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Middle-earth Profiles: Aredhel

Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

Aredhel and Fingon in Helcaraxe by S-Shanshan.

Aredhel and Fingon in Helcaraxe by S-Shanshan.

Aredhel is one of the little known Elf-lords of the First Age. A Noldor princess by way of her father, Fingolfin, she was a contemporary of her more famous cousin, Galadriel. When I first came on her chapter in the Silmarillion, I was thinking she would be another stereotypical elf-princess. I am almost tempted to think that would be a common stereotype for many female Elves, however this was not the case with Aredhel. She was the polar opposite of Galadriel and where that ultimately takes her makes her motivations interesting to me.

"I am your sister and not your servant, and beyond your bounds I will go as seems good to me. And if you begrudge me an escort, then I will go alone.’"

— - Aredhel, The Silmarillion

The White Lady of the Noldor

Aredhel’s exploits in Valinor before the Noldor went into exile are not greatly known. It is mentioned that she went hunting and riding with her cousins, Celegorm and Curufin, and by all accounts was quite close to them. Which is ironic given that she too would have been present during the family strife happening within the Noldor royal family. But from that at least we can infer that she was very physically active there.

It wasn’t common for female Elves to participate in combat and there’s no record of Aredhel doing any actual fighting at the Battle of Alqualonde. Despite that, she was in the march over the Grinding Ice in the frigid north of Middle-earth when Uncle Feanor and his faction abandoned the rest of the Noldor in Valinor. It does appear that after she arrived in Beleriand with her father’s faction that she went to live with her brother, Turgon in the region of Nevrast.

It is implied during this time that unlike her immediate family and cousin’s from her Uncle Finarfin, that Aredehl still maintained a relationship with her cousins, the sons of Feanor. She often went to visit and continued to ride with them in their lands in eastern Beleriand. This all changes when Turgon decides to secretly move his people to the newly-established realm of Gondolin in the mountains near the north of Doriath. Her brother decreed that none of those who went with him could leave without his say so, but for most of them that wasn’t an issue because of the city’s beauty. Aredhel however was not so bemused and after while wanted to see her cousins again.

Turgon in goodwill refused her, telling his sister that the ban pertained to everyone, even his immediate family and himself. Aredhel bulked at this because she was his sister. After much arguing, Turgon permits her passage, but with a guard. However the princess becomes lost and separated from her escorts, wandering into the forests of Nan Emroth, ruled by the Sindarin Elf-lord, Eol. She stays with him and for unknown reasons, marries him and somewhat voluntarily submits to his obsessive commands that she can wander free within the forest but cannot leave it. Eol hates sun light and blames the Noldor for it since the arrival of the two coincided.

In time, Aredhel has a son named Maeglin and she educates him on his High Elf heritage without Eol’s knowledge. Her time in Nan Emroth clearly has weighed on her, and her family life was filled with tension as Maeglin and Eol barely got along, though they did travel together to trade and train with the Dwarves. Finally things come to a head and Maeglin urges his mother that they leave the forest and return to Gondolin. Something about his determination re-ignites Aredhel’s and they leave while Eol is away.

Eventually they arrive and Aredhel submits to Turgon, though her brother is just glad to see her and meet his nephew. Things seem well until Eol, who had pursued his family and discovered the secret entrance to Gondolin arrives. Aredhel is both surprised and sad, seeing that her escape has led to the very thing Turgon was afraid of. However, her brother is gracious, treating his in-law as family but binding him to same decree as the other residents of Gondolin.

Balking at this and already having had his fill of High Elven arrogant presumption, Eol rejects Turgon’s efforts, but essentially divorces Aredhel, telling her to let her stay there. He only wants to claim Maeglin and leave. A dispute breaks out between the Sindarin and Noldor lords that results in the Aredhel’s death when she jumps in front of Eol’s spear to save her son when he tries to kill him.


Aredhel Lost by alystraea

Aredhel Lost by alystraea

Rebel Without Cause

Aredhel is not one of the notable players in the Noldor family, but like many in her family, there's more to her that is not said than what is said. Her primary characteristic is that she is rebellious in nature. She has always been an adventurous explorer since day one, something she inherits I think from her father, father, Fingolfin and grandfather and first Noldor High King, Finwe. Turgon, her brother is the same way before he begins ruling in Gondolin, so it's a definite family trait. She’s clearly more Noldor than Vanyar and proud of it. She strikes me as having the personality of a teenager, doing what she wants when she wants.

Though the circumstances were tragic and the trip over the northern ice fields to Middle-earth just as traumatic, I think for the princess that the chance to explore new lands in the east appealed very strongly to her. Aredhel doesn’t share a desire to rule that many of her kin do and just as well as she’s not suited to it, as her time in Gondolin showed. The princess was impulsive and impatient. Controlling others is as contrary to her nature as being controlled by others. This does make her obstinate and stubborn however.

She initially would push back against those who try to control her, even family. When Turgon tries to pull rank on his sister, she immediately rebuked him for treating her as if she were one of his subjects rather than an equal. In Aredhel’s mind, she has just as much power as Turgon, titles be damned. Her strong-will was something even her cousins, Celegorm and Curufin respected.

Which is why it is so peculiar that she eventually submits to Eol. The Silmarillion is very vague on this. There is no way he would have overpowered her as she was physically fit, on top of being an Eldar to his Moriquendi: physical feats being one of the main differences between the two. Whatever the reason, something definitely quenches her fiery spirit that she allows herself to be something she has never been. Still, it's never completely gone, as she would tell her son stories of her people, perhaps reliving those moments of her past through the re-telling. When an older Maeglin wants to leave the confines of Nan Emroth, Aredhel’s spirit is restored, though changed.

Maybe it was maturity having to raise a child, or just being away from a High Elven community, but upon returning she is more subdued or in control of herself. I think she saw the benefit of her brother’s decree by living through the consequences of not doing so. Middle-earth was not Valinor. She still maintains enough spirit to save her son from Eol’s incoming spear.

Huntress

I think Aredhel would have been very athletic with the build to match, maybe similar to an equestrian rider given her love to ride and to hunt on horseback. It would be a contrast to Galadriel, her contemporary and cousin. Between that and her motivation, I don’t think Aredhel would be one to be physically subdued, at least not easily. And definitely not by Eol, who though I’m sure was strong of arm as a blacksmith, was nowhere near in the same kind of physical condition as she was. One wonders if perhaps Eol would have tried to forcibly take Aredhel if she were physically weaker, as his son tries to do later with Idril during the fall of Gondolin. It would have been because of her fitness that she was able to save her son at the last minute when Eol tried to spear him, being not only able to read what he was going to do faster than the other Elves present, but also being able to react quick enough to block the projectile.


Aredhel-felt-into-the-darkness by SaMo-art

Aredhel-felt-into-the-darkness by SaMo-art

Diversity of Connections

Other than her independent streak, the other aspects about Aredhel that are interesting are her relationships, which to me seem much like her personality: out of the box and potentially extreme.

Most striking is with her cousins, particularly Celegorm and Curufin. All three were present during the family strife in Valinor and when Feanor led his family and faction to live away from his brothers, Fingolfin and Finarfin. Yet despite that, Aredhel and the brothers were apparently still very close. That Feanor’s clan was notorious for violent outbursts did not bother Aredhel. While the rest of her immediate family were estranged, seeing the sons as just as arrogant as their father, the princess had more in common with them. Look at Galadriel.

By far the closest comparison I have to Aredhel, Aredhel's cousin followed after her family’s opinion of Feanor, though it was for good reason. Galadriel had no desire for physical deeds and though she did share the desire to explore as well as to rule, those feelings did not lead her, nor did that lead Galadriel into taking a physical part on the Beleriand stage.

Aredhel was the opposite of all of that. That this relationship even lasted past Feanor’s betrayal and Fingolfin’s tortuous journey across the Grinding Ice make it even more strange. Aredhel implies that before moving to Gondolin, she had ridden with her cousins often in eastern Beleriand. And Eol’s later confrontation with Curufin during his pursuit of her implies that she may have at least spoken with him before continuing back to Gondolin, updating her cousin on what had happened, given that Curufin already was aware of her passage when he later meets Eol.

Even more apparent was Curufin’s threat to Eol regarding how he came about marrying his cousin. He had never once shown any signs of affection for the children of Fingolfin and Finarfin. And yet here he was acting almost like an older brother for one of them. While I do think a part of this was his prejudice towards the Dark Elves, it is still strange that he should care so much about any relationship between them and family he doesn’t care for.

Aredhel’s relationship with her brother, Turgon is perhaps the most normal one she’s seems to have had. By all accounts, both siblings had a love of exploration and travel. Both were also very independent in their wanderings, with no accounts of them having gone together, though that shouldn’t be a surprise since she was probably with her cousins. They bicker like siblings as well, even over royal matters and Turgon tries to be all official about it, with Aredhel turning it into a family matter.

Where the two diverge is when Turgon moves his people to Gondolin and becomes king and regarding his sister’s relationship with their kin in the east. Burdened by the prophecy of the Vala, Ulmo regarding the ultimate fate of the Noldor kingdoms and maintaining the city’s secrecy, Turgon becomes more responsible. Aredhel however carried no such burdens.

And as far as the sevens sons of Feanor are concerned, Turgon follows Fingolfin’s faction. He doesn’t like them, possibly never liked them even before they left Valinor and just about says as much when he urges his sister that if she must ride somewhere, she should go to their family in western Beleriand.

Even as king though, Turgon has a soft spot for Aredhel. Later, after Eol’s attack mortally wounds Aredhel, Turgon was willing to bypass his anger when she pleaded for his life. And its noted that after she dies, that his personality undergoes a darker change, becoming more strict to maintaining his city’ s secrecy.

Maeglin is a reminder to Aredhel of who she is. Having spent years in Nan Emroth, with no one knowing her whereabouts, Maeglin reawakens the Noldor fire in her. His own spirit and appearance remind her that she is a High Elf and not someone to be put into a corner like an object to be possessed. Their bond is closer than either of theirs’ to Eol, who is often away on business. Maeglin is aware of his mother’s suffering and I think largely blames his father for causing it.

Despite these aspects, Aredhel does love Maeglin for who he is. It maybe that raising and teaching him finally helped the rebel princess to grow up a bit. So much so that for the first and only time, she thinks of someone other than herself when she gives her life for him.


Half Noldor Aredhel and Maeglin return by Samo-Art

Half Noldor Aredhel and Maeglin return by Samo-Art

Ambiguous Marriage

But perhaps Aredhel’s most perplexing relationship is with Eol. As I said before, there is no logical reason why she would voluntarily submit to someone else when she had no reason to. It is said that Eol enchanted the forest once he saw her, so that she would get lost, but did it do something more? Did it also blur her reasoning, disguising Eol as someone more noble than he actually was? Nothing clear is said and it's hard to draw any implied or hard conclusions.

While she was with him, she was loyal until Maeglin convinced her otherwise. He apparently had tried multiple times, but Aredhel always refused. While with her husband, Aredhel was a shadow of her former self. I think that whatever it was that caused her to remain, had a side effect of the princess forgetting who she was. Her independence became subdued, though not erased. On some level though, Aredhel did care for Eol and that showed even when in Gondolin, where it implies that this was organic and not the result of some love-spell. Even so, it was definitely a toxic relationship.

Aredhel and Eol though are dark mirror of the relationship between Thingol and Melian. That pairing also began under a great and dark forest, between someone from the Holy West and an Elf. Plus, Eol is related to Thingol by blood and more than likely interacted with them before the wars started and the sun was made. It makes me wonder if perhaps Eol secretly coveted his kinsman’s marriage to a high-born and seeing Aredhel in Nan Emroth was interpreted by Eol as his chance to make lightning strike twice in a bottle.

The comparisons though are only that: comparisons. At the end of the day, Aredhel was not Melian. Eol was not Thingol. And Maeglin was not Luthien. Aredhel’s family was not pure, but one corrupted from the beginning by deceit. And that poison slowly ate away at her family until she left and ultimately killed her and the rest of her family.

Noldor For Life

Aredhel’s moniker of “the White Lady of the Noldor” was well earned right up till her death. She was everything her immediate and extended family were and exuded the same nobility. The only reason I think she was not named as one of the leaders of the Noldor rebellion like Galadriel was because she wanted adventure, not kingdoms. A free spirit. When I first read her story, I was initially surprised that the ‘White Lady’ title didn’t go to her cousin because of her renowned beauty,wisdom, and longevity. Yet the more I examine Aredhel’s motivations, the more I’m not as surprised that she earned the title, because while Galadriel definitely inherited the Noldor ambition, in everything else she was Vanyar. Aredhel was Noldor in body, spirit, action, and mind through and through, for better or for worse and whomever came up with the title, as well as other Noldor Elves, probably noticed this as well.

The princess was both a bridge and a contradiction within her own family. One of the rare instances where the Noldor clans had anything to do with each other on a personal level. She was a Elf who choose to be among the most active of her family rather than sitting behind the scenes or on a throne, when many content were otherwise. It would not be a far stretch to say she was more alike to Feanor’s side of the family than her father’s. While it’s arguable whether or not her death was due to the Noldors’ curse of rash behavior or the dark mechanization of a possessive husband, Aredhel was still a force to be reckoned with. And one wonders had she lived into the coming Ages, if she would have become as wise and powerful as her blonde-haired cousin.


© 2020 Jamal Smith

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