The Accidental King: Five Reasons Why Finarfin Deserves More Appreciation

By Dawn Felagund
Downloadable PDF

I am a self-proclaimed Finarfin fangirl. I think that the guy is terribly underrepresented and sometimes misrepresented outright by the Tolkien fan community. In 2006, the Silmarillion Writers Guild declared January as Finarfin Appreciation Month. This started as an earnest joke on my part and quickly burgeoned until all sorts of people that I'd never imagined as Finarfin fans were writing stories and creating artwork about him. That month, as I'd bring up Finarfin in light of the fact that it was Finarfin Appreciation Month, the responses I received could basically be dichotomized as such:

1) "Yes! Finarfin deserves an appreciation month! Why hasn't Finarfin Appreciation Month been declared before??"

... and ...

2) "Finarfin? Why Finarfin?"

So, using the published Silmarillion as my guide, I am taking on this second question--"Why Finarfin?"--in hopes of convincing those non-Finarfanatics out there why the current High King of the Noldor is deserving of greater appreciation.

1. "Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt."
Abraham Lincoln

Take a minute and peruse just the first couple of pages on the Silmarillion section on Look at the stories posted there, particularly the characters featured in the stories. Who gets overwhelmingly the most press, especially out of the House of Finwë? To save you time, I've gone and done it for you. On 6 January 2006, going by characters mentioned in the summaries, on the front page, there were four stories about Fëanor, two stories about Fingolfin, one story about Maedhros, and one story about Maglor. Yes, there was a story about Finarfin, but it was mine and was posted in honor of Finarfin Appreciation Month.

When Fanged Geranium did a character profile on Finarfin, my first thought was how little is said about him. How little he does in the book. Truly, many people, I think, will admit that Finarfin is a little boring, especially compared to his older brothers. I've seen him called a wimp and portrayed as a coward; I've even taken advantage of his lack of ambition in some of my own comedy pieces. During the Noldorin rebellion, when his brothers get all of the righteous outrage and sig-line-worthy quotes, it is said of Finarfin that he "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" (1).

Like Fëanor and Fingolfin, Finarfin's father had been murdered by Melkor. Like Fingolfin, he had heard the treacherous words of Melkor regarding his half-brother's ambitions (2). Yet he alone of the Finwians asks that the Noldor stop to consider their actions and the possible repercussions. He does not tell them that going to Middle-earth and defying the Valar are wrong, and he does not try to talk them out of pursuing vengeance. But he alone recognizes that deeds done in angry haste are often done foolishly or thoughtlessly, resulting in errors that cannot be undone. While Fingolfin and Turgon speak against Fëanor following the oath, their words are harsh and likely exacerbate a situation that needs anything but that (3). No mention is made of them seeking to calm the Noldor and asking that logic and thoughtfulness prevail over a decision that will be the biggest many of the Noldor have made--or ever will. Finarfin is the only one of the Finwians to set his emotions aside long enough to recommend a reasonable course of action.

2. "An intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction."
Hoshang N. Akhtar

When debating Finarfin's courage--or lack thereof--what I commonly see brought up as evidence of his cowardice is the fact that he returned to the "gilded cage" of Valinor while his brothers and kinsmen went on to live wild and free, fighting Melkor, in Middle-earth.

What were Finarfin's reasons for turning back while the others went on? The Silmarillion cites "being filled with grief, and with bitterness against the House of Fëanor, because of his kinship with Olwë of Alqualondë" (4). Although it is mentioned in a previous paragraph that the Doom of Mandos caused many to "quail" and return to Valinor (5), Finafin's choice occurs later, leading me to interpret that his abandonment of the journey--although occurring shortly after others turned back for reasons of fear--was in fact for other reasons. If fear was the reason that Finarfin turned back, why did he not turn back right away, as soon as the Doom was spoken? Why did he continue on--albeit for only a short time--and increase the likelihood that the Valar would turn him away at his return?

And did Finarfin, in fact, forsake the initial goal of the Noldorin departure to Middle-earth? Or did he forsake what that journey became, following the kinslaying? At the outset of the journey, Finarfin gives the same reasons for departing Tirion as does his brother Fingolfin: "[H]e would not be sundered from his people that were eager to go, nor leave them to the rash counsels of Fëanor" (6). While it is said that Finarfin was most loathe to depart of the brothers (7), he is attributed no hesitation, despite making plain his wishes to wait and let time provide less emotional, more reasonable counsel. (Imagine, on the other hand, if Fingolfin or especially Fëanor had been so heartily denied his wishes! He would have probably remained in Tirion just to be spiteful.) Once the kinslaying occurred, though, the journey that began righteously and as an attempt to avenge the evil forces directly responsible for the unjust death of Finwë turned into something malevolent--an attack on innocent people--and it was this journey that Finarfin forsook. For him to continue, he was lending his support to the murder of his wife's people.

I would argue also that the return to Valinor was an act of courage. Finarfin, after all, had no idea what awaited him there. While he was given the pardon of the Valar eventually (8), by the time he began the journey home, this pardon still remained an uncertainty. He had been cursed along with the rest of the Noldor, and he had carried on with them for some time after the kinslaying. The Valar, by rights, could have insisted upon his exile and forced him to return to his brothers' march. And to what family did he return? All of his children followed Fingolfin, and after following the host that had slain the Teleri, he was not even guaranteed his wife's good regard. Nor did he know the state of Tirion after the majority of the Noldor absconded, the death of the Trees, and the murder of Finwë. The unknowns into which he returned were equal to those sought by his brothers.

3. "The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born ... in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born."
Warren G. Bennis

Imagine walking home from school or work tomorrow, opening your front door, and being greeted by someone waiting in your living room to tell you that you are the new leader of your people.

Imagine that person going on to tell you that your nation has just been dealt the most serious attack in its history. 90% of your people have now fled the country. The Sun has gone out, so it's uncertain how food will be grown and homes will be heated. Oh, and the 90% of the people who have fled the country have invaded a neighboring nation and rioted and murdered on their way out, and so now you've made yourself some keen national enemies. Now how will you deal with it?

Finarfin was faced with just that upon his return to Tirion, and unlike his brothers, he never expected--nor are we given any reason to believe that he hoped--to be king. In fact, if you assume that his children, nieces, and nephews had only the children they are attributed in The Silmarillion (ignoring the fact that many who are acknowledged in The History of Middle-earth as being married--such as Maglor (9)--quite likely may have had a brood unto themselves) and if you assume that females are not allowed to inherit the kingship of the Noldor, Finarfin had twelve male relatives ahead of him in line for the kingship at the time of the Rebellion. Given that Elves are immortal and marriage and children are the natural course of life for them, according to Laws and Customs among the Eldar (10), by the time those twelve relatives would have gotten bored of their duties as king--if this happened at all--then they would have had enough descendants to assure that Finarfin was never required to wear the crown.

Still, Finarfin took on the duties of high king at one of the most volatile and difficult times in the history of the Noldor. He did so, presumably, without preparation. (I maintain this based on the fact that Finwë had no reason to believe his third-born would ever be king and so likely would not have prepared him as he would have prepared Fëanor and Fingolfin, as well as the fact that never in The Silmarillion is Finarfin mentioned as harboring the same ambitions as his brothers, even after he is told of Fëanor's supposed treachery by Melkor [11].) Still, judging by the fact that the Noldor survived to battle Melkor at the end of the First Age, he didn't botch his duties terribly, and his people not only survived but must have restored relations with the other Eldar, even the Teleri, given that the people wronged an age before by Finarfin's kin could be convinced by Elwing to serve beside the Noldor at the end of the First Age (12).

4. "The greater difficulty, the more glory in surmounting it. Skillful pilots gain their reputation from storms and tempests."

With regards to Finarfin's kingship, I will make a brave admission: I think that he had the toughest job of any of the kings of the Noldor. Yes, tougher than Finwë, who brought his people to Valinor. Certainly tougher than Fëanor and Maedhros, who--despite my love and sympathy for these characters--punctuated their respective kingships with one foolish deed after another. Yes, even more difficult than Fingolfin, who maintained the Siege of Angband--and need I even then bring up Fingon, Turgon, and Gil-Galad, in the wake of such luminaries?

On the surface, it seems like running back to the relative safety of Valinor and hiding out in the beautifully wrought Tirion would make Finarfin's job the easiest. But, as I mentioned earlier, to what did he actually return? Most of his people were gone--including, presumably most of the leaders (considering that the track record wasn't so hot among the princes and princesses, including his own children)--and the Trees were dead. Imagine an attack by an enemy strong enough to take out the Moon or sink an entire continent ... I imagine this to be equivalent to the shock that the Elves felt when the Two Trees were annihilated by Melkor and Ungoliant. Any notion of safety in Valinor had been destroyed, and the lack of the light of the Trees poses interesting dilemmas that--as far as I know--are not addressed in the texts. True, it is within the power of the Valar to put "sleep" upon living things and prevent their deaths from lack of light (13), but even assuming this obstacle would be easily surmounted, this does not address the psychological effects of being plunged suddenly into darkness, nor the chaos that might have ensued in a land where there was never darkness and never reason to prepare for it.

Only a tithe--or 10%--of the Noldor remained in Tirion (14). Given this drastic and sudden population depletion, imagine the essential work being left undone (and likely, much-needed work) by farmers, craftsmen, and healers who had left with Fëanor and Fingolfin's people; imagine further the psychological effects upon those people remaining whose families had chosen exile while they remained in Tirion. While Fëanor and Fingolfin had many Elves known to be both wise and skilled in their company, we know of none that chose to return with Finarfin, and we know that, unlike his brothers, he had no "support staff" of princes, princesses, and family members save his wife.

Or maybe he didn't have the support of Eärwen. To further complicate the incipit days of Finarfin's reign, I do not imagine that the Noldor were viewed favorably by the other Elves following the kinslaying, even if they were innocent of blame for it. Given the acknowledged confusion of the kinslaying (15), doubts might have arisen that some who had "quailed" at the Doom of Mandos had nonetheless played a role in the tragedy at Alqualondë. Others--including Finarfin himself--were present at the kinslaying and did not immediately forsake the journey, calling into question their own roles in the kinslaying. Certainly, both the Teleri and the Noldor were suffering gravely at this time, and I do not think it an unreasonable assumption that the Teleri were more likely than the Noldor to earn sympathy and assistance in the times immediately following the Noldorin rebellion and first kinslaying.

Therefore, it seems that Finarfin would have been left with almost insurmountable tasks and very little help. While his brothers also faced many of the challenges that he did, they were permitted the right to begin anew in a new land, and they had a much larger host and, therefore, much greater support. Finarfin was left to untangle the ragged threads of a ruined people and a ruined civilization ... and almost entirely on his own.

5. "Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them."
Claudia Alta Taylor Johnson

Even Tolkien asserts that much evil might have been avoided had Finwë been contented with the son he'd fathered with Míriel, but he adds that the world would have been denied the children of Fingolfin and Finarfin, who in their turn did deeds without which the world would be a lesser place (16). While Finarfin may have returned to serve the remnant of his people in Tirion, it is undeniable that he nonetheless impacted Middle-earth through the deeds of his children.

Without Finrod, the first Silmaril would never have been recovered from Melkor. It never would have been given to Elwing, and the Valarin assistance in bringing Melkor (at last) to justice at the end of the First Age would have been further stalled--or never happened at all. Without the work of Galadriel, the events of the Third Age would have turned out very differently, and possibly, much more gravely.

While their cousins made war, the children of Finarfin often made friendships and alliances that proved more powerful than swords in shaping the history of Middle-earth and returning some measure of dignity to the exiled Noldor. In particular, the actions of Finrod and Galadriel reflect the ideals also embraced by their father, and so Finarfin's peaceful influence also took a positive hold in Middle-earth, creating for him a legacy that surpasses a list of battles won and lands claimed.

This defines the character of Finarfin. A character of remarkable rationality and level-headedness among a people known for neither, he is an advocate for peace and temperance during a time when such a stance was not only unpopular but--as illustrated by the events at Alqualondë--gravely dangerous. Though he lacked his brothers' ambition, he did not hesitate to take his father's realm at the lowest point in its known history, bringing respect and renown to the race of the Noldor once more.

Works Cited
  1. The Silmarillion, "Of the Flight of the Noldor," §27.
  2. The Silmarillion, "Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor," §8.
  3. The Silmarillion, "Of the Flight of the Noldor," §27.
  4. Ibid., §45.
  5. Ibid., §44.
  6. Ibid., §30.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., §45.
  9. The History of Middle-earth: The Peoples of Middle-earth. Vol XII. Of Dwarves and Men, footnote 7. Maglor is identified as Maelor in this document.
  10. The History of Middle-earth: Morgoth's Ring. Vol X. Of the Laws and Customs among the Eldar. §5.
  11. The Silmarillion, "Of the Silmarils and the Unrest of the Noldor," §8-14.
  12. The Silmarillion, "Of the Voyage of Eärendil and the War of Wrath," §22.
  13. The Silmarillion, "Of the Coming of the Elves and the Captivity of Melkor," §1.
  14. The Silmarillion, "Of the Flight of the Noldor," §30.
  15. Ibid., §39.
  16. The Silmarillion, "Of Fëanor and the Unchaining of Melkor," §10.

Read comments on this essay | Leave a comment on this essay
(You must have an account on the SWG archive to comment on essays. Click here to register for an account.

About the Author

Dawn Felagund is the founder and owner of the Silmarillion Writers' Guild and has written about one hundred stories, poems, and essays about J.R.R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion, some of which have been translated and published in fan magazines around the world. Dawn is a graduate student in the humanities, and her academic work on Tolkien's cosmogony and the Tolkien fan community has appeared in Mythprint and Silver Leaves (in press) and has been presented at Mythmoot II, Mythmoot III, and the New York Tolkien Conference. Dawn can be emailed at

All References by Author

History of Middle-earth Summaries. The History of Middle-earth project is an ongoing attempt to summarize the entire book series and put together the many ideas, commentaries, and footnotes of the series into easy-to-follow summaries.

Silmarillion Chapter Summaries. Designed as a resource for leading readings of The Silmarillion, the chapter summaries are also a nice review for those returning to unfamiliar sections of the book or who would like guidance while reading it for the first time.

A Woman in Few Words: The Character of Nerdanel and Her Treatment in Canon and Fandom. A review of the canon facts available on Nerdanel and discussion of why she remains so popular with fans despite her scarce appearances in the texts.

Return to Essays Home
Return to References Home