Middle-earth Profiles: Finarfin
Finarfin is probably the least known of Finwe's children as well as youngest. He was involved in the strife that occurred within the Noldor, but more as a background figure, despite being a High Prince. Like Fingolfin, he too bore the brunt of Feanor's resentment towards his mother's kin. When the holy trees were destroyed and his father murdered, many of the Noldor wanted to wait upon the wisdom of the ruling Valar when now-High King Feanor demanded they return to Middle-earth for vengeance and regaining his silmarils. The oath he and his sons take horrifies Finarfin and he leads the part of the debate that warrants caution rather than rash action. However eventually the decision is made and the Noldor decide to follow Feanor's lead, although not all for the same reasons.
The back is broken at Alqualonde, where Feanor tries to convince the Teleri tribe, a tribe Finarfin is related to by marriage, to join his rebellion but they refuse. The Teleri, masters of ship making and sailing have the quickest and safest option of crossing back east into middle-earth. Battle erupts and the desperate Noldor are losing until Finarfin and Fingolfin arrive to reinforce them. The battle is brutally won but the cost proves to high for Finarfin.
He, along with his brother and those who followed them find to their horror that Feanor started the battle and that it was unjust, the first time war had ever come to Valinor. Disgusted, the youngest of Finwe's sons has had enough and quits the rebellion, returning to the holy land with a portion of the host, though his own family are not among them.
Because of their repentance, Finarfin’s portion of the Noldor is forgiven and he is named High-king of the Noldor west of the sea in the place of his older brothers, now exiled from returning. He does not come back into play in the saga until many centuries later, when after the elves and humans of Beleriand are completely overwhelmed by Morgoth. Along with the miar and his mother's tribe of the Vanyar, Finarfin finally leads the western Noldor back to middle earth for the final the conflict against the renegade valar and his father’s killer, the War of Wrath. Upon Morgoth's defeat he then returns to Valinor, though the Noldor still effectively have two high kings instead of one through his great-grand nephew, High King Gil-Galad.
The Quiet One
While his older brothers' dispositions was assertive and authoritative as one might expect of Noldor lords, Finarfin's was closer to that of the Vanyar. They were known for being singers and weavers. Making practical things like the other high elven tribes wasn't their specialty. At one point they lived with the Noldor in Tirion, but then removed themselves to be around the divine spirits more. As such they are more distant, isolated and reserved and many of those aspects are inherited by Finarfin. As such, on first appearance this Noldor elf-lord comes off to me as more of a wuss.
While its often implied that brotherly conflicts had occurred in the past, its not too hard to construe that Finarfin left the fights to his elder brothers. Though the Noldor were known for their egos, Finarfin doesn't seem to express a lot of it, unless Feanor is concerned.
Though he seems to be able to hold his own in war, established at Alqualnode and during the War of Wrath, he's not a violent elf or have a streak of madness like Feanor and Fingolfin. Finarfin would try to reason his way out a tense situation or just walk away from it: again not very Noldor-like. His more reserved nature however allowed for a certain wisdom through calmness that his brothers lacked.
Finarfin was also powerful of speech. Feanor's power came from his intelligence and intensity, where it was like being overwhelmed with a tidal wave. Finarfin's was from his own intelligence and his calm state of mind. Instead of a tidal wave, it was a rising tide that slowly grew on you until you realized you were being dragged out to sea. Slower and gentler, but could accomplish the same end. A real world comparison would be like comparing Barrack Obama to Adolf Hitler.
In fact, the quiet prince is so good at deceptively swaying minds that he nearly succeeds in derailing Feanor's rebellion during the great debate: something only two others could accomplish. This power is often overlooked, by myself included. Yet it establishes that he is indeed one of the mightiest of the mighty elves of the First Age.
"It seems to me rather that Finarfin actually resented Feanor more than Fingolfin, but true to his nature, kept it to himself."
Yet Finarfin could also be just as decisive as Feanor, though its only after all options are exhausted or when finally pushed past his temperament's limits. The best example is following Mando's judgment of the Noldor following Alqualonde and Finarfin decides unequivocally to cut ties with both his older step-brother and his cause. In contrast, the other nobles, including his full-brother, Fingolfin continue on. Still, not even the loss of his entire family and the likelihood of not seeing any of them ever again alive, dissuades Finarfin. Ultimately only one of them returns to him alive: Galadriel, at the end of the Third Age.
Finarfin maybe soft spoken, but he is just as equally as committed to his choices regardless of the cost, as the other sons of Finwe.
Finarfin's family relationships are literally day and night. As with any family with step-members, he was close to his full-blooded relatives but distant from Miriel's, Finwe’s original wife. Though much of this is Feanor's own doing, Fingolfin is the brother who seems to more often to reach out for a normal relationship rather than Finarfin, despite their fights. It seems to me rather that Finarfin actually resented Feanor more than Fingolfin, but true to his nature, kept it to himself.
There was already enough strife to go around and seeing that many in Valinor already distrusted the most creative and mightiest of all their people, Finarfin’s own dislike is not a far-fetched idea. His effort to dissuade Feanor from going to Middle-earth are more rooted in concern for the Noldor people and his love of Finwe, rather than concern over Feanor. I don’t see the two sitting together for a one-on-one conversation at the dinner table.
When he finally discovers the truth of Alqualonde, Finarfin’s decision to abandon Feanor comes off not as a sudden choice he made there and then, but the final nail in the coffin that was already full of nails. That Feanor had already done his step-family, people, and tribal reputation dirty was bad enough, but murdering other elves unjustly-elves Finarfin was related to-was the final straw. As far as the two princes were concerned, they were no longer brothers and if pardon the language, if there was an elven translation for ‘go fuck yourself’, that would have summed up their relationship after Alqualonde.
Last Elf Standing
Something I feel it's worth mentioning Finarfin's place in Noldor history after the estrangement. It is interesting to note that the Noldor now effectively have two High Kings like the Teleri do: one ruling in the West and the other in the East. More interesting is how despite his less imposing presence, Finarfin is not only effectively the last elf standing of the high princes, but had also become High king and survived! Both his brothers had become High King and died. The following high kings of the east: Maedhros and Fingon died by the First Age's conclusion, and Gil-Galad died by the end of the Second Age.
This warrants a pause for consideration:
Finarfin’s sons: Finrod, Aegnor, and Angrod had also died. All his nephews, and a niece have died. All that remains of the ruling house besides himself is his daughter, Galadriel and mother, High Queen Indus.
The grief over his part of the killing of the Teleri elves is bad enough because of they’re his in-laws, but at least that was forgiven and Finarfin had closure with them. He doesn't have that benefit with the majority of his remaining family. For an immortal being, that is its own kind of hell, similar perhaps to his father's grief over his first wife’s passing.
However at least he has two others to share that burden and loss(there is the passing reference of a reunion with Finrod after his death in Middle-earth but I’m not sure of the nature of that and Finrod is the only relative that has a recorded reunion). In contrast, Finwe had no one to share his grief with over Miriel's passing as it had never happened before and no one could comprehend it.
Still I wonder what Finarfin's mental state would be after the War of Wrath and the closing of the First Age with everything that has happened to him.
A Noldor in All the Correct Ways
For someone who was not as renown for being a warrior or as charismatic in the making of crafts, Finarfin's survival as the sole, remaining High King cannot be overstated enough. He is someone who most people don’t make much of because of his low-key nature. Yet his abilities and powers contend with those of his brothers. His reign also establishes that in its own way, Finwe’s youngest son’s decision to not continue into Middle-earth was the correct one.
Not much is said about what his actual accomplishments were as High King beyond being one of the leaders in the War of Wrath. But that he was able to do so, his powers of persuasion and reason, and holding his people together beforehand, hints that he was a great leader. Otherwise he too probably would have died and all of Finwe’s line would be extinct.
While his Vanyar heritage was the more prominent feature, when pressed, Finafin was just as much Noldor as the rest of his father’s people. Finarfin is a heavy-weight who just happens to look like a light weight.
© 2019 Jamal Smith