Parentage of Gil-galad - a Textual History, The: 1. Gil-galad

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1. Gil-galad

A plea to reconsider the parentage of Gil-galad.

For Earonn, a fellow believer

1. Introduction

Gil-galad was an Elvenking - no doubt as to that. His name means Star of Radiance, and he was the leader of the Elvish host in the Last Alliance against Sauron at the end of the Second Age of Middle-earth. He wielded a spear called Aeglos, but was burned to death by the heat of Sauron's hand during the last combat on the slopes of Orodruin. His star fell into darkness and ever since, the harpers sing sadly of him; no doubt as to that either.

This information can be gained from The Fellowship of the Ring(1). Appendix B to the Lord of the Rings, The Tale of Years, contains some additional facts: in SA 1200 "Gil-galad refuses to treat with Sauron"(2). He was also the guardian of one of the three Elven rings until he gave it to Elrond before his death(3). This is all the information about Gil-galad published during Tolkien's own lifetime, and therefore the only strictly canonical information we possess about this character.

Several of the texts published after Tolkien's death tell us a great deal more about this Elvenking: The Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales, and five of the twelve volumes of The History of Middle-earth (not counting those that merely mention him in passing). All these texts provide information concerning Gil-galad's history, his background and his life at the end of the First and during the whole of the Second Age.

We learn that he held two of the three Elven rings for some time, and that he befriended Tar Aldarion of Númenor and later Elendil, leader of the Elf-friends who escaped the destruction of the island. Much more is told of the conflict with Sauron and the War of the Last Alliance that ended the Second Age, in which he played an important role. From the legendary but elusive hero he is in LotR, Gil-galad now becomes a character firmly embedded in the history of Middle-earth.

Or so it would seem, except for one small problem: his parentage.

For a great many Tolkien readers, this is not an issue. The Silmarillion, published in 1977, tells them that Gil-galad's childhood name was Ereinion, 'scion of Kings', and that he was the son of Fingon and therefore a member of the house of Fingolfin. After the Dagor Bragollach, when he was still young, his father sent him to the Falas, where Círdan the Shipwright took care of him. Because of Ereinion's youth it was his uncle Turgon who succeeded Fingon as High King of the Noldor of Middle-earth after the disastrous Nirnaeth Arnoediad, but after the fall of Gondolin and Turgon's death the kingship fell to Fingon's son. At the beginning of the Second Age Gil-galad is King in Lindon, with Elrond Half-elven to aid and advise him(4). A letter written by 'Ereinion Gil-galad son of Fingon' to Tar Meneldur of Númenor, found in UT(5), confirms his identity.

2. Will Gil-galad's real father rise now?

Ereinion Gil-galad son of Fingon: that is who he is in the heads of the majority of readers, and in the majority of fanfiction authors, too(6) - despite the fact that throughout his legendarium, Tolkien was less than consistent about his parentage. In the twelfth and last volume of HoMe, the Peoples of Middle-earth, published in 1996(7), Gil-galad's name is given as Artanáro (Quenya) or Rodnor (Sindarin), and his father is Orodreth, who in his turn is not Finarfin's son but Angrod's.

This is a late decision, found in a note dated August 1965(8). In the previous volume of HoMe, The War of the Jewels, Gil-galad as the young son of Fingon who is sent to the Havens had already turned out to be a 'late pencilled addition' to the account of Fingolfin's fall; here his name was 'Findor', preceded by a question mark(9). The Grey Annals date from the early 1950's; the pencilled note remains undated. But whatever the date, this is the only reference in the entire legendarium to Gil-galad as Fingon's son. Remarkably enough, the name Ereinion is lacking here.

Nowhere in his commentary does Christopher Tolkien explain why he preferred 'Ereinion' to 'Findor' in the 1977 Silmarillion. Maybe it was the question mark that undid Findor, maybe it was the meaning of the name Ereinon: 'scion of Kings', or even the fact that names starting on 'Fin-' were already rife in the House of Finwë. But this has to remain conjecture. As such, the names Findor and Ereinion are about equally obscure. 'Ereinion' as Gil-galad's childhood name is also a late appearance: it occurs for the first and only time in the Shibboleth of Fëanor, dating from 1968(10). Here, the discussion of the name is completely unrelated to the matter of Gil-galad's parentage; all we get to know is that he was the last male descendant of Finwë except Elrond.

That the name Ereinion only occurs a single time in Tolkien's own writings seems to contradict the text of Unfinished Tales as published in 1980. Here, 'Ereinion' appears thrice: in the letter to Tar Meneldur in the Tale of Aldarion and Erendis; in a note to this letter, and in Appendix E to the History of Galadriel and Celeborn(11). However, in a passage in the People of Middle-earth (HoMe 12), Christopher Tolkien states:

'I should mention also that in the published text of Aldarion and Erendis (...) the letter of Gil-galad to Tar Meneldur opens "Ereinion Gil-galad son of Fingon", but the original has "Finellach Gil-galad of the House of Finarfin".'(12)

In other words, Christopher Tolkien changed his father's text to make it compatible with the 1977 Silmarillion. (The other two UT passages where 'Ereinion' occurs are commentaries written by Christopher himself.) Elsewhere in this same passage, we read that Tolkien's son changed the name of Gil-galad's father in the fifth and last part of The Silmarillion, Of The Rings of Power, replacing 'Felagund' with Fingon'(13), adding:

'Much closer analysis of the admittedly extremely complex material than I had made twenty years ago [1977] makes it clear that Gil-galad as the son of Fingon (...) was an ephemeral idea.'(14)

The fact that at some point Tolkien decided that 'Fingon had no wife or child' reinforces this. In most of Tolkien's genealogical tables of the House of Finwë, Fingon has a wife, and in the first one he has two children as well, a son called Finbor - not to be confused with Findor - and a daughter Erien(15). But in the end, all three were struck out.

According to Tolkien's son, there's no doubt that Artanáro/Rodnor Gil-galad as son of Orodreth son of Angrod was his father's last word on the subject(16). For some, this is enough to decide the matter for once and all: if this was Tolkien's last word it is canon, and Ereinion can go. However, for a majority of fans Christopher Tolkien's editorial operations in S and UT remain untouchable. Both books appeared long before the HoMe was published, many readers have grown attached to Ereinion, it is only fitting that the grandson of the Elf who attacked Morgoth confronts Morgoth's successor, and the final argument, 'last word' does not mean final word: only death prevented Tolkien from changing his mind once again.

Against this, it could be argued that the idea of Sauron being the hereditary enemy of the House of Finarfin holds more than a little appeal - after all, Sauron outsang Finarfin's eldest son in the Tale of Beren and Lúthien - or that it is remarkable that the weapon of Gil-galad's choice was his spear Aeglos: it was a spear that nailed Finduilas to a tree after the fall of Nargothrond, and if Gil-galad was Finduilas' brother this would be a plausible explanation for this choice (as several fanfiction writers suggest(17)).

And no, 'last word' does not mean 'final word' - but is the decision to make Gil-galad Orodreth's son a random one? Is there any logic behind it? And could the change have been introduced to the Quenta Silmarillion?

3. Convoluted history

To answer these questions, it could be useful to take a look at the textual history of the character from his first appearance onward. Who was Gil-galad, star of radiance and bone of contention, before he became, ephemerally, Fingon's son and subsequently evolved into the son of Orodreth?

'The last whose realm was fair and free between the mountains and the sea' did not appear out of thin air when Sam started singing about him in LotR. His textual history goes back to HoMe V, The Lost Road(18), which contains the first appearance of Gil-galad in any of J.R.R. Tolkien's texts, dating back to the mid-thirties. The Fall of Númenor, the earliest version of the Akallabêth, tells how Elendil 'made a league with Gil-galad the Elf-king who was descended from Fëanor.'(19) So the instant Gil-galad enters the legendarium, he is already identified as a descendant of Finwë (who is Fëanor's father from HoMe III onward(20)).

Other elements present from the outset are his role as an opponent of Sauron, then called Thû, his siege of Sauron's stronghold in Mordor and his death by Sauron's hand. However, nothing is said about his parentage, or about the number of generations separating him from Fëanor. Tolkien appended him to the history of the Elder Days, but did not yet embed him into it at this stage.

The typescript containing the first description of the Last Alliance was soon revised, and one of the changes concerned Gil-galad. He now became the 'son of Felagund, son of Finrod'(21) - Finrod being the name of Finarfin until the second edition of LotR (1966). In other words, shortly after his first appearance as a member of the House of Finwë's first son, Gil-galad moved to the House of Finwë's third son. That one of Sauron's enemies was Felagund's son is, of course, not entirely coincidental. It was Sauron who vanquished Felagund in the famous 'magical' singing contest first found in the Lay of Leithian(22).

But apparently, Tolkien had doubts about this move. In an early draft of the Council of Elrond found in HoMe VI(23), Fëanor, not so easily dismissed, made a reappearance as Gil-galad's ancestor: [Elendil] 'made an alliance with the Elf-king of those lands, whose name is Gilgalad (Starlight), a descendant of Fëanor the renowned', says Elrond to the hobbit who was eventually to become Frodo. This happened in the earliest composition stage of LotR; to judge by the approximate date given for the first draft of the Weathertop chapter(24), this passage was probably written in 1939.

In the next series of drafts for the council of Elrond, dating back to 1940, we find both Fëanor as Gil-galad's ancestor and Inglor Felagund as his father, plus one draft in which the name of his father is illegible; though Christopher Tolkien writes that 'the fourth letter seems to be an r', the name is not Finrod(2). So, all these versions remain at variance, but the one with Inglor Felagund is chronologically the last.

The fourth draft, however, entirely omits the name of Gil-galad's father. The most logical explanation for this would be that Tolkien couldn't make up his mind and therefore decided to leave the matter of his parentage obscure. In LotR, Gil-galad is a legendary hero whose origins remain shrouded in mystery, and this may well be part of his initial appeal to both readers and writers of fanfiction.

In the third text of The Tale of Years, found in HoMe XII, Gil-galad is also the son of Felagund. In his commentary, Christopher Tolkien does not give a precise date for this manuscript. All he says is that it was written before the completion of LotR.(26) So it is impossible to say whether he is still Felagund's son here, or again, and therefore, this chronology cannot serve as evidence, except that reinforces Gil-galad's ties with the house of Finarfin. An interesting detail is that here, as in other texts written at this stage, Galadriel was Felagund's daughter and Gil-galad's sister.

The issue remained undecided until Tolkien returned to the elder mythology after finishing LotR, but before its publication. In the Later Quenta Silmarillion, HoMe XI, Gil-galad's father is still Felagund, be it in a note to the manuscripts not found in any of the final typescripts:

[Felagund] 'gave to Barahir his ring. But fearing now that all strong places were doomed to fall at last before the might of Morgoth, he sent away his wife Meril to her own folk in Eglorest, and with her went their son, yet an elvenchild, and Gil-galad Starlight he was called for the brightness of his eye.'(27)

Here, Felagund is given a wife Meril. However, the Grey Annals written during the same period contain several references to Amárie, his (Vanyarin) beloved who was 'not permitted to go with him into exile,' and to whom he returned after his death in Sauron's dungeons and his sojourn in Mandos(28). The existence of a Significant Other in Valinor is thorougly at variance with the text where Felagund entrusts the crown of Nargothrond to Orodreth before his departure with Beren: 'But foreseeing evil he commanded Orodreth to send away his son Gil-galad, and wife.'(29) Here we encounter the motive of sending the heir to safety also found in the pencilled Grey Annals note about the son of Fingon. (Although, from a grammatical point of view, 'his' can just as well refer to Orodreth as Felagund - in which case this would be the first reference to Gil-galad as Orodreth's son - this reading remains too speculative to carry much weight). Christopher Tolkien concludes:

'It is certain that the notes on the QS manuscripts represent a rejected idea for the incorporation of Gil-galad into the tradition of the Elder Days, and the passage [about Amárië found in] the Grey Annals, is to be taken as showing that it had been abandoned. That Gil-galad was the son of Fingon (...) derives from the late note pencilled on the manuscript of GA (...). But this, adopted after much hesitation, was not in fact by any means the last of my father's speculations on this question.' (30)

Why Tolkien decided to abandon the notion that Inglor/Finrod Felagund had a wife and a son in Beleriand is a matter of speculation, but it may have something to do with Finrod's statement that he must be 'free to fulfil' the oath he will swear(31). Did Tolkien feel that he could not send Finrod off on what was basically a suicidal mission while he had obligations to a wife and an underage son? The passage in Laws & Customs among the Eldar about the responsibilities of Eldarin parents towards their offspring(32) reinforces such an interpretation. And the oath and Finrod's role as Beren's helper are so essential to the tale of Beren and Lúthien - one of the core stories of the Silmarillion - that it is reasonable to assume they would override other concerns, such as having Finrod's son fight Sauron at the end of the Second Age.

The next stage of writing takes us to the conclusion of Gil-galad's textual history. Unfortunately, it does nothing to simplify matters. From CT's commentary in HoMe XII it appears that

'Finrod (Felagund) was first given a son named Artanáro Rhodotir (so contradicting the story in the Grey Annals that he had no wife), the second King of Nargothrond, and father of Finduilas. Thus 'Orodreth' was now moved down a generation, becoming Finrod's son rather than his brother. In the next stage my father (recalling, apparently, the story in the Grey Annals), noted that Finrod 'had no child' (he left his wife in Aman)', and moved Artanáro Rhodotir to become, still in the same generation, the son of Finrod's brother Angrod.'(33)

In August 1965 Tolkien then decided that it was best to make Gil-galad the son of Orodreth, who, after all, quite consistently had at least one son from HoMe III onward(34). The name Artanáro was transferred from Orodreth to his son, while Rhodotir became Rodnor. This was the final bid, but did not make it to the published Silmarillion, because Christopher Tolkien thought it 'impossible to introduce it.'(35)

4. The hot potato and other burning questions

From a textual viewpoint, the legendary Gil-galad begins to look like the proverbial hot potato (to use a comparison Michael Martinez made in an article on this subject(36)), being passed around the three Finwian houses: from Fëanor to Finrod (aka Finarfin) to Fëanor to Finrod (aka Finarfin) to Fingolfin (father of Fingon) to Finarfin (as grandfather of Orodreth), until death prevented the author from making yet another pass. It looks as if there's a pattern here; Tolkien seems drawn to the house of Finwë's third son as a mortal moth to an Elvish flame. As Orodreth's son, Gil-galad simply returns to where he was before on several occasions, be it in a slightly different position. Making him Orodreth's son was no mere whim, then. But why the House of Finarfin?

It has been argued that it was Tolkien's intention to move the High Kingship of the Noldor of Middle-earth 'down' from the eldest to the youngest of the three Finwian houses. Maedhros heir of Fëanor, eldest son of Finwë, relinquishes the kingship to Finwë's second son Fingolfin. From Fingolfin it goes to Fingon and then to his younger brother Turgon. If Gil-galad were Fingon's son, the crown would stay in the house of Fingolfin, but as we know from fairy stories featuring three sons, the third and youngest is the one who usually gets the prize (or in this case, the House of the third son). Symbolism would require that the High Kingship of the Noldor of Middle-earth eventually passes to a descendant of the last and worthiest of Finwë's three sons, like the High-Kingship of the Noldor of Aman is conveyed upon that last son himself. Therefore, Gil-galad would logically belong to the house of Finarfin.

However, the act of sending the heir apparent to safety, found in the manuscript of the Later QS, raises a new question, one that does not arise if it is the youthful son of Fingon who is sent away, or even the child Gil-galad son of Felagund.

If Gil-galad is the son of Orodreth, he has a sister, Finduilas, who remains Orodreth's daughter in all the genealogies. Why not send her away, too? Because, being female, she is less important to the succession? Because, unlike her little brother, she is an adult and refuses to leave her beloved Gwindor? Or, from a narrative point of view, because the tale of Túrin requires her presence in Nargothrond? Maybe all three. The example of Gondolin, where the king has a daughter but 'no heir', seems to indicate that the House of Finwë knew no ruling queens(37), which indeed makes Finduilas less important to the succession. That she did not want to be separated from her beloved is at least plausible; and reason three is irrefutable.

Still, the idea that Gil-galad was sent away to safety after Finrod left with Beren apparently did not satisfy Tolkien. In the above mentioned note of August 1965 he writes: 'Gil-galad escaped and eventually came to Sirion's Mouth and was King of the Noldor there'(38). A note on the last of the genealogical tables repeats this: 'he escaped and dwelt at Sirion's Mouth.'(39)

Tolkien does not reveal what it was that Gil-galad escaped: the Sack of Nargothrond, or the slaughter at the lost Battle of Tumhalad, where Orodreth was slain. Both are possible: in the tale of Túrin Turambar we read that after the battle 'Túrin sped back to Nargothrond, mustering such of the rout as he met with on the way' - meaning that not all the warriors of Nargothrond were slain at Tumhalad. Reaching Nargothrond they discovered that 'the Orcs had slain or driven off all that remained in arms' - meaning that not all the warriors who had remained behind to defend Nargothrond were killed(40). Gil-galad could have belonged to either group, though the latter seems more plausible to me (maybe also because those who followed Túrin back to Nargothrond all fled from Glaurung, which is not the same as escaping a sack). Leaving an heir at home when you march into battle is a sensible thing to do, and it has happened countless times in the Primary World.

My main point, however, is that a son of Orodreth named Gil-galad could easily have been incorporated into this part of the story. Compared to the editorial operations Christopher Tolkien carried out elsewhere in S this would have been a minor adjustment. A possible objection could be, that if Gil-galad dwelled at the Mouths of Sirion as King, he was probably an adult at the time of the Sack - in which case one would expect him to play a role earlier in the narrative as well. Yet he does not; possibly, Christopher did not feel entitled to invent such a role, however small.

On the other hand, he did not hesitate to invent Thingol's death 'in the deep places of Menegroth', described in the S chapter about the ruin of Doriath(41), despite the fact that his father had projected a death in battle for this character. That his son regretted this decision later is irrelevant; we are speaking here of the task he had set himself in the mid-seventies: editing his father's Silmarillion as a 'coherent and internally self consistent narrative', his original aim(42).

Chistopher Tolkien could even have used the earlier note that Gil-galad was sent to safety after Finrod departed on his mission with Beren - as the son of Orodreth. This note dates back to the same post-LotR period of writing as the pencilled addition about Fingon's son. As I've pointed out earlier, the literal wording of this note allows for such an interpretation (and speculating a little: could it be that Tolkien also realised this, and that this led or at least contributed to his decision to make it so?).

No fundamental changes would have been required, and it would involve less meddling than is the case in the Doriath chapter. I fail to see in which way this would be a worse manipulation of Tolkien's writings than changing the text of Gil-galad's letter to Tar Mendeldur in Aldarion and Erendis, nor does Christopher provide any information that would preclude such a move. It is not even necessary to make Orodreth the son of Angrod - a change that would be far more disruptive to the narrative and the overall picture, from the scene on the great square of Tirion onward - in order to make this work(43).

5. Conclusion

Unfortunately, the fact that Tolkien's many writings on this subject show an obvious tendency to place Gil-galad in the house of Finarfin was insufficient reason for his son to make the editorial moves necessary to achieve this aim. The main reason why he chose the 'son of Fingon' option may well have been that this was by far the easiest solution, requiring the fewest explanations and alterations to the text. But later he admits that the decision to settle for this most ephemeral of possible fathers was an unlucky one(44).

However, leaving Gil-galad's parentage obscure would not have been better, as he claims(45). Did Christopher, writing in the mid-nineties and no doubt aware of tendencies in the fandom to treat his father's writings as 'historical' texts, truly believe that a majority of his father's admirers would have been satisfied with a Silmarillion that failed to give the heroic Elvenking from Sam's poem and Elrond's account a proper background? Moreover, Tolkien's incessant preoccupation with this character from the mid-thirties onward amply proves that Gil-galad's parentage was a matter of more than a little concern to him, and this, too must have been obvious to his son.

To me the following reasons, mostly symbolical, would suffice to consider Gil-galad a member of the house of Finarfin, the son of Orodreth and the brother of Finduilas.
1) the crown of the Noldor of Middle-earth would end up with a descendent of the king of the Noldor of Aman;
2) Finarfin's descendant would fight the renegade Maia who caused the death of Finarfin's son - it is no coincidence Tolkien wanted to make Gil-galad Finrod's son at first! - or alternatively: Sauron would be the hereditary enemy of the house of Finarfin - remember that it is the last surviving scion of that house in Middle-earth, Galadriel, who opposes him in the Third Age;
3) the brother would fight with the weapon that slew his sister: Gil-galad is the only High King of the Noldor ever to fight with a spear;
4) the whole story would retain the fairy-tale element of the successful third brother, or in this case the third brother's House, who eventually wins the kingdom. (I admit this is perhaps not the best argument, but I am rather fond of it; it is precisely the kind of decision an author could have made unconsciously, because it is a pattern internalised in Western culture and tradition.)

Though it is possible to argue in favour of Gil-galad as the son of Fingon, the arguments (see Part 2 and Note 17) are fewer here, and in my opinion none of them are compelling enough to override the alternative - the popularity of 'Ereinion son of Fingon' with a majority of readers excepted. Bearing in mind the editorial freedom with which the 1977 Silmarillion was assembled - passages rewritten, episodes and chunks of text left out, at least one scene entirely invented by the editor(46) - I see no good reason why Christopher Tolkien could not have adopted the Gil-galad-son-of-Orodreth version.

A pity that a decision he regretted once he had acquired a better grasp of the material his father left behind, created a tradition that became virtually unshakeable within two dozens of years. But hopefully, I have at least succeeded in arguing the feasibility of the alternative, as well as in shedding some light on the possible considerations and motivations of an author at work.

August 2003

This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: vorondis

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: Multi-Age

Genre: Critical Essay

Rating: General

Last Updated: 07/08/05

Original Post: 09/01/03

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