Middle-Earth Profiles: Feanor
This Middle-earth profile explores another member the family of Finwe: his eldest son, Feanor. The most controversial elf in their history, this profile proved to be longer than anticipated but there was so much wealth of character and information that it was unavoidable. This interpretation will be based on the information provided by the Silmarillion. And please remember that this is an interpretation from someone who loves this universe, not an attempt to rewrite Tolkien’s motivations and purposes.
Privilege born of Tragedy
Born Curufinwe, Feanor was born during the high time of the bliss of Valinor. At that time, the land was lightened by the divine trees of Telperion and Laurelin, made by the valar, Yavanna. The creations turned the already deathless land into a paradise on Middle-earth, yet confined only to Valinor. At that time, the elves had finished their migration from the east of the world which in contrast, remained in darkness but under starlight. Melkor, the renegade valar who had corrupted Middle-earth was captured and imprisoned for three ages, leaving the lands on both sides of the sea in relative peace.
It’s into this environment that Feanor is born to his parents, Finwe and Miriel. However his mother is too exhausted by the difficulty of his birth and later gives up her spirit from her body (some have argued this is not really death but this is an interpretation and a profile). He is therefore raised during his childhood by his father who is unswerving in his support of young Feanor. As the countless years go by, Feanor displays genius level intellect and an inherited talent for making things. He quickly takes the established arts of knowledge and forging of the Noldor to new levels, both making and perfecting jewels and the language that the Noldor created.
He married young to Nerdanel, an equally intelligent and perceptive elf, and did an internship under a smith named Mahtan, who himself had studied under one of the valar, Aule. Feanor’s knowledge increased his skill, and his family with Nerdanel grew, having seven sons.
Eventually Finwe remarries Indis, an elf-woman from the Vanyar clan and Feanor immediately disapproves. His prejudice towards his new family extends to his step-brothers as well, Fingolfin and Finarfin. Relations become so strained that Feanor eventually leaves the city of Tirion where their clan resides and sets up a settlement at Formenos.
Later, he created the Silmarils, three jewels that captured the divine light of the trees, giving them a power in themselves. They were blessed by the valar, and the creations became the most revered objects in Valinor. Feanor now in his full mind and physical maturity had become famous. However that fame made him the target for the recently-pardoned Melkor because he envied and hated the beauty of creation and the Silmarils were the crowning achievement of this.
Melkor spread lies concerning the valars’ intentions and built up the Noldor’s pride to the point of arrogance. His lies eventually reached Feanor’s ears and he believed that the valar were jealous of the elves, while he also wanted to explore unknown lands as his father had before him. He also believed that his step-brothers now sought to replace him in his father’s heart. This leads to a confrontation between him and Fingolfin, where it became so heated that Feanor threatened to kill him.
This threat causes Feanor to be brought to trial, where it is revealed that Melkor was the source of the contention. Yet because he had threatened violence against another in Valinor, something unheard in the holy lands, he was exiled along with his family. Finwe followed after him, resigning the high kingship to Fingolfin as he was the second oldest.
Humiliated for the first time, Feanor finally meets Melkor face to face, where the now-fugitive valar offered assistance in furthering the elf’s rebellion against the ruling valar. Yet as soon as he mentioned the precious Silmarils, Feanor sees through Melkor’s deceptions and rejected him, humiliating the divine spirit.
Time passes, and Feanor is called to a festival held by the valar in an effort to restore the peace that had been corrupted. There Feanor is pardoned and forgiven by Fingolfin, before Melkor with the aid of another spirit, Ungoliant, mortally wounded the two trees, darkening Valinor. The valar then asked Feanor to relinquish the Silmarils which now was the only way to heal the trees. Though he considered their offer, Feanor rejected it because he had become so attached to his creations that their destruction would grieve him to death. And he also still mistrusted the ruling spirits. It was then that he got word that Melkor had raided Formenos and already stolen the jewels and killed Finwe. Feanor is so grieved and enraged that he curses Melkor, renaming him, Morgoth, and the valar as well for calling him away from his father.
He becomes the new High King of the Noldor clan and along with his family urges the rest of the community to remove themselves from Valinor to hunt down Melkor for his crimes. He also wants to reclaim the lands of Middle-earth proper that they had left behind ages ago. To finalize this commitment, he takes an oath with his sons that they will recover the Silmarils at any cost, no matter who claims them.
This starts a fierce debate with his step-brothers. However Feanor finally persuades them and the Noldor make plans to go back to the east in three groups. Feanor’s group, wanting to use ships to hasten the crossing of the sea rather than trek across the arctic ice bridge of the north, tries to persuade the other elven clan of the Teleri to his war. The Teleri refuse him and things get violent quickly, leading to the first elf-on-elf bloodshed at port city of Alquolonde. This act of violence pushes the valar to ban Feanor and his family from ever returning unless killed, and curses his war as hopeless. This judgment is pronounced by the valar, Mandos, yet Feanor still defies them though it also divides the clan. Finarfin rejects Feanor and his war and leads his group back to Tirion for pardon. Fingolfin and his family, along with Finarfin’s children remain committed, but regret their part in killing their race and Feanor gets wind of this.
Now with ships, Feanor leads his most devoted clan members across the sea to Middle-earth, where they find a land already at war as Morgoth who already returned, had started a conflict with the elves and dwarves living in the west of Middle-earth. Destroying the ships, the newcomers are assailed by orcs sent by Morgoth, but successfully repulse them. In the heat of that battle, Feanor pursues the survivors in a mad rage until he over extends himself and is cut off by balrogs and mortally wounded before being rescued by his sons.
Dying, foresight comes upon him, seeing that the war he started will not be victorious, just as Mandos said. In a last fit of denial, grief, and madness, Feanor reminds his sons of the promise they made as his body turns to ash.
"First love is never fully forgotten and holds a special place in most people’s hearts"
A Living Memory
Just as with the later actions of his father, it is easy to see Feanor as an evil elf and much of it is deserved. Yet it is worth noting where his trend started and the first big clue is the name he chooses to go by, Feanor. Remember that he was given two names, the primary being Curufinwe, and it’s Miriel who names him Feanor. The fact that he chose the later designation shows a certain reverence and devotion to his mother.
Perhaps he was able to recall her face at his birth, or maybe he went with Finwe in his many journeys to Miriel’s body, hoping for her revival. The latter certainly isn’t beyond reason given that Finwe was grieved that his wife would not see their son before she died.
Either way, this devotion is what motivates his hostility to Indis and his step-brothers. Finwe is clearly dear to Feanor, but he may have seen his father’s marriage to the Vanyar elf-woman as a betrayal of his mother’s memory. This invasion of home would have already given a young Feanor in a bad disposition towards outsiders.
In relation to this, another source for Feanor’s arrogance is that his father never seems to correct or rebuke him. Finwe never recovered from Miriel’s death and Feanor is a living reminder of what they were and could have had. First love is never fully forgotten and holds a special place in most people’s hearts: even more so the case for a being who experiences those emotions across centuries rather than decades.
Because of this, Feanor probably got away with a lot. Both Fingolfin’s conversation with his father and Melkor’s meeting with Feanor reveal that disputes had arisen in the past and that Finwe sided with his eldest son, despite having love for his other children. However, Feanor doesn’t take advantage of Finwe, but rather is extremely protective of him. He never once speaks against his father and what ultimately pushes him over the edge isn’t the loss of the Silmarils, but that Finwe was murdered and he wasn’t there to stop it.
He feels in a way twice violated by Melkor and his already simmering resentment against the valar becomes outright disgust.
The Immortal Prodigy
In many ways, Feanor is the physical embodiment of his clan. Many of his creations were perfecting touches he put on other Noldor’s work. It becomes widely known just how extremely gifted he is. The praise he would have been receiving coupled with the absence of discipline take his confidence and turns it into arrogance. Feanor believes there is nothing he can’t do and the Silmarils in a way are his stamp of achievement to that fact. This would explain his profound attachment to them. He had managed to catch the light of the divine and contain it within objects: why wouldn’t he become proud?
His arrogance puts off others in Valinor. Many praise him, none argue his achievements which would make criticizing him difficult, but many also don’t trust him. His extended family feels that Feanor wants to control or manipulate them. Even after they submit to him, it’s to avenge Finwe’s death and their loyalty to each other rather than any love towards Feanor.
However there is a misunderstanding about this aspect of him. Feanor maybe a cocky bastard, but there wasn’t anything necessarily evil about it. His arrogance in large part also stems from his natural intensity that he gets from his father. He expends this mostly through educating himself, travelling, making things, and having kids. Moreover, his love for his father and his wife, Nerdanel, keeps any internal pressures of dark intent in check. Killing is the last thing on his mind for a long time.
It is when that check is gone that he becomes what his legacy remembers him for. Feanor may have mastered knowledge, but like his father, not his own emotions. He emotionally never matured and instead his darker feelings festered, burying or running away from them. When forced to confront them, the sheer pressure and intensity consume Feanor, causing him to make extreme and rash decisions and justify them later by some injustice done to him. Perhaps they even drove him mad before he died.
This can appear to be a narcissistic personality: Feanor is focused on his needs and goals only, family is mostly a second priority to him, and he is willing to go to whatever means to accomplish his main goals. Feanor though isn’t a narcissist: he just never grew up.
Tools of Genius
More than his attitude, Feanor’s gifts define him most. At one point, he boldly rebukes the valar, saying that perhaps Eru blessed him with a power that even the divine beings did not understand. He is regarded as the most talented elf to have ever lived for a reason.
Finwe in his own youth was adventurous and charismatic enough to lead the first generation of elves to Valinor and that is no small feat. His son takes this and multiples it. To use a real world analogy, Adolf Hitler was known for being so charismatic and vocally powerful in his speeches, that many found it hard not to be caught up in the evil he was belching. Feanor has a similar effect and this comes to full fruition during his debate with the rest of Finwe’s house.
He masters shaping his emotions and intensity into a power beyond his words and connects to something deep in his audience, then ignites it further. Given the depth that elves feel things at, it would have been very, very intense. His extended family was no slouches for power either, but none of them could match Feanor’s gift of oratory. His conviction is without doubt, regret, or second-thoughts and coupled with a genius mind. That’s what inflames his speeches to all ears and deeply effects them all: both elves, valar, and fate itself.
Feanor was also a master smith as well. Besides the Silmarils, he also created the Palantir, seeing stones that could allow their users to communicate with each other across vast distances. Feanor not only had the ability to perfect and create, but to enhance his creation with a kind of power that only his grandson, Celembrimbor comes close to replicating when he created the rings of power ages later. Much of his power to create derives from his mother because she says after giving birth that strength that would have nourished many went into Feanor. This along with her unmatched talent of creating weaves implies that Miriel herself was a powerful elf and Feanor clearly inherited that as well in the making of his works.
Given so much latent power then, it should no surprise that he also has the gift of foresight, something Finwe also had, but that his son seems to possess to a greater degree. As I mentioned in Finwe’s profile, foresight is not seeing the exact future, beat for beat. They are more like impressions one has about later outcomes while not knowing the how, why, or when. It is also uncontrollable in that it comes and goes when it wills. Even the valar don’t have a full handle on it.
Feanor displays the greatest talent for this more than any elf in their recorded history. It is believed by many that foresight motivated his creation of the Silmarils, thus saving the divine light of ancient days from complete destruction. He adds his own divination of the future to Mando’s judgment of the Noldor. And lastly at the moment of his death, he foresees the distant future of the failure of his clan to recapture his jewels.
The second event is the greatest example of Feanor’s extreme talent. Mandos curses the Noldor for the deaths of the Teleri elves they slew at Alquolonde. While many of the Noldor quail and some repent, Feanor in his power or arrogance goes so far as to add to Mando’s foretelling of doom for the Noldor. He adds that their deeds will be remembered and even foreshadowing the day would come when the valar would follow him to Middle-earth.
What is amazing about this is that as justified as the divine spirits were in their judgment, Feanor is indeed proven correct when the armies of the Valinor return to Middle-earth to vanquish Morgoth once and for all after all after the renegade Noldor and their allies are eventually crushed. Mandos himself made no mention of this, nor is it implied that he was aware of it.
Even more incredible is that in that moment, Feanor seems to call upon the foresight after Mando’s pronouncement. The ability of a non-divine being to summon a divine power at will is nothing to laugh at and if Feanor did achieve this, then he may have been right that Eru gifted the elf with an other power.
"Much of his rage comes from never confronting his negative emotions but running from it."
One thing that Feanor and his faction became notorious for was their rage. Feanor was already haughty before Melkor’s rumors spread among the clan. However he was not yet rage-driven. There are settle clues to its potential such as when he thought Fingolfin was trying to undermine his relationship with his father, yet nit definite. Feanor gets upset. He gets humiliated. He gets bitter and he gets angry, but never enraged until his father’s murder.
As mentioned before, Finwe was the lid that kept Feanor’s dark impulses in check. It might be inferred that he originally did not want to become driven by his rage. Yet his perceived invasions and violations from those he considers outsiders spark it and feed it. Much of his rage comes from never confronting his negative emotions but running from it. Though most likely for Finwe’s sake, Feanor’s aversions to his negative feelings allows it to fester. Once unleashed, there is no stopping it and that’s what leads to his death in Middle-earth. Maybe the elf wasn’t mad, but given his unrestrained berserker tendencies, power, and unbalanced intensity, it’s hard not to think that he was.
Also like his father, Feanor is extremely stubborn, though he doesn’t exceeds Finwe’s until he finally stops listening to Nerdanel. Until that point, with her exception, Feanor is known for being be very driven and nearly impossible to turn away from his goals. However when he is, usually against his desire, he becomes extremely upset and paranoid. The valars’ judgment of exile humiliated him. After stealing the Teleri ships, he leaves the Noldor who start to question his leadership on the shores of Valinor. He fears that they will be betray his mission to avenge himself on Morgoth.
His stubbornness is also a product of his rash decisions. Feanor is decisive and fears becoming indecisive, not wasting anymore time on it than he needs to. Anyone he feels trying to pull him down, he leaves behind.
At this point it’s worth mentioning his relationships with his extended family. As mentioned before, he doesn’t like them, seeing them as usurpers. Yet he barely tolerates them, distancing himself rather than facing the constant discord that was happening, even though he had his father’s support. His brothers come across as elves who initially tried to reconcile with Feanor. They have no desire to fight with him and Fingolfin establishes this intent several times despite himself having quite the temper.
Before Alquolonde, I believe that is how he sees them: begrudging family who shouldn’t be family but deals with it as best he can. Feanor does show an ability to be civil around them if there is no provocation, such as when Fingolfin forgives his threat and Feanor accepts his olive branch. It’s arguable whether or not he truly meant it, but it’s possible that the elder brother felt that as long they did not try to take anything or anyone he held dear, his step-family was tolerable. It’s only after the Alquolonde battle, when Fingolfin and Finarfin regret their part in it, that Feanor literally burns his bridges with them.
Elves First, Everyone Else Second
It’s also worth mentioning that Feanor was prejudiced against other races and the reasons for his prejudice are mixed. On the one hand, he considers the future coming of humanity as a threat to his goals to explore and rule on his own terms in Middle-earth. It would be easy to see that he would see their mortality and lesser, physical stature as so inferior that they would be little higher than what neanderthals are to human beings.
This logic would also extend towards the other races living in Middle-earth. The dwarves are less beautiful than what he is accustomed to in Valinor. The elves who remained in Middle-earth are less advanced than those who crossed over. And even if elves, dwarves, and humans did equal the Noldor in all those things, the Noldor still were more enlightened because of their time in the divine light of Yavanna’s trees. That would be enough for Feanor to despise them or at the least not trust them.
Would he try to kill them all? Probably not…at least initially. He would demand their submission to his rule more likely, but genocide and war would not be on the menu unless they threatened him or threatened to surpass him. So it’s probably fortunate that he died early on. He could have just as easily become a dark lord in his own right as Morgoth, Sauron, or the future king of Numenor, Ar-Pharazon.
A Long, Checkered Tale
This was a long profile for an enigmatic and critical character of Middle-earth. Feanor casts a long shadow over the elves that last until the end of the Third age. He surpassed his parents in all their qualities and to darker ends. His rejection of Indis and her children sowed seeds of disunion between his and his brothers’ families that almost annihilates his father’s house.
His penchant for unchecked desire and rage are taught to his faction of the Noldor, making them feared and kept at arms length by the rest of the clan. His charisma leads to the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of beings in Middle-earth in his war against Morgoth. And he turns his father’s trait of exploration into a desire to rule for his entire clan until Galadriel finally rejects it in the Third Age.
However Feanor also created a ‘snow globe’, preserving what Middle-earth use to be when it was filled with divine light and not corrupted by evil within the Silmarils. His rebellion eventually causes the valar to permanently remove Melkor from the Middle-earth playing field rather than continuing their laissez faire policy and forcing them to mature as well. And his work on the Noldorian language is used to preserve the memory and actions of the Elder Days during the Second Age after Morgoth’s final defeat.
Most of all, Feanor remains unmatched and unparalleled among all of Eru’s creations in gifts and power. He represented the elven race at their absolute greatest and what they could be at their absolute worst. Feanor is the example of individual potential and the power of responsibility in Middle-earth when it’s used or- not used.