Look, I get it. The Silmarillion is a huuuuge undertaking. Next week, we’re going to chat about why it’s worth it, but before we get there, we need to talk about Tolkien’s overwhelming amount of elves. I’m going to break it down as best as I can, give you some highlights so that you have a clue who is responsible for what batshit crazy plot points, and, most importantly, try not to scream too much about Fingolfin. No promises.
It seems only appropriate, then, that we start with the main family, which is probably just going to be this entire post when it all breaks down.
- We’re not here to talk about the Valar or the Maiar, so most of them will just be noted as a god or goddess did something. However, since Melkor (a Valar) is responsible for pretty much everyone’s deaths, he will be named. Melkor eventually gets a name change to Morgoth, and he’s Sauron’s mentor. (I’m in love with him.) Mairon (a Maiar) is responsible for everyone else’s deaths that Melkor didn’t get to because, surprise, he eventually gets a name change to Sauron.
- This will be broken into sections–which elves we meet in The Silmarillion and which we meet in The Lord of the Rings. Obviously, some of the LOTR elves are around in The Silmarillion, but they’re more prominent in later tales, so that’s why they’ve been separated. (Really, this is just because The Silmarillion section is going to be the House of Finwë.)
- Also, quick shoutout to Morgan Rogers aka silmaspens for fulfilling all my Silmarillion art dreams. Most of the art below is theirs.
The Silmarillion Elves
Finwë is basically the father of all. He’s the regal-looking dude, tallest of everyone else (since they’re all still kids), and he’s got five kids that gave him sixteen(???) grandchildren, which is honestly out of control for elves.
Alright, so basically Finwë is one of the first elves ever “awoken” on Middle-earth, and he was chosen by a god to go check out if Melkor was being destructive yet (spoiler: he was) with some other elves that we don’t need to talk about. Why? Because two of them said nah when Finwë was like “wait, but Middle-earth is great, let’s stay here!”, so he went on alone. He took a bunch of his people with him, and they became known as the Noldor, which Finwë was the first high king of.
His first wife, Míriel Þerindë, was the mother of his first child, Fëanor, who is the reason The Silmarillion is even a thing, and who has the most kids we’ll talk about. She quietly “died” in the fashion of the elves (ie: decided to go to sleep forever), and Finwë was very distraught. Eventually, he married again, and his second wife, Indis, was the mother of his other children–Findis & Írimë (daughters) and Fingolfin & Finarfin (sons, more notable because that’s the way the cookie crumbles).
As will be the case with most of these, Finwë eventually dies at the hands of Melkor.
Born Curufinwë, Fëanor is the reason everyone dies in The Silmarillion. He doesn’t kill them (that’s Morgoth), but it’s definitely partially his fault. He’s the second high king of the Noldor, created the Silmarils (super pretty crystals), and was considered one of the greatest craftsmen and swordsmen to ever live.
Fëanor has the most kids out of all of Finwë’s sons, and all of them were with Nerdanel: Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin, Amrod, Amras. Eventually, Fëanor captures the light of the Two Trees (very sacred), binds them into the Silmarils, and then, when Melkor steals them, vows to steal them back or else. After a feud with Fingolfin (Melkor’s fault), Fëanor threatens a kinslaying, and the rest of the Noldor exile him. It comes out that Fingolfin didn’t actually want to steal the Silmarils, but, by then, it’s too late, Fëanor’s in exile and Melkor’s on his way to actually steal the Silmarils. Finwë dies in the ensuing battle, Fëanor declares himself king of all the Noldor, Melkor’s name is changed to Morgoth, and Fëanor goes to war.
To get to Angband (Morgoth’s lair), though, Fëanor needs to cross an ocean, so he seeks out the Teleri and
rudely asks to use their ships. They refuse, so he kills all of them! Fëanor sucks, we’re aware. Finarfin decides he’s definitely not about this life, so he goes back to Valinor, where he’s declared king of the Noldor since everyone’s mad at Fëanor, and so only Fingolfin stays with his brother. But remember, Fëanor sucks, so he leaves Fingolfin and his host behind, burns the Telerin ships, continues onto Angband, and then has the most dramatic death ever.
Literally ever. In the history of Middle-earth.
After defeating several balrogs, Gothmog, the worst of the balrogs, delivers a fatal blow, and as Fëanor is dying, he curses Morgoth and all of his followers three times, explodes into a plume of ash and fire, and is carried off on the wind.
This is going to be super short! When Fëanor burns the Telerin ships, Finarfin decides to go home. His wife, Eärwen, is from Alqualondë, which is where the Teleri elves live, and so, that’s more than just a regular kinslaying for Finarfin, and he decides he doesn’t care about his brother’s war anymore.
We don’t learn much more about Finarfin after that, but he does have some notable kids: Finrod, Angrod, Aegnor, and Galadriel. We’ll talk about the first and last later.
He’s my favorite of Finwë’s sons. And look, this art is not just a chance for me to yell about Morgoth, it’s also the reason why I love Fingolfin. Ya boy challenged Morgoth to single combat, and wounded him so badly that Morgoth felt it for the rest of his immortal life. Sucks to suck.
Okay, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Fëanor and Fingolfin don’t have the greatest relationship growing up, and it’s only made worse when Melkor spreads rumors that Fingolfin wanted to steal the Silmarils, but eventually, they decide to be friends, and Fingolfin sticks by Fëanor in his war against Morgoth. Even when Fëanor
is an ass burns the Telerin ships, therefore stranding Fingolfin and all of his host of warriors, Fingolfin still finds another way to get to Middle-earth to help Fëanor, at great cost to his followers.
Fëanor dies, Fingolfin takes the throne as high king of the Noldor, and he continues to battle Morgoth for four hundred years. Morgoth eventually decides he’s had enough, tries to murder everyone, fails (he’s good at that), and so Fingolfin rides off to challenge him to single combat. It’s glorious. His banner is snapping in the wind behind him. His host thinks he looks like one of the Valar (a god). Morgoth is basically shaking in his little boots. Fingolfin is riding down the gates of Angband like a total psycho (think: Aragorn in ROTK, but alone). He wounds Morgoth seven times, delivers a final blow to the foot that makes Morgoth limp forever more, and dies with sword in hand when Morgoth decides enough is enough and kills him with his big hammer axe thing. It’s incredible, we love Fingolfin.
And kids! So, Fingolfin marries Anairë, and has Fingon, Turgon, Aredhel, and Argon, the first two of which we’ll discuss in a bit.
Fëanor & Co.
Okay, I’m going to give this a whirl. From left to right, we’ve got: Maglor, Celegorm, Maedhros, Fëanor, Nernadel, Amrad, Amras, Caranthir, Curufin. Yes? We won’t be discussing Amrad, Amras, and Caranthir because the only notable thing they did was fight for their dad and then die.
After their dad dies, everyone retreats to Beleriand, and Maglor holds a gap at a river that’s between two hills. This is significant because when Morgoth’s decided he’s done with the siege and kills Fingolfin in single combat, he also sends out one of his dragons, Glaurung, who destroys everything because that’s what Glaurung does constantly.
At some point in the war of the Silmarils, Maglor adopts Elrond and Elros after he captures them, but it turns out alright because Maglor’s awesome and he’s super nice to the brothers. Eventually, only Maedhros and Maglor are left alive of Fëanor’s sons (I told you, everyone dies and it’s Fëanor’s fault), but that is resolved pretty quickly when they finally get hold of two of the Silmarils and Maedhros throws himself into a fire. Maglor just throws his Silmaril in the ocean, but whatever. It’s possible he’s still alive.
The truly only notable thing Celegorm did was capture Lúthien and try to force her to marry him, thus creating a bond between him and her father, King Thingol, but Huan, Celegorm’s wolf, was not about that life, abandoned Celegorm, and helped Lúthien escape. He died alongside Curufin & Caranthir.
My admitted fave of Fëanor’s kids. Firstborn of Fëanor, Maedhros is a badass. He’s also the reason the Oath of Fëanor concerning getting the Silmarils back was carried out, but we’ll forgive him for that because, when Fëanor burned the Telerin ships, Maedhros didn’t help because his best friend, Fingon (Fingolfin’s son) was waiting on the shore to be picked up, and he was pissed at his dad for preventing that.
Alright, so Fëanor dies, Maedhros is made high king of the Noldor because he’s the firstborn, but it lasts, like, one second because Morgoth
sucks tricks Maedhros into treating with him, captures Maedhros instead of actually doing that, and then hangs Maedhros by his wrist from a really tall mountain. Fingon, who also considers Maedhros his best friend, is so sad about this that he eventually goes into Angband alone (wow wonder where he got it from), finds Maedhros, has to cut off his hand to save him, and they fly to safety on some eagles.
Again, all the other brothers eventually die, Maedhros finally gets his hands on a Silmaril, fulfilling his father’s oath, and then is so overcome by the darkness inside it
thanks Morgoth that he throws himself in a fire and dies. It’s very sad.
The only notable thing Curufin did was marry an unnamed woman, and they had a son named Celebrimbor, who is important because:
Is this an excuse for me to quietly shove fanart of Sauron at you? A little. The only child of any of the Fëanorian sons was Celebrimbor, and somehow, that’s from one of the sons that died. Father was Curufin, mother is unknown. After Glaurung took Nargothrond, Celebrimbor fled to Gondolin, and became a master craftsman like his grandfather, Fëanor, and created the Rings of Power. He was briefly in love with Galadriel, but that didn’t work out, lord of elves in Eregion, and created the Doors of Durin that the Fellowship later cross to get into Moria.
How did he create the Rings of Power, you ask? Well, Sauron is as much of an ass as Morgoth was, and he changed himself to look beautiful and elvish (so basically back to his Maiar form as Mairon) so that he could sneak into Eregion and help Celebrimbor forge the Rings of Power. They created sixteen super powerful rings together, but Celebrimbor created the Three Elven Rings in secret and Sauron created the One Ring in secret.
Eventually, Sauron reveals who he is, captures Celebrimbor, and tortures him into giving up the location of all the rings. Celebrimbor dies with the location of the Three Elven Rings still secret, and Sauron shoots him full of arrows and strings him up as a warning to all elfkind. Because Maglor is only speculated to still be alive, Celebrimbor is the last of Fëanor’s line.
Fingolfin & Co.
I’m definitely less sure about these because the Fëanorians have the most page time, but, from left to right: Argon, Fingon, Anairë, Fingolfin, Turgon, Aredhel. Again, we’re not discussing Argon or Aredhel because they didn’t really do anything notable.
Fingon, my favorite of Fingolfin’s sons, so loved Maedhros that he snuck into Angband alone, scaled one of the tallest mountains, Thangorodrim, in the world, and sang a song so sad that all of Angband wept. He eventually freed Maedhros and snuck back out of Angband with him. After Fingolfin dies in single combat with Morgoth, Fingon becomes high king of the Noldor, and he continues the war against Morgoth. Ultimately, in the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, Fingon dies while battling Gothmog, the fiercest of balrogs. After he’s whipped by one balrog, Fingon is distracted killing that one, and Gothmog takes a swipe with his black axe, thus ending Fingon’s life.
The literal founder of Gondolin, Turgon moved most of his people into Gondolin in secret, where they lived in hiding for many, many long years. He was eventually convinced to help out during the war with Morgoth, though he eventually died when Gondolin was overtaken.
Finarfin & Co.
This is going to be the worst of them, but I think, from left to right: Aegnor, Finrod, Eärwen, Finarfin, Galadriel, Angrod. Again, not talking about Aegnor or Angrod.
Finrod is pretty much the reason elves and men ever even kind of got along. Though his father refused to follow Fëanor after he burned the Telerin ships, Finrod went with Fingolfin and his host to Middle-earth. He built Nargothrond deep in the Caverns of Narog with the help of the dwarves of the Blue Mountains. After tiring of a hunt with Maedhros and Maglor, he went off on his own and discovered a camp of men. This is the first documented meeting between elves and men, and it went really well! Finrod thought they were pretty cool, and convinced any elves that he met after that men weren’t awful. He was especially fond of Barahir, and it was his oath to Barahir that he would help any of his descendants that kept the alliance between elves and men strong.
At some point in the first war with Sauron, Finrod, Beren (son of Barahir), and a company of men and elves kill a bunch of orcs, use elvish magic to disguise themselves, and sneak into Mordor. Sauron discovers them, and he and Finrod engage in a rap battle. It’s songs of power, but same thing, right? Sauron picks them off one by one until only Finrod and Beren are left, and when Sauron tries to kill Beren first, Finrod busts through his bonds, dukes it out with Sauron’s wolf, and kills the wolf, but suffers a mortal blow.
However, Finrod was so reluctant to take part in any of this evil nonsense that, pretty much immediately after death, the Valar decide that he should be reincarnated and gifted with eternal life in the Undying Lands. He is only one of two elves to have ever received this mighty gift.
I know y’all know who Galadriel is, but you don’t really. First of all, she’s got a lot of names. Born Artanis, her mother, Eärwen, eventually started calling her Nerwen, which meant “man-maiden,” because she was exceptionally tall. When she first came to Middle-earth, it was via Doriath, where she met Celegorn, who she ultimately married. Together, they didn’t really take part in any of the war with Morgoth, and instead traveled Middle-earth. They stopped for a bit in Eregion, where Galadriel was gifted one of the Three Elven Rings of Power, before traveling to what was then called Loriand, but what would later be called Lothlórien. They also did not participate in the first war with Sauron much. She was part of the White Council, and the rest is LOTR history.
They also had one child together, Celebrían, who eventually married Elrond.
Non-Finwëan Elves from The Silmarillion
Though the House of Finwë kind of dominates The Silmarillion, there are still a bunch of other really cool elves in the story! We’re not going to discuss all of them, don’t worry, but we’ll chat about a few!
Mablung & Beleg Cúthalion
Captains and marchwardens to King Thingol of Doriath, Mablung & Beleg were usually found together. They hunted down the wolf that bit off Beren’s hand when he stole back a Silmaril from Morgoth, and Mablung was the one that pulled the hand from the belly of the beast. The two were parted when Túrin, Thingol’s ward, fled Doriath. Beleg went after him to convince him to return, and Mablung stayed behind to wait for Túrin’s mother, Morwen, to arrive. Sadly, they were never reunited. During his time with Túrin, Beleg fought, and won, many battles, but his last was after saving Túrin from Morgoth’s captivity. Túrin, blinded by fear, killed the first person he saw upon waking, thinking he was still in captivity, and accidentally slew his best friend, Beleg. Mablung later died in the Battle of the Thousand Caves, which was, of course, fought over the Silmaril Beren stole back.
Ecthelion & Glorfindel
Though Glorfindel was one of the first “awakened” elves, he lived out most of his life in Gondolin with Ecthelion. Together, they fought in the Fall of Gondolin, and slew many important balrogs between them. Gothmog, who was the cause of so many other elvish deaths, was finally killed by Ecthelion, though he gave his life doing so. Glorfindel, using Gothmog’s death as a distraction to escape, led many of Gondolin’s people out of the city. He fought another balrog, and nearly won, but the balrog pulled him down to his death.
Glorfindel, however, is the only other elf to have ever been reincarnated, though the Valar gifted him with life in Middle-earth rather than in the Undying Lands so that he might help in the coming war against Sauron. He is, in the books, the elf that carries Frodo to Rivendell, not Arwen.
Eärendil the Mariner
Okay, technically, Eärendil (the redhead) was a Silmarillion-age elf, but with his wife, Elwing (on the right), they had two kids, Elrond and Elros, who are, also, technically, Silmarillion-age elves, but we know one half of them better in LOTR. They’re pictured here with Círdan the Shipwright (left), who I didn’t feel like talking about, and a Maiar.
So quickly, before we get to Elrond, Eärendil is one of the ones that makes me the sad. Gondolin fell when he was a child, and so he lived most of his life in exile. Saddened by the loss of his home, Eärendil took to the seas on a ship, leaving Elwing at home, who was in possession of the Silmaril that Beren stole back. However, the oath of Fëanor was still a thing, and in order to keep the Silmaril from his sons, fearing the evil they might bring to the world with its darkness, Elwing threw herself into the sea. Eärendil, heartbroken at this news, traveled to Valinor, and he was the first ever mortal (he’s half-elven) to set foot in Valinor. He pleaded with the Valar to help with the war against Morgoth. They were so moved by Eärendil that they decided not only to answer his plea, but to give him and his family the choice between being an elf or a man. Eärendil preferred life as a man, but because Elwing chose to be an elf, he did, as well, so that he might be with her. Eärendil forever after carried the Silmaril in his beloved ship, and he fought with the eagles against a dragon in the war.
Elrond & Arwen
Gifted one of the Three Elven Rings of Power and as a founding member of the White Council, Elrond fought not only in the first war against Sauron, but the second, as well. At the end of the first war, though he was rightfully the high king of the Noldor, there were so few elves left that he did not take the title. He lived in peace in Rivendell for much of his life, though lost his wife to orcs and eventually his daughter to the life of a mortal.
Most of what we know about Arwen is told in LOTR, and the movies actually embellish a lot more badassery onto her character than in the books.
And that is it! That’s your primer on the elves of Tolkien. Obviously, some are missing because I could not possibly discuss them all. This post already took an entire day to draft. But this might be handy to keep around if you decide to embark upon The Silmarillion, and I know I’ll certainly refer to when it comes time for my reread.
And we’ll close things out with one last look at the Fëanorians since everything is mostly their fault.