Galadriel & Finrod Felagund

{Version française ici]

A short while ago, someone on Tumblr asked me to talk about the parallels I could see between Galadriel and and her brother Finrod. I repost my answer here.

Felagund and Galadriel are alike in many ways, especially in their respective evolution, even though those two characters have quite different motives and temperaments.

We’ve already talked a lot about Galadriel in my last post, so I won’t repeat it. As for Finrod, we know he was “like his father in his fair face and golden hair, and also noble and generous heart, though he has the high courage of the Noldor and in his youth their eagerness and unrest” (UT 2 Ch. IV). Both Galadriel and Finrod were proud, “as were all the descendants of Finwë save Finarfin”, “and like her brother Finrod, of all her kin the nearest to her heart, she had dreams of far lands and dominions that might be her own to order as she would without tutelage” (UT2, Ch. IV).

Yet, although, Finrod “had also from his Telerin mother a love of the sea and dreams of far lands that he had never seen”, he wasn’t so eager to leave Valinor during the Rebellion of the Noldor:

“But at the rear went Finarfin and Finrod, and many of the noblest and wisest of the Noldor; and often they looked behind them to see their fair city…” (The Silmarillion, Ch. 9)

Whereas Galadriel “was eager to be gone” for the reasons we have already seen.

We can probably say they share this desire to rule over a kingdom of their own, even though it seems stronger in Galadriel, while her brother appears to be driven mostly by loyalty towards his cousins and his curiosity.

But beyond their temperament, there is a whole narrative arc that corresponds both to Finrod and Galadriel, and in order to try to keep it as clear as possible, we’ll go step by step…

  • Foresight : Fate and free-will

You have probably noticed that they both have the gift of foresight, which is mentioned, strangely enough, in two very different settings, and yet, the meaning of their words are quite similar. In The Silmarillion, (ch. 15), Galadriel asks her brother why he would not take a spouse, and

“… a foresight came upon Felagund as she spoke, and he said : ‘an oath I too shall swear, and must be free to fulfil it, and go into darkness.’”

As for Galadriel, in The Fellowship of the Ring (ch. 7), after Sam had looked into the Mirror, she explains that

“Many things I can command the Mirror to reveal”

And a bit further:

“it shows many things, and not all have yet come to pass. Some never come to be true, unless those that behold the visions turn aside from their path to prevent them.”

As Tom Shippey explained in The Road to Middle-earth, here, “she articulates a theory of compromise between fate and free will”, and we find the exact same ambivalence with Finrod who should be “free to fulfil his oath” (although he can choose to not be free), while acknowledging his fate as something that is already written and from which he must not stray. In other words, it is his fate to take an oath that will drive him to his death, but he’s still free to ignore it, free to “turn aside from [the] path” that was appointed by Eru Iluvatar. That is where resides the tension of free-will.

Leo Carruthers in Tolkien et la Religion explained how this notion of free-will is fundamental in Tolkien’s work:

“If the heroes don’t have to make a choice because the path to take seems obvious… if criminals couldn’t repent, the story of the Lord of the Rings would be far less interesting” (Tolkien et la Religion).

According to him, we can understand the term “Free People of Middle-earth” as people who “can use their free-will to decide between good and evil”. It is, as Leo Carruthers comments, to be understood through the Christian notion of salvation, because “if mankind couldn’t tell good from evil, they wouldn’t be able to choose one or the other.” (we’ll talk about salvation later).

Coming back to Middle-earth, where fate has to do with the Tale of Arda as it was given in the Music. Finrod is free to follow the fate which appeared in his vision, or to refuse this role.

And what is Finrod’s role in the Tale of Arda? To help in Beren’s quest for the Silmaril, a tragic quest, but which, in the end, enhanced the beauty of Arda through the marriage between a Maia-elf and a Man, through the Peredhil, including Eärendil and his settlement in the sky with the Silmaril on his brow. And remember that Eärendil is a figure of hope for both Elves and Man.

Finrod knows the path of his fate will be a tragic one, but he also believes that there will be a happy ending; a happy ending which won’t happen if he decides to ignore his fate.

  • Estel and the « eucatastrophe »

And that’s what it’s all about : Estel, “a strong hope in Eru, which can’t be separated from trust”, says Carruthers, who then adds that it is obviously very similar to the Christian faith in God.

Finrod accepts his fate because he has Estel, he has faith in Eru and in the Tale, and he acknowledges that his sacrifice will be part of something bigger, something beautiful in the end (the well-known “eucatastrophe”). Tom Shippey wrote :

”Tolkien of course, being a Christian, did in absolute fact believe that in the end all things would end up happily, in a sense they already had… the difference between Earth and Middle-earth, one might say, is that in the latter faith can, just sometimes, be perceived as facts.”( The Road to Middle-earth, Ch. 5).

Estel means believing, it means having faith in the happening of a eucatastrophe, that is the “fairy-tale salvation” (T. Shippey, The Road to Middle-earth, Ch. 6).

I already talked a lot about Estel and Finrod in the past, and in an old post I wrote: “In the whole Beren-mess story I believe that Finrod saw himself as a sort of ‘martyr’, being convinced that he was accomplishing Eru’s will in helping Beren – Finrod clearly follows what I call the Estel-principle.”

Remember his words in the “Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth”:

“If any marriage can be between our kindred and thine, it shall be for high purpose of Doom.” (HoMe X, part IV)

As for Galadriel, just like Finrod with Beren and Lúthien, she becomes a tutelary figure for Aragorn and Arwen: not only they pledge their love in Lothlórien, but more importantly, Galadriel gives her blessing to Aragorn in The Fellowship of the Ring (Ch. 8), when she gives him the Elessar as a bridal gift. Celebrian being gone, it’s the grandmother’s role to offer it. But the stone is also a symbol of protection towards the couple, although Elrond has not yet completely agreed since Aragorn is not king yet :

“Arwen Undómiel shall not diminish her life’s grace for less cause. She shall not be the bride of any Man, less than the King of both Gondor and Arnor” (The Return of The King, Appendix A)

Galadriel accepts the marriage because she believes that it shall happen “for high purpose of Doom”, just like Finrod about Beren and Lúthien’s. And it’s no coincidence if Aragorn is called Estel: he is the hope of Mankind as the Fourth age draws closer.

Anyway, in my opinion, Galadriel’s protection over the lovers is considerably important, as important as Finrod’s sacrifice for Beren’s life. Both become some sort of guardian angels for those two couples, and they accept this role (no matter the sacrifice they’ll have to make on the way) precisely because they believe in a happy ending, because of Estel, which is, in the end, the belief in a just retribution: if they don’t go astray, they will end up wiser and stronger, if not happier, whether in this life or in the afterlife (see Annie Bricks in Dictionnaire Tolkien, entry ‘Retribution’). As I said earlier, one of the most poignant embodiments of Estel is Eärendil, it is thus no surprise if Galadriel offers the Phial of Eärendil to Frodo.

  • Friendships with Men

If Finrod had long before his meeting with Beren become a friend of Men, Galadriel, on the other hand, didn’t have a lot of connexions with mankind before the Third Age (comparing to the involvement of her brother with the Atani during the First Age). It is thus significant that she, “the last survivor of the princes and queens who had led the revolting Noldor to exile in Middle-earth” (The Road Goes ever On) acknowledges and gives her blessing to the marriage between a Man and an Elf.

It is also significant that this blessing is symbolized by the exchange of gifts, for, as Eric Flieller explained in le Dictionnaire Tolkien (dir. Vincent Ferré), exchanges between Men and Elves are “signs of alliance between the children of Eru”, just like weddings.

Furthermore, another gift is present in the story of Aragorn and Arwen : the Ring of Barahir, the token of the union between Elves and Men, which Aragorn gave to Arwen, granddaughter of Galadriel, herself sister of Finrod who probably received it from their father in Aman (Finarfin being probably the one who crafted it), and who gave the Ring to Barahir, father of Beren, himself an ancestor of Aragorn and Arwen. (ha!) We go round in circle, aren’t we?

This ring is, according to Elrond’s words to Aragorn a, token of “their kinship from afar” (The Return of the King, Appendix A), a kinship which has been able to evolve (if not to exist) thanks to the protection and tutelage of the House of Finarfin. Moreover, Sébastien Maillet (in “L’Anneau de Barahir”, Tolkien Les racines du Légendaire), noticed that « finrod had received the difficult task to guide men in their discovery of Middle-Earth, while Aragorn accept the tole to govern them after the Elves have left.”

In both cases we have an Elven lord/lady, who is engaged in exchanges (of gift, knowledge, or assistance) with Men, with the hope (Estel) that it would save Arda from perils, and eventually lead to the accomplishment of the Tale of Arda. And for that they’re both ready to fight and to make sacrifice, of different natures of course.

  • Sacrifices

Finrod sacrificed his life in the pit of Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Galadriel sacrificed something completely different : she accepted the fact that the role of the Elves in Middle-earth was dwindling, she sacrificed her pride and her ambitions.

“She also possesses humility and a willingness to sacrifice her own desires for the greater good, as evidenced by her resistance to the temptation to take the One Ring from Frodo, even though this would make her the most powerful being in Middle-earth.” (source).

She also sacrificed her granddaughter when she accepted the marriage, since Arwen would never be able to follow her family in the West. Bur more than simple “martyrs”, Galadriel and Finrod are also fighters.

  • Fights : victory through defeat

Finrod actually contends with Sauron, during the famous karaoke song-battle, and soon after he has a real physical fight with the wolf sent by Sauron, while Galadriel’s own life isn’t directly in peril, and there’s no real face to face. In her case, it is a sort of a remote battle against Sauron through the Ruling Ring, its temptation and illusions.

We must also stress that she fights against herself, her own delusions and desires. Yet, in the end, her victory helped nonetheless in the defeat of Sauron.

It would be a shame to ignore the words of Sebastien Maillet (already quoted), who noted that, while Felagund didn’t succumb to the temptation to appear as a god to the mortals when he first met them (they thought he was a Vala, remember?), Galadriel almost yield to this tempting desire when the Ring came to her. Nevertheless, by freeing herself from her own illusions and pride and by defeating the temptation woven by Sauron, she avenged her brothers.

Anyway, Galadriel and Finrod are both winners and losers: Finrod was defeated by Sauron’s song and died as he killed the wolf. He wasn’t able to see the success of the quest of the Silmaril. Galadriel left Middle-earth at the end of the Third Age, defeated like all the Elves, by the growing power of Mankind.

In terms of fights, we can also mention the parallel between the way Galadriel cleansed Dol Guldur and the passage in which Lúthien cleansed Tol Sirion which was first and foremost Finrod’s dwelling.

“Then Lúthien stood upon the bridge and declared her power: and the spell was loosed that bound stone to stone, and the gates were thrown down, and the walls opened, and the pits laid bare.” (The Silmarillion, Ch. 19).

Whereas in Dol Guldur

“Galadriel threw down its walls and laid bare its pits, and the forest was cleansed.” (The Return of the King, Appendix B)

More than an echo, I like to see in this similitude a symbol of revenge of Galadriel in the name of her brother whom she couldn’t help in the First Age. The fact that both Tol-in-Gaurhoth and Dol Guldur had become Sauron’s fortresses is particularly poignant.

  • Salvation

Beyond their half-defeat, they are still victorious in the end: Finrod’s sacrifice granted him salvation, just like the refusal to take the Ring in the case of Galadriel:

“In reward for all that she had done to oppose him [Sauron], but above all for rejection of the Ring when it came within her power, the ban was lifted, and she returned over the Sea, as I told in the Lord of the Rings (The Road Goes Ever On).

We’ve already talked about that so let’s focus on Finrod:

“They buried the body of Felagund upon the hill-top of his own isle, and it was clean again; and the green grave of Finrod Finarfin son , fairest of all the prince of the Elves, remained inviolate, until the land was changed and broken, and foundered under destroying seas. But Finrod walks with Finarfin his father beneath the trees in Eldamar.” (The Silmarillion, Ch. 19).

He’s the only Elda whose ending is given in such terms. Even about fnigolfin and Fingon, we don’t know if they’ll ever get out of Mandos, their afterlife isn’t mention, and the cairn made for Fingolfin by Turgon isn’t described with such positive terms, it’s only “high”, whereas Felagund’s grave is “green”, inviolated”, “clean”. As for the mention of his walking with his father in Valinor, it is clearly an image of redemption. He has won, because his sacrifice saved Beren, while his sister won, protecting Middle-earth from herself, approving and protecting the marriage of Arwen and Aragorn. In a draft for a letter to Peter Hasting (letter 153), Tolkien himself explains that:

“The entering into Men of the Elven-strain is indeed represented as part of a Divine Plan for ennoblement of the human Race, from the beginning designed to replace Elves”.

And from Felagund’s help in Beren’s quest to Galadriel’s farewell to Middle-earth while giving her granddaughter to Aragorn, the whole plan is made plain. (Ah!)

We must also mention other (aborted) elf-human love-stories which involve the House of Finarfin: that of Andreth and Aegnor, and that Finduilas and Turin…If those two tragic relationships never actually happened (because it wasn’t for “hight purpose of Doom”), we nonetheless notice that the alliance of Men and Elves is being mainly constructed around the children of Finarfin and his descendants.

  • The betterment of the Noldor

Finally, all the tragedies Galadriel and Finrod encountered (including the rebellion) are at the core of their own evolution: they grew wiser and more powerful than they would have, had they remained in Aman.

Indeed, if Finrod seems to have learned a lot in the contact of Men since his meeting with the People of Bëor, Galadriel seems to have had only a few connections with the Second-Born before the Third Age. And it’s only after her acknowledgement of Aragorn as the hope of Mankind and Middle-Earth that she can humble herself, accepting that her place is no longer in Middle earth.

That’s the power of Estel, which, for those two Elves, is also present in the songs they both sing to chase away darkness.

  • Songs of hope and “prayers”

In the song-battle against Sauron, Finrod tries to take the mastery by mentioning “the birds singing afar in Nargothrond, the sighing of the Sea beyond, on sands of pearls in Elvenland” (The Silmarillion, Ch. 19). His song is not only about his hope to escape, but also his hope to see Eldamar again : Estel.

As for Galadriel, in The Fellowship of the Ring (Ch. 8), she sings Namarië, which ends with some hopeful final lines: “Maybe thou shalt find Valimar. Maybe even though shalt find it.”

Tolkien explained that “The last lines of the chant express a wish (or hope) that though she could not go, Frodo might perhaps be allowed to do so.” (UT 2 Ch. IV). And although he then explains that the Quenya ‘Nai’ “expresses rather a wish than a hope, and would be more closely rendered by ‘may it be that (though wilt find), than by ‘maybe’ (The Road Goes ever on), hope as Estel is nonetheless present in this wish, if only for Frodo and for Middle-earth: if she asks for Frodo to be granted a ship to the West, it means she believes he will fulfill his quest and destroy the Ruling Ring. Her song reaches beyond the current, tragic situation, as if she was already expecting a happy ending, even if tainted with sorrow, just like in Finrod’s evocation of Eldamar during his fight with Sauron in Tol Sirion

  • Dreamlands and Craftsmanship

This formidable use of music is part of the powers of Finrod and Galadriel’s art, what the mortals call “magic”, that power of faëry (for more about this, see Tolkien’s essay “On fairy-Story”).

We’re talking here of their capacity to create images, between dreams and illusions, as in Finrod’s song, again:

“The chanting swelled, Felagund fought,

And all the magic and might he brought

Of Eveness into his words” (The Silmarillion ch.19)

or when he sings during the first meeting with the Men:

“Now men awoke and listened to Felagund as he harped and sang, and each thought that he was in some fair dream…” (The Silmarillion, Ch. 17)

Or when he changes the appearance of his companions when they approach Tol Sirion :

“Then Felagund a spell did sing

Of changing and shifting shape.” (”The Lay of Leithian”, canto VII, Home III)

In the case of Galadriel, this art of illusion is woven all around Lothlórien, also called “Dreamflower” by Treebeard, or “Dwirmordene”, that is ‘Phantom Vale’ in the tongue of the Rohirrim:

“Half in fear and half in hope to glimpse from afar the shimmer of the Dwimordene, the perilous land that in legends of their people was said to shine like gold in the springtime.” (UT 3, Ch. 2)

And a bit further:

“…through the Dwimordene where dwells the White Lady and weaves nets that o mortal can pass”. (ibid.)

As Benjamin Babut explained in his article “Lothlórien la fleur des rêves” (in J.R.R Tolkien, l’Effigie des Elfes), this word of Anglo-Saxon origin is to be related to “illusions, hallucinations”, which is to be connected to the name Lórien, originally the garden of Irmo, lord of dreams, to which Lothlórien is an echo.

Lothlórien is indeed a strange forest of gold and silver, the Valley of Gold apparently so different from the underground fortress of Finrod in the caves of Nargothrond. On the one hand: stones. Trees on the other. Do you see a pattern, here ? We’re not talking of opposite elements, but of two features that complete one another: Aulë and Yavanna.

“And Galadriel, like others of the Noldor, had been a pupil of Aulë and Yavanna in Valinor (UT 2, Ch. IV),

A fact that makes her, and her brother, friends of Dwarves. For Galadriel “had a natural sympathy with their minds and passionate love of crafts of hand” (ibid.), and we know that Finrod worked hand in hand with them in the building of Nargothrond and employed them for the crafting of the Nauglamír:

“In that labour Finrod was aided by the Dwarves of the Blue Mountains; and they were rewarded well…And in that time was made the Nauglamír, the Necklace of the Dwarves.” (The Silmarillion, Ch.13)

Yet, and this is interesting, if Galadriel acknowledges their value and the need to unite all people of Middle-earth against Sauron, she “looked upon the Dwarves also with the eye of a commander, seeing in them the finest warriors to pit against the orcs (UT 2 Ch. IV), which is not the case of her brother.

Anyway, she is nonetheless a craftswoman as well, she weaves the cloaks she gives to the fellowship, like she weaves webs of illusion around her realm.

By the Way, S. Mallet in his article also talks of the Ring of Barahir as a symbol of the illusion of Faëry…I think we’ve come full circle!


And now that all this has been said, I cannot emphasize enough Tolkien’s “near obsession” with the rewriting of the character of Galadriel ; he reshaped the character a lot of times after the publication of The Lord of the Rings; some texts are simply incompatible, and it would be purely vain to try to give a fixed, definitive depiction of her.

I’ll put a final period to this long post with this quote (source):

”Whatever the reasons, the great importance that Galadriel had for Tolkien throughout the many iterations of his legendarium and in his reflections on his sub creation should lay to rest any criticism that he paid little attention to female characters in his work.”

[Feel free to react, comment, to leave a feedback, to correct me or disagree with me – just remember to be polite and respectful. Thank you!]

[Image: Finrod’s heraldry by J.R.R Tolkien, 1960, MS. Tolkien Drawings 91, fol. 29]

6 commentaires sur “Galadriel & Finrod Felagund

  1. Amazing article, but I liked to point out… Galadriel was friends of Men of Eriador in FA in the latest version.

    And she had meeting with Prince of Numenor Aldarion (who later became King).

    She was probably in the council of the Last Alliance.

    And she had travelled across some lands of Men like Gondor in early Third Age.

    And I think Galadriel was a better craftman than Finrod, although there’s no explicitly quote about this. But given the fact that Silvan Elves were not greater than Noldor (of Third Age) in craft until Galadriel came around, and given the fact that Galadriel was a pupil of Aule and in latest version he taught her everything that he thought it is fitting to teach the Eldar, we can safely assume it was Galadriel « the greatest of the Noldor except Feanor maybe » who made Silvan so great in crafting skills. I mean, there’s no Phial of Light of the Silmaril or magic ropes or magic cloaks or magic boats etc in the chief dwelling of the Noldor (Rivendell) in TA, but you can find such things in Silvan land of Lorien.


    1. Thank you for your comment and insightful remarks!

      You’re absolutely right, Galadriel was very much involved in the politics of Middle-earth as early as the beginning of the Second Age (at least) – including politics with Mankind – and I must admit I got a little carried away while translating my own text from French ! I will surely edit now I’ve noticed it, because the exact sentence in my original version was « she didn’t have a lot of contacts with Men… » which is significantly different ! Sorry about this ! My point was mostly that she was less involved with Mankind than her brother, but I acknowledge that it’s not that clear in my text.

      As for Galadriel’s craftsmanship, I did give the quote about her being a pupil of Aulë, but I didn’t talk more about it, simply because I judged my post already too long and complicated… I had to stop somewhere ^^
      But as I said, the weaving of the cloaks could totally apply to the idea of « weaving nets of illusions », and it is possible that she was more skilled than her brother (although I think Finrod was himself a very competent craftsman), and I actually like this idea very much !


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