles without which the narrative would be unable to progress. Orodreth's characterisation and internal rationalisation are lacking in narrative, and this combined with his curious history and lackluster portrayal in the texts present transformative authors and artists with an interesting opportunity to explore.