Finwë, the first King of the Noldor, the unchallenged and beloved patriarch of his people, is written with shoulders figuratively broad enough to bear the weight of leadership of the most contentious family and people within Tolkien's history of the Elves. He is sometimes referred to as Finwë Noldoran, which means simply Finwë king of the Noldor (1).
Few are the tales of the Elder days which do not directly involve either Finwë and/or one or more of his celebrated progeny. The mention of "scion of Finwë" conjures up visions not only of kinslaying, strife and tragedy but of powers of creation and intellect unsurpassed among the Eldar, as well as courage, daring and charismatic leadership. The royal houses of the Noldor include the exceptional sons of Finwë and their legendary offspring. From Fëanor, Fingolfin, and Finarfin and their children, all born in the Years of the Trees in Aman, to Aragorn and Arwen in the Fourth Age, Tolkien's tales contain descendants of Finwë as pivotal characters. (See note below for a listing of most of the best known among Tolkien's characters descended from the house of Finwë .)
Tolkien tells us that Finwë "had black hair, but brilliant grey-blue eyes" (3). One might imagine that Finwë's eldest offspring Fëanor, who is described as "tall, and fair of face, and masterful, his eyes piercingly bright and his hair raven-dark," (4) resembles his father. Finwë first marries Míriel Þerinde, the mother of Fëanor, but unlike any other Elf of note within Tolkien's collection of tales, he marries a second time to Indis of the Vanyar, who bears him two sons, Fingolfin and Finarfin. There are contradictory accounts of how many daughters Finwë actually sired by Indis, as well as their names (5). Christopher Tolkien accepts that Finwë had only four children by Indis, his two sons as well as two daughters named Findis and Irimë (6). These two daughters do not appear in the pages of the published Silmarillion.
The creation myth contained in various versions of the Quenta Silmarillion and other sources does not contain sufficient consistent detail for readers to definitively assert whether or not Tolkien intends Finwë to be numbered among the first Elves to open their eyes under Varda's stars. Most arguments for or against Finwë having been one of those who awakened at Cuiviénen are based upon accounts which manifest a distinct mythological quality as opposed to segments of Tolkien's legendarium that contain some of the characteristics of historical texts. (Can one really trust that exactly 144 Elves awakened on the shores of that fabled inland sea? Or does that number actually derive from the fact that the tale may have derived from a fairy tale used to teach little Elves how to count? ) We also know Tolkien considered re-drafting the entire geographical and cosmological foundation of Arda, which would have further destabilized the accounts of those early years. Christopher Tolkien explains in Myths Transformed that his father was in the process of considering a "reinterpretation of central elements in the 'mythology' (8)." The extant version of these tales is also presented as history, myth and/or fable recorded by different narrators. This method, added to the fact that they were under constant scrutiny and revision by Tolkien throughout his lifetime, ensure that they are necessarily contradictory.
In a letter of 17 July 1971, he [Tolkien] said, "The legends are mainly of 'Mannish' origin blended with those of the Sindar . . . and others who had never left Middle-earth" (L, 411 ). Finally, in a discussion of Elvish reincarnation written in the last year of his life, Tolkien again stressed the Mannish origin of the legends: "nearly all the matter of The Silmarillion is contained in myths and legends that have passed through Men's hands and minds, and are (in many points) plainly influenced by contact and confusion with the myths, theories, and legends of Men" (XII, 390 ). (11)
Tolkien further admits in various discussions that these early tales and explanations are not to be taken literally.
. . . many of the older legends are purely 'mythological', and nearly all are grim and tragic: a long account of the disasters that destroyed the beauty of the Ancient World, from the darkening of Valinor to the Downfall of Númenor and the flight of Elendil. (12)
Still, one might conclude for storytelling purposes that if Finwë is not one of the unbegotten, one of the original Elves to awaken at Cuiviénen, then it is probable that he is one the earliest born among the Quendi.
In the story of the awakening of the Elves at Cuiviénen as told in the published Silmarillion, the rebel Vala Melkor is already fomenting all manner of chaos and destruction in the darkness of Middle-earth. The Valar of Aman know that Eru has created children to occupy and succor those dark lands, but they do not know exactly when and how Eru's Firstborn will appear. The seeds of the protective impulse on the part of the Valar, which will lead to much strife and dissension in the future, have already been sown. Sensing that the day of the awakening draws near, the Valar argue among themselves about how best to mitigate and curtail Melkor's destruction in Middle-earth in order to make those lands more hospitable to Eru's long-awaited children. The various positions of the Valar befit the particular traits and proclivities that each will carry throughout the principal narratives. In this discussion, Yavanna assumes the role of concerned caregiver:
'. . . the hour approaches, and within this age our hope shall be revealed, and the Children shall awake. Shall we then leave the lands of their dwelling desolate and full of evil? Shall they walk in darkness while we have light? Shall they call Melkor lord while Manwë sits upon Taniquetil?' (13)
Tulkas proposes immediate preemptive military action against Melkor. And, characteristically, Mandos offers a prediction of darkness and doom:
'In this age the Children of Ilúvatar shall come indeed, but they come not yet. Moreover it is doom that the Firstborn shall come in the darkness, and shall look first upon the stars. Great light shall be for their waning. To Varda ever shall they call at need.' (14)
Varda rushes off to add some extra glitter to the black skies that will greet the Quendi upon their awakening. Thus, even before Eru's children open their eyes, the lines have been drawn for the long battle they will fight which make up the triumphs and tragedies of which Tolkien's legendarium is comprised.
Unbeknownst to the awakened Quendi, the Valar fight a mighty battle against Melkor and his minions, reshaping the mountains and coastline of Middle-earth, which results in the capture of Melkor. By the time that Oromë discovers and approaches the Quendi, Finwë must have already assumed a position of leadership among his people.
Long they dwelt in their first home by the water under stars, and they walked the Earth in wonder; and they began to make speech and to give names to all things that they perceived. Themselves they named the Quendi, signifying those that speak with voices; for as yet they had met no other living things that spoke or sang. (15)
It is appealing to extrapolate from the available texts a picture of Finwë, along with Elwë and Ingwë, as powerful, competent and charismatic tribal chieftains of a particularly fair and gifted people who have not yet begun to come close to their full potential. Beginning with Oromë, the Valar find themselves attracted to and enamored with these unique creations of Eru. From Tolkien's earliest to his latest writing, he tones down slightly the fragility of these creatures, but not the urge of the Valar to protect them.
There had Oromë heard the awaking of the Eldar, and all songs name that place Koivieneni or the Waters of Awakening.
Now all the slopes of that valley and the bare margin of the lake, even the rugged fringes of the hills beyond, are filled with a concourse of folk who gaze in wonder at the stars, and some sing already with voices that are very beautiful. But Nornorë stood upon a hill and was amazed for the beauty of that folk, and because he was a Vala they seemed to him marvellously small and delicate and their faces wistful and tender. (16)
These "small and delicate," "wistful and tender" creatures do not call to mind Tolkien's later stronger version of the Quendi, least of all Finwë's Noldor.
The name [Noldor] meant 'the Wise', that is those who have great knowledge and understanding. The Noldor indeed early showed the greatest talents of all the Elves both for intellectual pursuits and for technical skills. (17)
In the Shibboleth of Fëanor, Tolkien mentions that it is likely that the name Noldor was given to Finwë's people even before they departed on the great march to the sea. A later account of the Vala Oromë's first encounter with the Elves paints them in somewhat less delicate hues.
And Oromë looking upon the Elves was filled with wonder, as though they were beings sudden and marvellous and unforeseen;
* * * *
In the beginning the Elder Children of Ilúvatar were stronger and greater than they have since become; but not more fair, for though the beauty of the Quendi in the days of their youth was beyond all other beauty that Ilúvatar has caused to be, it has not perished, but lives in the West, and sorrow and wisdom have enriched it. And Oromë loved the Quendi, and named them in their own tongue Eldar, the people of the stars; but that name was after borne only by those who followed him upon the westward road. (18)
The unwritten implication behind this view of the Eru's Firstborn is the tendency of the Valar to underestimate their capacity and the strength of their determination. One might say that the issue of the Valar with the Quendi shifts subtly over time from a wish to protect to an attempt, however well meaning, to control them. The Noldor in Aman will become among the most apt students of the practical tutelage of the Valar but also come to surpass their masters in some areas.
Great became their [that of the Noldor] knowledge and their skill; yet even greater was their thirst for more knowledge, and in many things they soon surpassed their teachers. (19)
The Elves of Cuiviénen have no reason at first to follow the Valar, knowing nothing of them except "only in their wrath as they went to war" (20). Oromë chooses to pick from among the kindred three representatives: Ingwë, Finwë and Elwë. He correctly assumes that if they see the wonders of Aman, they may be able to persuade their peoples to "heed the summons of the Valar and remove into the West" (21). This results, however, in
the first sundering of the Elves. For the kindred of Ingwë, and the most part of the kindreds of Finwë and Elwë, were swayed by the words of their lords, and were willing to depart and follow Oromë; and these were known ever after as the Eldar, by the name that Oromë gave to the Elves in the beginning, in their own tongue. But many refused the summons, preferring the starlight and the wide spaces of Middle-earth to the rumour of the Trees; and these are the Avari, the Unwilling, and they were sundered in that time from the Eldar, and met never again until many ages were past. (22)
Finwë, as the earliest chieftain of the Noldor and their first king in Valinor, unquestionably respected and revered by this most headstrong grouping of the Eldar, has to have been the embodiment of an impressive leader. Aficionados of The Silmarillion familiar with the traits of the proud and willful Noldor of the Years of the Trees in Valinor may not realize that these characteristics date back to their period in Middle-earth before they first travel to Aman. When Tolkien discusses the proportions of the Elves who begin the great journey West under the direction of Oromë in his essay Quendi and Eldar, he states that the entirety of the tribe which became known as the Vanyar followed without dispute. But both the Noldor and the Lindar (which will become known as the Teleri in Aman) engage in what, in some cases, became acrimonious deliberations over the wisdom of leaving Middle-earth for Aman.
This ill-feeling descended in part from the bitterness of the Debate before the March of the Eldar began, and was no doubt later increased by the machinations of Morgoth; but it also throws some light upon the temperament of the Noldor in general, and of Fëanor in particular. Indeed the Teleri on their side asserted that most of the Noldor in Aman itself were in heart Avari, and returned to Middle-earth when they discovered their mistake; they needed room to quarrel in. (23)
Explicit in this statement is the accepted understanding that the Noldor have always been stubborn and argumentative. Even more interesting in Quendi and the Eldar is the reference to the reaction of their former tribal brethren, the Tatyarin Avari, when the Noldor return to Middle-earth.
The first Avari that the Eldar met again in Beleriand seem to have claimed to be Tatyar [the first name of the tribe which came to be referred to as the Noldor], who acknowledged their kinship . . . . They were actually unfriendly to the Noldor, and jealous of their more exalted kin, whom they accused of arrogance. (24)
In the end, the Noldor are the largest grouping among the Eldar to reach Aman. The Vanyar are the smallest grouping, and the Amanyar Teleri, the remnant of the largest of the original kindreds, have suffered the loss of significant portions of their people along the way. The Valar consider the Vanyar to be the foremost among the Eldar; they certainly are the most loyal to the Valar. Finwë's people, however, are the most skillful in craft and most driven to explore and learn.
The Noldor were the chief linguists of the Elves, but their superiority was shown not so much in the acquisition of new tongues as in their love of language, their inventiveness, and their concern with the lore of language, and the history and relations of different tongues. (25)
Under the tutelage primarily of Aulë, the Noldor's knowledge and skill grows. They work as masons and builders delighting in the construction of high towers. It is in "quarrying in the hills after stone" (26) that they
first discovered the earth-gems, and brought them forth in countless myriads; and they devised tools for the cutting and shaping of gems, and carved them in many forms. They hoarded them not, but gave them freely, and by their labour enriched all Valinor. (27)
No matter where one's sympathies lie, whether one views Míriel as the most severe case of postpartum depression in literature, deserving of one's sympathy, and considers Finwë an insensitive lout, or, like the Valar, is more sympathetic to Finwë, the marriage of Finwë and Míriel is one of the cases where intervention on the part of the Valar results in less than entirely positive results. When Tolkien created his all but immortal beings, frozen in a state of nearly perpetual youth, it became necessary for him to deal with the questions of sex and death. No one ever writes fiction in a vacuum, however objective one believes oneself to be. Tolkien still struggled with the moral, cultural and physical implications of his conception of quasi-immortality and Elven reincarnation at the time of his death (28). His tentative attempts to answer these questions may be found in his essay, which he never sought to publish during his life time, Laws and Customs among the Eldar (29) and their practical applications in the story of Míriel and Finwë. The attitude of the Valar toward Elven death, sex, marriage and the dissolution of the marital bond are made clear in the story of Finwë and Míriel. Not surprisingly, Tolkien's own strongly held positions on sex, marriage and divorce reflect his own devout Catholicism. (An explication of his personal beliefs on these questions in the concrete may be found in his correspondence (30).)
One reads in the published Silmarillion that, after giving birth to her illustrious son, Míriel weakened and refused to take up her life again.
But in the bearing of her son Míriel was consumed in spirit and body; and after his birth she yearned for release from the labours of living. And when she had named him, she said to Finwë: 'Never again shall I bear child; for strength that would have nourished the life of many has gone forth into Fëanor.' (31)
One of the more detailed versions of the story of Finwë's marriages to Míriel and, eventually, Indis may be found in the Shibboleth of Fëanor. Broken-hearted, Finwë seeks aid from the Valar.
The Valar and all the Eldar were grieved by the sorrow of Finwë, but not dismayed: all things could be healed in Aman, and when they were rested her fea and its body could be reunited and return to the joy of life in the Blessed Realm. But Míriel was reluctant . . . . (32)
Predictably for a Noldorin Elf, Míriel turns out to be not as tractable as the Valar hope.
She was a Ñoldorin Elda of slender and graceful form, and of gentle disposition, though as was later discovered in matters far more grave, she could show an ultimate obstinacy that counsel or command would only make more obdurate. (33)
Finwë continues to pine, while Míriel sleeps. And then the plot thickens with the introduction of another woman: "[t]here was a fair lady of the Vanyar, Indis of the House of Ingwë" (34) who falls in love with Finwë. He eventually takes note of the affection of Indis and returns it. After years of remaining hopeful that Míriel will someday return to a normal state of life, Finwë, grieving not just for the loss of love and consortium but for his lost dreams of fathering more children, at last appeals to Valar. They deliberate at length upon the possibility of severing the ties of Finwë to Míriel and permitting him to marry Indis.
It was judged that Finwë's bereavement was unjust, and by persisting in her refusal to return Míriel had forfeited all rights that she had in the case; for either she was now capable of accepting the healing of her body by the Valar, or else her fëa was mortally sick and beyond their power, and she was indeed 'dead', no longer capable of becoming again a living member of the kindred of the Eldar.
'So she must remain until the end of the world. For from the moment that Finwë and Indis are joined in marriage all future change and choice will be taken from her and she will never again be permitted to take bodily shape. Her present body will swiftly wither and pass away, and the Valar will not restore it. For none of the Eldar may have two wives both alive in the world.' (35)
The decision of the Valar enabled Finwë remarry, devastating Fëanor, who then forms a strong antipathy for his stepmother. Indis "was a Vanya, close kin of Ingwë the High King, golden-haired and tall, and in all ways unlike Míriel" (36). Fëanor did not hold any of this against Finwë himself, however, but against Indis and her children. He may have also blamed the loss of his mother upon the Valar and, if so, this might have contributed to his lack of confidence in their judgment, which would have profound effects upon the Noldor in the future.
Michael Martinez makes a fanciful and highly speculative, although not entirely specious, assumption about Finwë in the context of the tale of Indis's love for him.
Finwë's charisma is also evident in the fact that more than one Elven woman loved him. In "Laws and Customs among the Eldar" ("Morgoth's Ring", pp. 207-53), Tolkien writes: "The Eldar wedded once only in life, and for love or at the least by free will upon either part....Marriage, save for rare ill chances or strange fates, was the natural course of life for all Eldar....Those who would afterwards become wedded might choose one another early in youth, even as children (and indeed this happened often in days of peace)...." (37)
One would assume that Finwë would prefer to be remembered as the foremost king among his people and the father of a dynasty that had an unparalleled effect upon the history of Middle-earth rather than the man hot enough to be loved by two women. One must admit, however, that Finwë's choices regarding his marital status have far-reaching consequences. "But the shadow of Míriel did not depart from the house of Finwë, nor from his [Finwë's] heart; and of all whom he loved Fëanor had ever the chief share of his thought" (38). No wonder Finwë's marriage to Indis leaves Fëanor bitter toward his stepmother and her children. The description of Fëanor's relationship with Finwë presents his firstborn as an indulged only child who loses not only a mother in the deal, but the undivided attention of a doting father.
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." (39)
From early in his life Finwë's eldest son Fëanor is viewed as the greatest, not only of the house of Finwë itself, but of their people as a whole. Although not entirely estranged from his brothers, Fëanor carries a widely recognized ill feeling toward them and, in particular, their mother.
. . . 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; for the sorrow and the strife in the house of Finwë is graven in the memory of the Noldorin Elves. (40)
The lies of Melkor find fertile soil in Fëanor's bitterness against his stepmother and half-brothers. Fëanor's anxiety and possessive guardianship of his Silmarilli, the most marvelous creations of the greatest craftsman among the Eldar, open the door for Melkor to sow the seeds of discord among the Noldor.
Then Melkor set new lies abroad in Eldamar, and whispers came to Fëanor that Fingolfin and his sons were plotting to usurp the leadership of Finwë and of the elder line of Fëanor, and to supplant them by the leave of the Valar; for the Valar were ill-pleased that the Silmarils lay in Tirion and were not committed to their keeping. But to Fingolfin and Finarfin it was said: 'Beware! Small love has the proud son of Míriel ever had for the children of Indis. Now he has become great, and he has his father in his hand. It will not be long before he drives you forth from Túna!' (41)
Finwë's transparent favoritism of Fëanor over his younger sons cannot have done anything, for example, to mitigate Fingolfin's mistrust of Fëanor. After Fëanor threatens Fingolfin and the Valar intervene to pass judgment upon Fëanor, Finwë turns his back on Tirion and follows his eldest son into exile, turning over the governance of his people to Fingolfin. Interestingly, Indis, much like Fëanor's wife Nerdanel, refuses to follow her man.
While Finwë is in exile in Formenos, Melkor underestimates the perspicacity of Fëanor and visits him there. Fëanor sees through Melkor's attempt to outwit him and explodes:
Fëanor looked upon Melkor with eyes that burned through his fair semblance and pierced the cloaks of his mind, perceiving there his fierce lust for the Silmarils. Then hate overcame Fëanor's fear, and he cursed Melkor and bade him be gone, saying: 'Get thee gone from my gate, thou jail-crow of Mandos!' And he shut the doors of his house in the face of the mightiest of all the dwellers in Eä. (42)
One of the many differences between Finwë and Fëanor is that, despite whatever Finwë may have thought about the Valar usurping his authority among his people by taking the judgment of Fëanor out of his hands, he knows better than to try to take on Melkor without calling upon those with greater powers than himself. "And Finwë was filled with great fear, and in haste he sent messengers to Manwë in Valmar" (43).
The Valar realizing that Melkor is up to no good, set out in pursuit of him—too late and arguably with too little force.
Now the Valar were sitting in council before their gates, fearing the lengthening of the shadows, when the messengers came from Formenos. At once Oromë and Tulkas sprang up, but even as they set out in pursuit messengers came from Eldamar, telling that Melkor had fled through the Calacirya, and from the hill of Túna the Elves had seen him pass in wrath as a thundercloud. (44)
Melkor evades them, having already joined with Ungoliant the ravenous giant spider/beast of endless hunger, devourer of light. Melkor recruits her to his plot to obtain the Silmarilli and overthrow the forces of light. Meanwhile, the Valar decide that it is high time to try to resolve the divisions among the Noldor, and Manwë sends a message to Fëanor, commanding his presence at festival honoring the gathering of fruits.
Fëanor came indeed, for him alone Manwë had commanded to come; but Finwë came not, nor any others of the Noldor of Formenos. For said Finwë: '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.' (45)
While Fëanor stands before the Manwë and the remainder of the Noldor, Melkor with his co-conspirator Ungoliant sneaks back into Valinor to the Green Mound of Ezellohar and destroys the Two Trees. Melkor again escapes and takes himself to Formenos to steal the Silmarilli. Alone, Finwë faces Melkor before Fëanor's stronghold and does not stand down.
[T]here he [Melkor] slew Finwë King of the Noldor before his doors, and spilled the first blood in the Blessed Realm; for Finwë alone had not fled from the horror of the Dark. And they told that Melkor had broken the stronghold of Formenos, and taken all the Jewels of the Noldor that were hoarded in that place; and the Silmarils were gone. (46)
Thus dies the first and most beloved of the rulers of the notoriously proud and independent Noldor. Finwë is shown to be as strong in death as he has been in his life: the only one with the courage to face the "horror of the Dark." The slaying of Finwë is the final trigger that sets in motion the flight of the Noldor from their gilded cage. The pursuit of the thieving Melkor into Middle-earth can be accepted by those among the Noldor who could not necessarily have followed Fëanor under other circumstances. Their abandonment of Aman, against the will of the Valar, can be viewed by the overwhelming majority of the Noldor not as a simple act of rebellion but a defensible righteous quest to revenge the murder of their most respected patriarch and the theft of their people's greatest artifacts.
Oshun's Silmarillion-based stories may be found on the SWG archive.
Character Biography: Finwë