Middle-earth Profiles: Celegorm and Curufin
Among the history of the Elves in Middle-earth, most are, or at least close to, benevolent. However, there are some who were notoriously less so. Of these, members of the clan of Feanor are the most infamous. Yet, most infamous even among these other than Feanor himself, were two of his sons, Curufin and Celegorm. This profile examines those two together since they are often paired together in The Silmarillion.
"'Let it be so!' said Celegorm, and there was a light of menace in his eyes: but Curufin smiled"— - The Silmarillion
The history of the brothers starts out the same as the others of the Noldor. Born in Valinor to Feanor and Nerdanel, they were High Princes of the Noldor clan. As Feanor’s sons, they had a front-row seat to the internal family turmoil between their father and their uncles, Fingolfin and Finarfin.
They swore the same oath as their immediate family when Feanor became the new High King following the murder of their grandfather, Finwe, by Morgoth. They fought with their clan during the Battle of Alqualonde, committing the first kinslaying and earning the curse of the Vala, Mandos that excommunicated them from the West. And they were also present when their father abandoned many of his clan, taking the ships stolen from the Teleri to sail across the sea, back to Middle-earth and then burning them.
They fought in the Dagor-Nuin-Giliath war as cavalrymen against the Orcs of Morgoth, who had overrun most of Beleriand, and with their brothers tried to rescue the mortally-wounded Feanor after a battle with Balrogs. When the sun and moon first appeared in Middle-earth and their abandoned kinsmen soon after, they were a part of the internal tension between the two factions. Then when Maedhros, then High-King of the Noldor in the east, was returned to them by their kinsmen, Fingon, following his capture by Balrogs, they were not happy with the concession of their family’s rule to their uncle Fingolfin.
Nor were they happy when the Sindarin High King of Beleriand, Thingol, ‘permitted them’ lands to dwell in the North as buffer states against Morgoth. It is here where they began to stand out among the sons of Feanor. Though no longer High King, Maedhros was still the head of their family and faction that followed them. He led them to the east of Beleriand while the rest of the clan remained in the west and south of the land, with the region of Himlad given to the brothers’ jurisdiction. Like most of the Noldor, they made homes in and fortified their lands, all while ignoring their kinsmen to the west and Thingol in Doriath.
The first specific details of the brothers come when Curufin encounters Eol, a Sindarin Elf-lord who was searching for his wife and Curufin’s cousin, Aredhel and their son, Maeglen. The Noldor makes it clear that Eol is not welcomed in Himlad, but tells him that his family had passed through and had left Eol. After a veiled, back-handed comment by Eol, Curufin warns him to not push his luck and that to continue on will mean his death.
Sometime later, Curufin and Celegorm are defeated and driven from Himlad during the Dagor Bragollach war. They and survivors from Himlad journey west as refugees to be taken in at the cavern kingdom of Nargothrond, ruled by their cousin, Finrod. There, they reinforce the borders and swell the population, supporting their Noldor kin in all their efforts, showing none of the ill-will that they had long before at the rising of the sun and the surrender of the High Kingship to their uncle. That all disappears when Beren, a mortal survivor from the war, arrives seeking aid from Finrod to recover one Feanor’s Silmaril jewels that Morgoth stole, now held in bondage in the Northern Beleriand.
Knowing what would come, Finrod regardless announces to his people Beren’s quest and at once the Celegorm angrily recite the Oath of Feanor, that no one should lay claim to their father’s treasure but his sons and heirs, no matter who that may be. Curufin says much the same, but with less volatile words and laced with the fear that Nargothrond will suffer if their king pursues the quest. Swayed by the one-two punch of the brothers’ speeches, the people submit to them, forcing Finrod to renounce his kingship and with the exception of a personal guard, goes on without further support. Orodreth, his brother is left in charge, but he lacks the charisma to truly bring the people to his side, leaving the usurping cousins as the true rulers of Nargothrond.
Sometime later, they encounter Luthien, the daughter of the High King and Queen of Doriath, while she is searching for Beren. Celegorm becomes obsessed with her and supported by Curufin, lies to and eventually imprisons Luthien, to force Thingol’s grace to marry her. However, she escapes with the help of Huan, the divine hound who is bound to Celegorm.
It is soon discovered after the fact that the escapees in fact found and rescued Beren and other imprisoned Elves, but were too late to save Finrod or the Elves who volunteered. Enraged, even the Noldor of their own clan, including Celebrimbor, Curufin’s own son, renounce them, forcing them into exile once again. Embittered from the loss of their ambitions, they come across the couple returning from their quest and immediately attack them.
Curufin tries to kidnap Luthien, but is jumped by Beren and actually defeated, suffering yet another disgrace. Celegorm tried to save him but was stopped by Huan, who now rejected his master, now having seen his true nature. Luthien spares Curufin’s life, but now three times humiliated, Curufin while leaving shoots an arrow at her. It is stopped by Beren but nearly kills him and the brothers flee as Huan pursues them for a time.
The next we hear of the brothers, they have joined Maedhros at Himring as he plans a final war to recover the remaining Silmarils, marshaling the largest force that Middle-earth has yet seen. However, due to his brothers’ actions years before, both Nargothrond and Doriath refuse to have anything to do with Maedhros, holding him just as guilty as Curufin and Celegom. Celegorm swears to annihilate Doriath, but the kingdom need not have worried, as the war ends in the utter defeat of all the Noldor realms of the north and scatters their allies.
Later, Thingol is killed during the forging of Beren’s Silmaril to a Dwarven necklaces by the blacksmith Dwarves who made it. Though avenged, Melian now leaves Doriath returning to Valinor, leaving her realm unguarded. However, Dior, son of Beren and Luthien, restores it’s capital, Menegroth to its former glory and has now come into possession of his now-family heirloom, now called Nauglamir. Celegorm eventually gets word of this and marshaling together his brothers demands they attack Menegroth. Both Celegorm and Curufin, as well as another brother, Caranthir are killed in the battle and the prized necklaces escape their grasp. However, Menegroth does fall to the Noldor with both Dior and his wife, Nimloth killed.
Celegorm seems to be the more proactive and assertive of the two. By all appearances, he is a very physically active Elf, a renowned huntsman that he later converts into being a renowned cavalry leader during the Beleriand wars. He has also inherited some of his father’s power of words and wields that power like a sledgehammer over others, verbally assaulting and overwhelming others by force. It’s not as potent as Feanor’s, but no less effective as it’s one half of the reason he was able to take control of Nargothrond. Celegorm seems to work in concert with Curufin in this regard, providing the shock to his brother’s awe.
The Elf-lord is physically dominating and has no issue taking what he wants when he has the power to do so, such as his obsession with Luthien and willingness to do whatever it took to have her. He definitely takes after his father in this regard. His takeover of Nargothrond and two attempts to control Doriath is another expression of this cunning, as Celegom only dares it when he feels he’s holding all the cards. Indeed, his ambition is something that marks him out among the brothers. The Silmarillion outright declares that he wanted to bring all the Elf kingdoms to heel: that’s including his other brothers.
Though Curufin has his back, Celegorm is the one who instigates most of the major events that they share in. Violent and unpredictable as they are, none of the other sons of Feanor tried to take over another Elven realm except for Celegorm.
Celegorm is also more hot-headed. He holds grudges against those who block his path to what he wants or humiliate him. His feud with Doriath, in particular, lasts decades, thanks to Beren and Luthien. While Beren didn’t kick him out of his new-found kingdom directly, his survival definitely prompted it. I believe this grudge played a large part with his animosity towards Doriath, and was a thorn in his side. So to call Celegorm hot-headed might not be enough: the better term would be vindictive, and even his father wasn’t on that level.
Assassin of Words
Though not as blunt as his brother, Curufin is no less dangerous. Maybe even more so because he was more the type to come by your side as a friend before cutting your throat. Curufin is also a great horseman and probably rode alongside Celegorm during the Dagor-Nuin-Giliath war.
What makes him such a threat is his cunning and how he uses is gifts. Where Celegorm uses force to achieve his ends, Curufin uses more finesse, so that people who listen to him are scarcely aware that they are being manipulated or threatened. He seems more introverted, disguising the depths of his intentions unless forced to otherwise.
If he is forced, he downplays it so well that those who are the targets don’t truly realize the real danger they’re in. He’s the introverted nerd to Celegorm’s jock, yet just as lethal when the moment strikes. Even his single moment of use of foresight was tainted with malice when he warned Eol of his impending death should he follow after his family.
Curufin seems so gifted in this that he may actually better his father, widely considered the most powerful Elf to have existed. Feanor’s words swayed the Noldor into rebellion against the Valar and even into committing the kinslaying, but they did not work on the Teleri of Alqualonde when he at first tried diplomacy to get their ships. Curufin’s words meanwhile got him and Celegom a kingdom.
Celegorm may have had the ambition, but it was Curufin who finally won over Nargothrond from its rightful kings, while not even raising a finger or drawing a sword. Though its speculation on my part, I see him as more the mastermind behind how Celegorm planned to take over Beleriand, rather than Celegorm himself. He doesn’t seem as ambitious as Celegorm, but has no qualms backing him up when he acts.
Yet while more crafty, Curufin is just as vindictive and spiteful as his brother. He’s openly prejudiced of the Sindar Elves, which he makes known during his interrogation of Eol. His use of the word, “sun-shy” feels more like a slur than descriptive, given how fond the Elves of Beleriand were of the everlasting night. Plus, he ignored anything having to do with the Sindar while he ruled the region of Himlad. The only reason that he and Celegorm seek refuge with Elves not of their clan, in fact, is because the situation was forced. After all, when the Noldor refugees attacked Menegroth, none of the Green Elves whom they were then staying with, participated.
Curufin’s true nature is only revealed when pushed and embarrassed, which Beren and Luthien accomplish three times in short succession. I think the latter two, being defeated by an inferior race and only being alive because he was spared, stripped all vestiges of civility that he feigned. He not only tries to curse the couple but also murder Luthien while pretending to leave in peace, nearly killing Beren.
In their own way, Celegorm and Curufin parallel the mortal brothers, Hurin and Huor. Both have similar abilities and qualities, but where one lacks, the other makes up. Celegorm was the rattlesnake while Curufin was the viper. Along with the rest of Feanor’s sons, they are very much alpha personalities, and submit only based on power advantage and for a time, family hierarchy.
They submit to Maedhros because he’s the eldest and the head of the clan. Despite this, they are not happy with his decisions and probably his friendship with their cousins in Western Beleriand. They seem the most loyal to their father’s oath as Maedhros was showing signs of diverging from that path since the faction’s burning of the ships they arrived in. By the time of the attack on Menegroth, it was probably easier for Celegorm to call the faction together because Maedhros didn’t want to, as it was his plan that failed during the Nirnaeth Arnoediad war that led all the princes to their disgraced status as wandering Elf-lords with no real power or lands of their own.
Moreover, the two brothers had a tendency to create extreme reactions to their personalities. Curufin’s son, Celebrimbor disavowed him after his father’s treachery in Nargothrond and stayed with those people. And not just him, but every other Noldor of their faction who went with them to Nargothrond.
Even the ever-faithful Huan, who actually returned to Celegom after helping Luthien escape, eventually turns on them when he sees the depth of their malice. No one wanted anything to do with Celegorm and Curufin or anyone directly associated with them. Their self-centered actions risked an internal war among the Elves of Beleriand the Noldor, and sabotaged the allied effort in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad because of it.
Like Father, More Than Father
Both also held their own faction higher than any other race or Noldor in Beleriand. I don’t think its too far to say that they were essentially spoiled children, used to getting what they wanted simply for being in the direct line of High King Finwe, through his eldest son and their father, Feanor. No one else could compare to greater lineage in their minds: not Finfgolfin, not Finarfin, and as sure as hell not Thingol, a Dark Elf whose only claim to the high status of the Eldar was one trip to Valinor. One he then later forsook to rule over lessers. Suffering so many blows to their imperial status, as well as their leader maintaining positive relations with the family rivals, must have been infuriating to watch.
Even their brother, Caranthir, the most hot-blooded and outspoken of the sons of Feanor, was not as arrogant or malicious. The only relative it seems the Curufin and Celegom remained on good terms with was-ironically-their cousin, Aredhel, Fingolfin's daughter.
This relationship goes back to when they were living in Valinor and not even the family intrigue kept them apart as she often rode with them. Given Aredhel’s adventurous and obstinate nature, Curufin and Celegorm probably saw more of their immediate family in her than Finarfin’s. Not even family strife seems to keep them apart and Curufin’s response to Eol’s query when searching for her implies that he did speak with her when she left her husband. So you can imagine that when Curufin encounters the Sindarin Elf who forced her into marriage, Eol was extremely fortunate that he wasn’t killed right there and then.
Lastly, the brothers’ capacity to hold grudges against those who offended them led to a brief family feud with the House of Thingol and is ultimately what ends them. They never forgot that it was their daughter and son-in-law that crushed their dreams of an Elven empire under their rule. Nor the humiliations suffered upon them by that same couple. As the fifth war began, Celegorm seemed itching to get back to Doriath and burn all of it to the ground, whether the Silmaril was there or not. The feud lasts for decades and though it ends with final destruction of Menegroth, the brothers’ hated enemies survive with the Silmaril through its last princess, Elwing. Whereas Celegorm was killed by Dior, Beren and Luthien’s son, Thingol and Melian’s grandson, and just as in life, Curufin followed soon afterward: brothers to the bloody end.
© 2019 Jamal Smith