Jamal is a graduate of Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.
King Turgon was an Elf-lord from the Noldor House of Fingolfin. Though he is one of the more notable characters in the Silmarillion compared to his other kindred, I honestly didn’t think there was much nuance to him to do a profile on. Turgon’s notoriety seemed almost entirely rooted in being the ruler of the hidden kingdom of Gondolin and the grandfather to Earendil. It wasn’t until I read the book, The Fall of Gondolin that a deeper picture started to come together regarding his psyche. There is much to him that is unique, while also mirroring his contemporaries of the First Age.
“I will not debate with you Dark Elf. By the swords of the Noldor alone are your sunless woods defended. Your freedom to wander there wild you owe to my kin and but for them long since you would have laboured in thraldom in the pits of Angband. And here I am King and whether you will it or will it not my doom is law. This choice is given to you: abide here or to die here and so also for your son.”
— -Turgon, The Silmarillion
The Good Son
Being born during the high times of Valinor, Turgon was born into the bliss of the Noldor as they came into their full maturity. The strife that had come from the Valar’s war with Melkor, as well as the migration of the three Eldar tribes to Valinor, had long passed. Now the Noldor were enjoying the fruits of their labor and Turgon had learned the great skill of craftsmanship that came naturally to his people. And yet all was not a utopia.
Turgon’s father was Fingolfin, the second son of the Noldor High King, Finwe and his wife of the Vanyar tribe, Indis. His brother was Fingon and his sister, Aredhel. Along with his father, the royal couple also had birthed Finarfin, and Turgon was close with that house as if they were more brothers than cousins. However, they were not of the original bloodline from Finwe’s first wife, Miriel.
A Noldor Elf-woman, she was very gifted, skilled in the arts, and had given birth to one son, Feanor. However, she died in the process of child-birth and though Finwe had eventually remarried to Turgon’s grandmother, he never fully recovered from the loss. As such, Feanor was always the favorite son of the three and this was well known. Also well known was the resentment the first son bore towards his step-family.
Like his brothers, sister, and cousins, Turgon had a front row seat to the verbal battles between Fingolfin and Feanor. What resulted was an estrangement, with Feanor and his family largely isolating themselves from their step-family, with few exceptions.
Turgon’s family was also split. Aredhel still maintained a bond with her cousins, Celegrom and Curufin, frequently hunting and riding through Valinor with them. Also, Fingon was still close friends with Maedhros until sometime later when the split became more malicious, thanks to rumors spread by Melkor. Yet even then, he still bore some regret, which inspired Fingon to free a captured Maedhros much later when the Noldor went into exile. Turgon however had no such connections with his cousins, nor did it seem like he wanted to. He followed more closely with his father and never once has Turgon ever trusted the blacksheeps of the family that was the elder House of Feanor.
Still, the Noldor enriched their adopted homeland with works of stone and gems. They built the city of Tirion and even aided the Teleri building their own city of Alqualonde. Their fingerprints were all over Valinor. Like his father and grandfather, Turgon married into the Vanyar with his wife, Elenwe. The couple had one daughter, Idril who may have grown to full stature by the time of the exiling of the Noldor.
Now Melkor, the renegade Vala who had been captured by his ruling peers and imprisoned long ages past, had been paroled and eventually was allowed to roam Valinor. How this inspired his violent jealousy is well-known and most of all it seems his hatred was for the Noldor, who had played a large part in Valinor’s maturity.
Inflaming the already-existing tensions within the tribe, things became so tense that it nearly erupted into civil war among the Noldor when Feanor drew his sword on Turgon’s father while the latter was pleading with their father to reign in his eldest son. Turgon witnessed the exile/self-imposed exile of the House of Feanor as well as the resignation of his grandfather from the position of High King of the Noldor, leaving his father as the acting ruler.
He also bore witness to the temporary reconciliation of his uncle and father when the revelation that Melkor had been the culprit behind the evil rumors exposed, as well as when they all realize that Melkor killed Finwe and fled Valinor with the Silmarils, gems of great power made by Feanor. No matter the strife between them, the one thing all Noldor agreed on was the respect and love for High King Finwe, which often kept things from becoming physically violent. Now that restraint was gone and the united Noldor gathered in Tuna to plan their next move.
The rift reopens as Feanor proclaimed himself High King and orders that the tribe leave Valinor to pursue Melkor, now re-christened Morgoth. When the new High King and his sons swore the Oath of Feanor in claiming the Silmarils at all costs, Fingolfin, who was equally as angry at his father’s murder, challenged the rash move. Ever the dutiful son, Turgon stood by his father’s side arguing against a rash course of action. Though again violence was averted, the Noldor chose to go with Feanor.
Turgon went along with this as his father had also chosen to go as well. As such, Turgon participated in the following tragedies of the Battle of Alqualonde when the Fingolfin’s Noldor fought the Teleri in a fog of war, and the Doom of Mandos, when the Valar declared Feanor’s family exiled from Valinor and cursed them to fail, declaring that curse laid on all who followed them. The one event that conclusively finalized Turgon’s opinion of his step-family was the abandonment of Fenaor’s faction with the stolen. Teleri ships, forcing the rest of the tribe to either cross the dreaded Grinding Ice to return to Middle-earth, or return to Valinor to seek pardon. It was during this time that Elenwe, the only Vanyar Elf who had chosen to return to Middle-earth in spite of the Valar, was killed.
Turgon is not mentioned again until much later when all the exiled Noldor established themselves in Beleriand. By this time, Feanor was dead and his eldest son, Maedhros, had voluntarily surrendered the rule of the Noldor to Turgon’s father. Though this established peace among the Noldor, Turgon personally never trusted the House of Feanor again, only going along with the reconciliation as it furthered the greater Noldor cause against Morgoth. He established himself on the western coast of Beleriand in a place called Vinyamar. Later, when exploring Beleriand with Finrod however, the Vala, Ulmo, inspired both Elves in their sleep to create secret fortifications.
Turgon greatly missed Tirion, what it represented, and looked for a place that reminded him of it, but it wasn't until years later when Ulmo led him to the Valley of Tumladen in the Encircling Mountain range. Now having found a suitable location, he had secretly built the city of Gondolin, a mirror image of Tirion. Before finally moving there though, Ulmo warned him that despite his protection of the city, that Turgon should be ready to leave it in the future because of the far-reaching curse that still lay on all Noldor in Middle-earth and that he would send a messenger to him when the time came. Therefore Turgon had banned anyone from leaving the city without his leave, though no one really wanted to for a long while. Still, Turgon had planned to rejoin the war effort when he deemed the time was right. He was still loyal to his father’s house.
For a long time, things went well for Turgon and the Noldor. Despite two smaller wars, the Noldor remained unchallenged in Beleriand, besieging Morgoth for a second, longer time for four hundred years. During this time, mortals have been discovered in Beleriand and had allied themselves to the Noldor Elf-lords.
Things deteriorate for Turgon gradually, first with the disappearance of his sister, Aredhel, who stubbornly had chosen to leave Gondolin and find her cousins from Feanor’s house. Though she returns much later and with a son, Maeglin, her estranged husband and Sindarin Elf-lord, Eol, tracks them to the secret city. Essentially divorcing his ‘ungrateful wife’ and leaving her to stay in the city, Eol demands that his son leave with him. Turgon however forbades this. Angered, the Sindar tries to spear Maeglin, but Aredhel blocks it and is mortally wounded. Turgon, angered as he was, was going to forgive Eol by the bidding of his sister. Her death changes his mind and he has his brother-in-law executed by being thrown off the high walls.
Sometime later, the Dagor Bragollach War begins. It goes bad as the Noldor siege is finally broken and the northern front is divided or overrun. High King Fingolfin, believing all is now lost, succumbs to a mad and despairing rage, riding off alone to duel Morgoth in single combat. Though he injures the Vala, Fingolfin is eventually killed. However, his body is rescued by the great eagles who bring it to Gondolin, where they are both based and protect the secret city. Having lost his father, Turgon buries him in the Encircling Mountains. Now deciding the time to fight may be near, the king begins to secretly send out messengers to the sea and eventually to Valinor for aid.
The king also meets mortals for the first time, the eagles bringing two mortal humans, Hurin and Huor to Gondolin. The young boys had been fighting on the front lines when they became lost and the eagles rescued them. It’s the first time any of the Elves of Gondolin have seen mortals, though Turgon had been told by Ulmo of their coming. Turgon treats them well, though he forbids them from leaving the city. After a while though, Hurin and Huor ask to be returned to where they were found and rejoin the war, reasoning that mortals do not have the luxury of time as the Elves do. Swearing to never reveal Gondolin’s location, Turgon agrees though he is not happy because of his friendship with them.
During the Nirnaeth Arnoediad War, where nearly all the Beleriand alliance comes together for one last campaign to defeat Morgoth, is when Turgon finally reveals himself, bringing soldiers to his brother’s side for the war effort and inspiring the alliance. This war too goes badly and Turgon’s forces are cut off from Fingon’s resulting in another High King’s death. Nearly losing hope, Turgon is inspired by Hurin and Huor to retreat back to Gondolin and hold out there a little longer, as a hope would arise somehow that would come from him and Huor. Moreover, the brothers were determined not to retreat and held the rear during Turgon’s escape. The king believes both died during the effort.
More time passes and the war is lost. The Noldor in the north are defeated and the remaining Elven kingdoms besides Gondolin, Doriath and Nargothrond who had chosen to not participate have isolated themselves. Having effectively lost all hope and hearing no response nor return from his messengers sent out centuries ago, Turgon’s efforts are focused on preserving Gondolin. Even though the eagles inform him of the fall of the other kingdoms, Turgon has chosen to abandon them. Even the news of the return of of Hurin, thought killed long ago at the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, does not sway him and by the time he reconsiders, it's too late and the old man has left, while inadvertently given away the region of Gondolin to Morgoth’s spies.
When another mortal, Tuor, Huor’s son, arrives and brings with him Ulmo’s call to leave Gondolin now, the now-hardened king refuses, though he takes in Tuor as both a friend and son-in-law by Idril’s choice. His choice however to disobey at the last moment seals Gondolin’s fate. Maeglin is eventually captured and gives up the city’s precise location, and after mobilizing a force where Morgoth spares no effort, an assault is launched on the last organized Elven holdout in Beleriand.
Though the defense is valiant and fierce, the fiercest of all the Noldor resistance during the wars, Turgon comes to the conclusion that the city is lost. He falls into a deep despair, surrenders his kingship and declares that he will burn with Gondolin, though not before making Tuor leader of the remaining Elves and urging them to flee. The last image of the former king is as he stands alone on his tower before it and Turgon fall into the flames below.
Turgon’s relationship with his immediate and extended family is pretty black and white compared to those of his siblings. He loved his immediate family and family from his Uncle Finarfin, whom he also considered immediate, but hated his Uncle Feanor and his sons.
Turgon seems to come across as the dutiful son to Fingolfin. He is the first to jump to his defense when his uncle accuses him of cowardice during the gathering of the Noldor before they left Tirion. He leaves Valinor against his own desire because his father was loyal to the Noldor as a whole and buries him when his body is brought to Gondolin. I don’t think it's a far stretch that Turgon idolizes his father to some degree. Otherwise I cannot see why he would choose a path of self-destruction. After all, Finarfin and a portion of the Noldor did not when they repented of their misdeeds and abandoned the eastern march.
Turgon’s extreme loyalty is likewise extended to his other family members as well. This can be seen in his decision to allow his sister to leave Gondolin, even though it was against the rules. He briefly saves his brother during the Nirnaeth Arnoediad conflict. He makes his nephew, Maeglin, a high -ranking Elf-lord among the people of Gondolin and trusts him completely, though he is half- Sindar.
However, this sense of loyalty begins to deteriorate as his personal losses mount and Morgoth’s victories become greater. I think an argument can be made that he came to value preserving Gondolin as much as his family: maybe more so given that when he resigned his kingship and his family wanted him to take it back or even retreat beyond the city, Turgon point blank refused.
The groundwork was already laid for Turgon’s hostility towards his step-family with the turbulent relationship between his father and Uncle Feanor. I imagine that in his eyes, Feanor was a self-absorbed narcissist who spurned and insulted his step-family at every turn. He may have seen him and his sons as privileged because they were from the elder line and more importantly, that the same line was pure Noldor rather than the mixed blood of Indis and Finwe. I believe that he blames them for all the woes of the Noldor and more specifically his own. It was because of Feanor that his father left Middle-earth because he somehow still loved his half-brother and eventually died. It was because of him that he had fellow Elven blood on his hands from Alqualonde and that his wife died during the crossing to Middle-earth.
While in Valinor, he kept this preference to himself. However, once he became a lord in his own right, he allowed no ties with his cousins, even Aredhel, who was still friends with them and for some reason did not bear the same grudge that Turgon had. It’s telling, yet not surprising that when he goes to war finally from Gondolin, it's to Fingon’s side and not Maedhros, though the latter was an ally and co-commander of the alliance.
The Last Optimist
Young Turgon seems to have been more positive in nature and an adventurer. Like his sister, he was prone to wandering and did so especially in Middle-earth: a place he had probably only heard stories of from Finwe. He was also more trusting in others close to him, or rather the circumstances that surrounded them. He trusted Aredhel, though she led both Maeglin and Eol to Gondolin later on. He trusted Huor and Hurin to also not reveal the location of his city, and though they did not for most of their lives, Hurin accidentally comes close when he calls out to Turgon in the Encircling Mountains. Nothing more so displays Turgon’s faith in circumstances than his belief that the coming, final war with Morgoth would be a victorious one. Or that at the least, the Valar would come out of the west to aid the Noldor because of his messengers.
His time in Beleriand whittles down this faith to borderline cynicism. He loses all his immediate family, save Idril and Huor. The final battle of the Noldor and Morgoth did come and they lost: badly. And none of the remaining kingdoms of the Dwarves, Doriath, or Nargothrond had the power to rebuild the alliance or try again. So to Turgon, all that seemed left to him was his city and he would do all he could to protect that one last thing that meant so much to him more than any realized.
This leads into the Elf’s longing for Tirion. It is stated that Turgon missed the Elven city in Valinor and that when he was searching for a place to build Gondolin, he was looking for a location that bore some similarity to it. It's not for nothing that the not only did the valley of Tumladen have a hill in it like Tuna did, but that Turgon himself created replicas of the holy trees of Valinor. I don't think it's too much to presume that Gondolin was probably almost an exact replica of Tirion. There’s deeper layers though.
Not only does he regard leaving Valinor as a mistake, but I think Turgon may have been suffering from a type of PTSD after leaving Tirion. Despite the drama and the internal conflict within the Noldor before Finwe’s murder, Tirion and Valinor were still a relatively safe place. Turgon had met his wife there after all and Idril had been born there. Tirion represented nostalgia to Turgon in his later years. The ‘good times’ so to speak. Though he loved his grandfather, Turgon did not really care about his uncle’s creations, the Silmarils. Except for maybe Fingolfin, I don’t believe that any of the Noldor outside of Maedhros’ faction had any loyalty to them or the Oath.
That said, Gondolin became Turgon’s obsession. And that obsession comes more and more to the forefront until after the final Noldor campaign against Morgoth. After its failure and the failure of his faith, Turgon becomes determined that Gondolin should not meet the same fate as the rest of the Noldor and should stand forever, immortal like his true home in the West. This is despite the fact that Ulmo, the Vala who led Turgon to that very location, had matter-of-factly said that Gondolin was not meant to last, though it would be the last realm to remain in Elven Beleriand. And still, when the son of his trusted friend arrives with Ulmo’s long awaited-and probably long dreaded, summons to leave the city, Turgon steadfastly refuses: just like his Uncle Feanor. And so do the rest of his people with the exception of his daughter. The king had become determined to preserve a memory.
During this time, Gondolin had remained undiscovered, the people were safe in their false sense of security, perhaps even thinking that they were back in Valinor where there were no wars, Orcs, or Dragons. Turgon believed now that even if somehow Morgoth had found the city, that their location and his army could hold out. It’s interesting that the lord of eagles, Thorondor, when delivering a message to Turgon that Hurin had returned an aged man and was looking for aid, chastises the king saying that the only reason Gondolin was still standing was because the eagles were killing every living thing that came near the mountains: and that was not to mention Ulmo’s power as well. This rebuke is strangely similar to the Valar’s rebuke of Feanor ages ago regarding the creation of his jewels as he forgot that their power came from the divine and not from himself.
So in light of this, I think it’s easy to see why Turgon chose death rather than retreat. In his eyes, the nightmare was made real and Tirion, not Gondolin, was what was burning. Heaven was destroyed by hell and the dream was over. There was nothing left for Turgon anymore by this point and it was all he could do to urge his family to save themselves.
A Friend of Humanity
Like the Noldor, Turgon was very open to mortals, when he encountered them. When Hurin and Huor are brought to Gondolin, Turgon and the rest of the Elves seem to regard them with a sense of mystery. Even though Turgon himself had premonitions and been made aware of Humans, to actually see them was something else. Not in the sense though like we would see an exotic animal in the zoo, but in the sense of encountering an intelligent and similar life form that was not immortal as they were. Immortality was all any of the Elves knew at that time. And Hurin says it best about the differences in perceptions of time when he tells the king that the Eldar can wait centuries for a far-off distant battle to happen, but that Humans do not because they won’t live that long. All they had was now and the brothers wanted to make those immediate moments count in the Dagor Bragollach War. It was probably the most interesting and compelling argument for leaving the city that Turgon had ever heard.
His encounter with the brothers had endured their kind to Turgon. Even in his later years of isolation, he changed his mind about abandoning Hurin in the mountains and wanted Throndor to bring him to the city, even though by then it was too late. His favor is no greater displayed than when he allows Idril, his only child to marry one of mortal race, and Huor’s only son in fact. And then makes him leader of the Elven survivors when he makes them leave the fallen city. Much less drama than when Beren had tried to marry Luthien. Whatever his flaws, Turgon was certainly not a malicious and conniving king.
Not Clear Cut
As a ruler, Turgon was far-sighted and this allowed for a measure of wisdom in some of the earlier choices he made. He was wise enough not to jump into the war too early and had helped his people to prosper during the uncertain times of the Beleriand Wars. He provided them with security and hope, first in the eventual victory of the Noldor and then in the belief that Gondolin could still survive in spite of Morgoth’s triumph. He was not biased against aid from others and was wise enough usually to know when he should allow the rules to be bent. Turgon also held back his forces when the Noldor were goaded into preemptive battle during Nirnaeth Arnoediad, even though he may have the strongest warriors in the alliance
He also displayed more questionable characteristics shared by other kings. Like Sindarin High King Thingol, Turgon eventually isolated his people from the outside world, though instead of a magical barrier, the Noldor had the mountains and an army of eagles. He also maintained his kingdom in order to keep the status quo of an earlier time like Thingol. Like Feanor, he resisted the Valar themselves when he rejected Ulmo’s message to leave the city before it fell to violence and refused any other counsel likewise. And also he had his own obsession that blinded him to reality.
Like Fingolfin and Finwe, Turgon was subject to overwhelming despair when it appeared that his world was crashing down around him and gave into manic emotions that led to his death. Though it can be argued either way whether his actions were motivated by a sense of accountability for his failure, or that he no longer wanted to live at all, it was still sparked by the same family curse of overriding extreme emotions. And like Finrod, when confronted with the failure of protecting his people or their rejection by them, Turgon would relinquish the kingship to another.
If you read my previous profiles on characters of the House of Finwe, then you know that I have mentioned before their psychological condition of extreme manic depression that seems to run very strongly in the family. And Turgon in spite of himself was no different.
It’s likely that Turgon thought along the same lines as the other Elves of Valinor who knew about his Uncle Feanor: a gifted Elf who had an ego that rivaled Melkor’s. It’s not too hard to imagine that he probably thought of himself and Indis’s family as the more level headed of the clan. Yet at both Alqualonde and at the fall of Gondolin, Turgon displays the same rash behavior as his uncle. An inability to see past themselves and their own intense feelings is what unfortunately marks the House of Finwe as the most notable, but arguably the most unstable ruling house among the Eldar.
However to Turgon’s credit, these impulses were mostly dormant throughout most of life, as with his father. Though not all of the Noldor Elf-lords display these traits or never had a chance to, those that did rarely survived it. The only one that comes to my mind is Maglor, who when finally achieving the Oath and regaining the sole remaining Silmaril, is burned by its holy heat, knowing it is rejecting him for the crimes he’s committed. It is recorded that Maglor threw Silmaril into the sea and wandered alone for the rest of his life.
A Good Elf , Sorry End, and a Continued Legacy
Turgon’s legacy is a noble but tragic one like many of the characters of the First Age. Specifically, while Turgon is rightfully noted for being wise enough to bring in Tuor and build the last outpost of the Noldor in Beleriand, he is also tragically enslaved to the past.
Even with the good he’s done, the fact remains that a large part of Turgon’s effort was given to trying to relive his life in Tirion. He never completely lets it go and moves on, with that memory becoming even more of an anchor for him in the final decades of the First Age. Turgon has lost so much that he did not want to look to the future, but stay with the past because everything of value to him was there. And when the past was forced into the present by dragonfire, Turgon had chosen to go up in flames along with it.
Still, not all of his and his city’s memory was destroyed. By chance three objects survived not only the destruction of Gondolin, but thousands of years later into the distant Third Age: Turgon’s sword, Glamdring, along with the blades, Sting and Orchist. These swords became renowned in their use against the descendants of Morgoth’s Orcs and against his successor, Sauron.
© 2020 Jamal Smith