Middle-Earth Profiles: Finwe
The next group of Middle-earth profiles will cover members of the House of Finwe. If you read The Silmarillion you are aware that they are the ruling family of the clan of elves known as the Noldor. What interest me most about this family is how human their psychologies are, despite having an elven biology and experience of time. That said, their species’ characteristic does still play a distinctive role in their individual psyches. This profile will start with the head of the house: Finwe.
Context: The Land Before Time
Before time was counted, Middle-earth was created by the will of the creator, Eru lluvatar, via his angelic agents, the valar and miar. Their task was to create and shape Middle-earth for the later inhabitants who would live there: particularly elves and humanity.
One of the valar rebelled however, named Melkor. Through unknown eons the valar battled with him, wrecking and reshaping Middle-earth repeatedly until during a time of respite, the elves were discovered by valar by the ancient lake, Cuivienen. It was then that the valar decided to put an end to Melkor’s rebellion in Middle-earth. North of the elven homeland, they fought a destructive battle with Melkor until he was finally subjugated and dragged back to their western realm of Valinor. Much of Middle-earth however was damaged and there were still creatures that were dangerous to the young race. So the valar sent word to the elves to migrate to Valinor, where they could be free of fear and safe from the corruptions of Melkor that had haunted them.
However, the youthful race was afraid, both by the northern war and by earlier encounters with Melkor where he would kidnap some of them, never to return. So the Valar asked for emissaries from among the community to represent the elves and see how safe Valinor was and to prove their trustworthiness. Three were chosen and among these three was an elf named Finwe.
They go to Valinor and confirm the good intentions of the Valar, as well as becoming enamored, or arguably, obsessed with it. When they return they urge the Cuivienen community to remove from their home to go into the west.
In Valinor, Finwe meets an elf-woman named Miriel and they fall in love. She gives birth to a son and dies soon after however, sending Finwe into a long, deep state of depression. From then on, their son, Feanor, gets the unwavering support of Finwe and the feeling is mutual. Finwe remarries Indus later on, an elf from the Vanyar clan whom are known for their blonde hair compared to the Noldor’s black color. In later years, in spite of Feanor’s growing arrogance and dislike for his new family, Finwe still supports Miriel’s son and goes with him into exile to his stronghold, renouncing his rule.
Eventually Melkor, who was released after serving his sentence, openly rebels again and plans to steal the most magnificent jewels of Valinor, the Silmirals, made by Feanor himself. Deceiving his brethren, Melkor raids the stronghold of Feanor where both the jewels and Finwe are located. Though all flee before the might of the angelic being, Finwe does not and is killed, the second elf to have ever died in Middle-earth.
New Born Fire
Before his mission to Valinor, Finwe would have been similar to most of the elves that lived in those days: weak in physicality, naive, afraid of the outside world and yet still enamored by it. By the time of their encounter with the valar, they had already explored a bit of the surrounding land near Lake Cuivienen, but didn’t venture further.
Finwe though also differed from the rest of the firstborn kin. His wonder went further, becoming adventurous and dared to risk exploring the lands beyond their home and with these powerful strangers to validate their good intentions. He and his companions were very much like children though they already had a fair amount of intellect. It would seem in the elven species, maturity is not defined by knowledge as much by awareness and age, which is why I would call them child-like. Finwe still perceives the world much like a child does. When they see Valinor, they became even more fascinated with the realm’s purity and light than they were with Middle-earth’s newness which itself was still strong.
Finwe strongest characteristic is his loyalty. His closest friend was Elwe Singollo, who would ages later be known as King Thingol, and who also went on the journey to Valinor. At this time, in the youth of their existence, the elves were yet divided into clans and sub-groups, so Finwe feels a sense of responsibility to the community, even after they later define themselves by clans. He has his clan aid the other clans of the Vanyar and the Teleri in any need requiring construction, which they themselves were not skilled in.
Finwe’s loyalty to his first wife is his first and most defining priority though. It was so powerful that it never left him even after she dies and remarries, and till the day of his death. This fierce bond is projected onto their only son, Feanor and is half the reason why he never corrects his son’s arrogance. That first loyalty comes to trump even his devotion to his family with Indus, and the people of the Noldor.
A Beacon for his People
Because the rest of the elves were still afraid and not as bold as the emissaries, Finwe and his companions became leaders of the community during the journey to Valinor as they divided up into clans for the first time. The three of them are the first leaders of elves in the history of their race.
In this, Finwe shows a powerful charisma and develops an ability to motivate others to commit to goals and take risks where they themselves don’t know the outcome. He is aggressively optimistic once he sees once sees the goal post ahead. Finwe inspires his community to face their fears and go to new and exciting lands, indirectly sparking in them a love for Middle-earth that is lasts through the entire race.
Not only that, but his wander lust becomes a strong family trait that they all share to varying degrees and is one of the strongest characteristics of his entire house. It is not assuaged until ages later when his granddaughter, Galadriel and great-great grandson, Elrond, return to the Valinor at the end of the Third Age.
"He goes so far as to resign as High King of the Noldor to follow his son into exile. "
Finwe takes following through on your goals to an extreme degree, even for the elves. In spite of the face of fear of both the little-known and the unknown, once Finwe commits to something, he is not persuaded otherwise. Besides his first journey and his motivating the elves into going to Valinor, this is determination is further displayed when Elwe fails to arrive when the last group of elves arrive in Valinor. Keep in mind the two had been best friends for countless centuries if time was counted then, so this was nowhere near an easy loss. Yet he does not return to Middle-earth to find him because of his commitment to arriving at Valinor with the Noldor.
As stated before, he never wavers in support for Feanor, despite pleas from his family and the scrutiny of the valar. He goes so far as to resign as High King of the Noldor to follow his son into exile. But his most powerful display of determination and courage is standing up to Melkor alone when the valar is clearly on a destructive rampage. This trait is also passed down to his family, in particular his sons, Feanor and Fingolfin, the later who also stood up to and was killed by the same valar.
First of the Far-Sighted
Finwe also seems to display a limited, supernatural talent for foresight. Foresight is not seeing the future in exact detail, as it is an empathic sense of an eventual outcome that goes beyond the seer’s knowledge. It is commonly believed by the later races of Middle-earth that all elves have this gift, no doubt aided by their already, otherworldly presence. However this is not the case, as only a few elves have it and usually those few are among the stronger-willed of the race. Moreover their foresight is not a controlled ability that can be summoned at will like say, Professor X from the X-men universe. It comes unlooked for at certain times and gives only clues and hints.
Finwe only seems to show this ability once when he realizes eventually that Elwe will not return to Valinor until he is killed in some distant time. He does not know the when, how, or the why of his death. And perhaps he foresees his own as well, though I don’t believe he understands what that means since no one in Middle-earth had any concept of death or aging.
Once in Valinor and after untold amounts of time, Finwe finally begins to reach the summit of his knowledge and body. Yet his awareness was still the equivalent of a young adult who has just moved overseas for the first time and is totally absorbed into the new experience. Finwe’s leadership skills develop as he one of the top rulers in Valinor and he is respected and revered as one of the three High Kings of the elves. It can be assumed that he was the one who commissioned the building of the first elven city of Tirion that was still near the sea but also accessible to the rest of Valinor proper.
His clan starts to take after their king and become defined by a thirst for knowledge and all things new and unknown. Other clans in contrast became content with the knowledge they had and living the good life as it were. Finwe’s hunger to explore and knowledge is capped off when he meets Miriel.
Miriel seems strong and bold spirited, said to be the most gifted of her race in creativity until her son surpasses that mantle. Their relationship brings Finwe a sense of joy that he hasn’t experienced before. It is the joy of first love. This joy doesn’t diminish his other fascinations however as much as it enlightens it and prompts him to continue to enlighten it more by starting a large family with Miriel.
At this time of peace, Finwe is at the peak of his life. He lives in a land full of knowledge and adventure. He has become a powerful leader among the elves and in Valinor, does not know negative feelings that he has not overcome, and now he has a woman by his side that matches him in all these things and completes him. Their relationship bears all the hallmarks of fiery, first love between young adults just started to experience the true breadth of life in all its beauty, passions, and openness.
Perhaps more than any other of all the elves in Valinor or Middle-earth, Finwe knows and understands what it means to be truly joyful.
"..Finwe’s isolation would have would have been intense and unbearable if he were human or even one of the mortal, but long-lived, dwarves. It is not the lost of decades but centuries, of not more."
Becoming Truly Worldly
Things however take a turn for the worst for Finwe when Miriel is pregnant with their first son. Perhaps because the experience is new to her or perhaps because of the latent power and spirit of the unborn child within her, Miriel spends most of her life force giving birth to the child, whom they name Curufinwe, or Feanor.
Perhaps for the first time since his days in Cuivienen, Finwe comes to know fear as Miriel is now starting to talk of something called passing on. At this time, the concept of death is completely unknown to the elves and the valar. If they did possess knowledge of it, it was on an intellectual level, yet never seen as elves are immortal and so was the land of Valinor. However Miriel now seemed to be crossing that boundary into truly unknown territory where even the valar had not gone.
Still the optimist and hopeful, Finwe seeks aid from the valar to heal Miriel of her depleted strength and she is sent to Lorien to recover. More than likely Finwe is caring for their infant son on his own and it brings him some joy. Yet the fact that Miriel is unable to share the experience starts to change Finwe from the bold, determined, and idealistic elf he once was.
She inevitably dies and now instead of joy, Finwe experiences something else new he was not aware of: intense grief. It’s at this point when the biological differences between mortals and immortals now comes into play because of the latter’s’ naïveté about death. Until Miriel, no one had seen death before, what it truly looked like to ‘pass on’ or as they said in Valinor, ‘pass into the Halls of Mandos’. Living in a land of godly perfection and bliss, they would not have known what to make of it, least of all Finwe.
Because he was not prepared or aware of this facet of existence, Finwe is beyond completely blind-sided, caught up in a grief that no one else in existence understands: including the valar themselves. Given the vast amount of time that elves experience their existence in, Finwe’s isolation would have would have been intense and unbearable if he were human or even one of the mortal, but long-lived, dwarves. It is not the lost of decades but centuries, if not more.
He returns to Miriel’s body over and over, begging her to comeback. When she fails to return, Finwe stops going and at this point I think his hopefulness and joy dies. His mind has now become with what we would associate with a cynical, thirty-something year-old adult. Miriel completed him in a way that no one else could, even his second wife, Indus, whom he was happy with. And there is almost no semblance of the young and determined elf who first among the creations of Middle-earth ventured into the unknown with wonder in his elven eyes.
Father and First Son
From this point on, Finwe’s entire devotion is to Feanor, who inherits many of his mother’s creative qualities, as well as his father’s youthful determination and intensity. Seeing him grow up must have seemed to Finwe like a watching a snow globe of what he and his wife once were. Watching both his son’s accomplishments and ego probably made him both proud and sad at the same time.
Finwe and Feanor’s relationship is extreme as it is strong. Not surprising since both in their youth were extreme personalities. Feanor was seen by other elves as being extremely talented, yet supremely arrogant, hot-tempered, and selfish, like say Anakin Skywalker from Starwars. Yet what most often kept the elf’s vanity at bay was his love and loyalty to his father. If anyone saw any redeeming quality in him, it was that. When Feanor openly threatens his younger, half-brother, Fingolfin, it’s because he saw him as a threat to his father’s love for him. And the only reason he probably didn’t kill him then was because Feanor knew how grieved his father would have been.
Despite his talents surpassing his parents and every other elf in Valinor, never once does Feanor contemplate taking his father’s position. The closest he comes to doing so is when he speaks of going back to Middle-earth and leading those of his clan who would go with him. Even then though the only harsh words he spoke were directed toward the valar. No ill was directed at his father and his threat at Fingolfin and intense despair at his father’s death, for me cements Feanor’s loyalty to Finwe.
For Finwe’s part, though he loved his family he had with Indus, his first love was always Miriel and by extension, Feanor who was a constant reminder to him of that past. He never recovered from Miriel. One wonders if Indus resented this or became as bitter as Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister, knowing she would always be second place to a dead woman. Therefore it’s implied by both Feanor and Fingolfin that if an argument arose between Feanor and the rest of the household, Finwe was going to side with Feanor, even knowing his dislike of his step-family. When Feanor, deceived by Melkor, starts talking about leaving Middle-earth, Finwe’s concern starts to stir, but he still never rebukes Feanor.
Father and Step-family
Perhaps the clearest indication of how Finwe’s step family related to him and his relationship with their older step-brother was when Fingolfin went to speak to him concerning Feanor’s rants and before his brother threatened him.
Though respectively, Fingolfin urges Finwe to rebuke the eldest son. He pleads with him both out of respect for Finwe’s past deeds that earned him the kingship and love for his father. It’s clear that there had been disagreements between Finwe’s sons in the past and that they had known that their father had not really checked Feanor. Now matters were very serious with Feanor speaking of rebelling against the Valar and sounding as if he indeed intended to replace Finwe as High King of the Noldor. Feanor’s brashness could no longer be ignored, even for Miriel’s memory.
While the family of Indus still loved and respected Finwe, they were strained as to why he would not check Feanor’s recklessness. Maybe they did not understand how intense Finwe’s relationship with Miriel had been. Of Feanor’s malice towards them they were well aware, since from the start Miriel’s son had not supported the marriage and even moved out of the family home in Tirion to put distance between them: a portent of things to come in later ages.
Regardless, Finwe still commanded respect from both sides based on elven hierarchy, his accomplishments, and out of love. He was the glue the kept the ruling house together.
"This was a situation where in all ways he was literally on his own to try and figure out what was going on, and he made due with what he was given. "
The First of All
Based on this, it becomes easy to view Finwe in a bad light. He comes across as a bad father who ignores his other family members for the favorite while never disciplining him. While the latter is true, it was never from lack of love for his other sons on Finwe’s part. The best evidence for this is after his death.
When Feanor finally takes the High kingship of the Noldor to pursue Melkor, Finwe’s other sons, Finarfin and Fingolfin, along with their own children agree to follow, but not because he is king. Remember that they don’t like Feanor and have no reason to follow him. As far as they were concerned, he was a greedy, obsessed man-child who never was told ‘no’ and had an evil spirit about him. Yet they follow him anyway and this is in part due to their love for Finwe. No matter their father’s faults, they still loved him and were arguably just as hurt and angry at his murder as Feanor.
So yes, it’s easy to see Finwe as weak and oblivious, but that would be the human response. Finwe was extreme in his passions and external conditions absolutely play a large role in his decisions. His life span as an elf means he is going to feel things much more intensely than humans would because of the investment put in during that time. We are talking relationships lasting centuries or even eons. This is even more crucial given that the biggest factor is the fact that he was not only among the first elves created, but was also among the first elves to experience life at its fullest. There was no rule book for him to follow or to show him how to cope because no one had before.
This was a situation where in all ways he was literally on his own to try and figure out what was going on, and he made due with what he was given. Unlike his family in later centuries, there is no fault of malice in his motivations and if anything Finwe seems completely free of it right till the very end.
In other words, Finwe was innocent, but the circumstances were not.
A Legacy of a Flawed Peacemaker
Finwe’s legacy continues in his family is and the Noldor afterwards, even until the end of the Third Age of Middle-earth in the far distant future. His drive and desire for new worlds is part of what inflames the family and clan to return to Middle-earth: to seek out new lands as their father and king had done before them. His courage and fiery spirit against all odds is what defines his clan among all elves, as Noldor elves were known for not easily succumbing to evil circumstances. He was the blueprint of life experience in its greatness and sorrows for all the elves of Middle-earth afterward.
Finwe is also similar to the mortal daughter of Hurin, Lalaith: a divide that held back the families’ later darker impulses. In absence of Finwe’s unifying presence, Feanor and his sons become infamous for uncontrolled violence against anyone who crosses them on a whim and are not trusted by anyone, with the exception of Maedhros. The houses of his sons become plagued by internal dissent, betrayal, bitterness, and mistrust that take centuries to workout. And even then, resolution only comes when most of them are dead and in fact Galadriel is the only survivor of the original, ruling members of the house in Middle-earth.