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Tolkien character
In-universe information
Aliasesthe Tall
RaceElf (Noldor)
Book(s)The Silmarillion

Maedhros (IPA: [ˈmaɛðros]) is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, first introduced as a major character in The Silmarillion and later mentioned in Unfinished Tales and The Children of Húrin. In the books, Maedhros was the first son of Fëanor, the creator of the Silmarils that were essential to the plot and the history of Middle-earth. Following his father in swearing to reclaim the Silmarils from anyone who took and kept them, he led his people the Noldor in their war against Morgoth in Middle-earth, and brought eventual ruin upon himself and his brothers. Maedhros has been the subject of artwork by artists such as Jenny Dolfen and Alan Lee.

Concept and creation[edit]


Maedhros's Old English name is Doegred Winsterhand (Ang. Doegred=dawn, daybreak, Winsterhand=left-handed). Christopher Tolkien thought that Doegred referred to the colour of Maedhros's hair, though this is not certain.[T 1] Tolkien, when deciding Maedhros's name, came up with the sound of it first, and then decided a suitable meaning for the word. The translation of Maedhros was originally "glitter of metal", but was later changed to "well-formed/shapely copper” (S. maed 'shapely', ros 'copper'). Tolkien explained that the translations of the Sindarin roots were meant to match the meaning of Maedhros's Quenya names, Maitimo "well-shaped one" and Russandol. However, around the last four years of his life, Tolkien encountered a problem when he realized that he had stated that ros, which was meant to reference his reddish-brown hair, translated into "spray/spindrift". He later made a note suggesting that he might change Maedhros's name to Maedron instead.[T 2]

Tolkien wrote Maedhros's name as Maedros[T 3] or Maidros in early versions. When the latter name first appears in drafts, however, it does not designate the eldest son of Fëanor, but his grandfather: Fëanor's father was originally named Bruithwir-go-Maidros.[T 4]

Character arc[edit]

The Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin was given to Maedhros by Azaghâl during the First Age, in gratitude for saving the life of the Dwarf-lord, with whom Maedhros forged an alliance. Maedhros later passed it on to Fingon in proof of their friendship. In earlier drafts, it is not the Dragon-helm Maedhros gives to Fingon, but the Elfstone, which Maedhros received from his dying father.[T 5]

The fate of the Silmarils undergo changes through all three drafts (which Christopher Tolkien dubs S, QI, QII) of The Silmarillion. In S, Maglor alone steals the Silmaril and casts himself into a pit after Maedhros and Maglor submit themselves to Eönwë, while Maedhros breaks the lost Silmarils retrieved and restores the light back to the Two Trees. In QI, it is Maedhros who is convinced by Maglor to regain the Silmarils, but is captured by Eönwë. Then released with his brother Maglor, Maedhros, in despair, slays himself by throwing himself into a fiery chasm. Maglor, however, throws his Silmaril in the sea and wanders by the shore. In QII, the fate of Maedhros and Maglor remains the same as in the published Silmarillion.[T 6] Although it was Maglor who, in The Silmarillion, took pity on the sons of Elwing, earlier versions portrayed Maedhros as the one who saved Elrond (Elros not appearing until later drafts).[T 7]

Fictional biography[edit]

Born to Fëanor and Nerdanel, he is the eldest of their seven sons: his brothers were Maglor, Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin, and twins Amras and Amrod. In Aman, he was of the Noldorin line for kingship—hence his father-name, "Nelyafinwë", which was Quenya for "Finwë the third [in succession]"—but unlike his royal kin, Maedhros had auburn hair inherited from his maternal grandfather, Mahtan,[T 8] to whom Maedhros was said to be alike in face and disposition.[1] He preferred and was remembered by his mother-name, "Maitimo," which meant "well-shaped one" (a reference to his comeliness), but was known as "Russandol", his epessë for "copper-top", to his family.[T 8] His tremendous height earned him the appellation "the Tall".

During his travels Maedhros befriended Fingon, son of Fingolfin, though their respective fathers would enter into a bitter feud. Following his father's banishment from Tirion, Maedhros lived in Formenos with his family. They return to Tirion, however, after Maedhros brings tidings of Finwë's murder and the theft of the Silmaril.[T 9] Fëanor's fiery words lead the Noldor to Middle-earth and the Fëanorians to swear their father's terrible oath to pursue anyone who keeps the Silmarils from their possession. Maedhros participates in the Kinslaying at Alqualondë and stands aside at the burning of the ships at Losgar. When Fëanor and his sons secretly sail to Middle-earth, Maedhros is shocked when he realises that they will not return for Fingolfin and his host.

Although Fëanor is killed in the Dagor-nuin-Giliath, Morgoth's forces suffer a crushing defeat. He sends peace emissaries and Maedhros agrees to treat with them. He brings more forces than has been agreed to the parley because he is not fooled by Morgoth's peace offers. Unknown to him, Balrogs are among Morgoth's party, and the Elven company is overwhelmed. Maedhros is taken captive and hung by the wrist of his right hand. For many years, he languishes there while Fingolfin brings his hosts into Middle-earth. Eventually Fingon finds him and with the help of Thorondor, frees him by cutting off Maedhros's right hand. This daring rescue, along with Maedhros' repentance for the desertion of Fingolfin's hosts in Araman and relinquishment of his claim as Finwë's heir to kingship over all the Noldor in favour of his uncle (which last caused the Fëanorians to be known as “the Dispossessed”), did much to repair the ill feelings between the House of Fingolfin and the House of Fëanor.[T 10]

His brothers, however, are not all pleased by their eldest brother's actions, and Maedhros, sensing that they will cause feuds with their kinsmen,[T 10] moves them out of Mithrim and to the lands around the Hill of Himring, which become known as the March of Maedhros. A secondary purpose in relocating is the desire to take up the responsibility to defend the area that was in most danger of being attacked by Morgoth.[T 10] Keen on peace and unification, Maedhros on his part remained in friendship with the houses of Fingolfin and Finarfin.[T 10] Allied with Fingolfin, he won the battle of Dagor Aglareb and set the Siege of Angband. The siege was broken, however, in the Dagor Bragollach, in which many Elven kingdoms were destroyed. Due to Maedhros's valour and deadly skill with the sword, Himring was successfully defended, though it was surrounded by the enemy. This led many of the survivors from East Beleriand and Dorthonion to rally to Maedhros.

Taking hope upon hearing the deeds of Beren and Lúthien, he gathered his brothers, and united with other Elven Houses to create the Union of Maedhros, an alliance of Elves, Men, and Dwarves to drive the Orcs from Beleriand and lay siege to Morgoth's fortress of Angband. Under his leadership, the Union won several battles and regained the territory lost in the Dagor Bragollach. When the joint attack on Angband itself was to be launched, Maedhros was delayed due to the treachery of an Easterling, Uldor the Accursed, who was a spy of Morgoth in the service of Caranthir, and the forces of the Union were utterly destroyed in the Nírnaeth Arnoediad. Himring was taken by the Orcs and the Sons of Fëanor were wounded. They retreated to Mount Dolmed, and eventually came to live with the Nandor in Ossiriand.

During Y.S. 504 – 505, the brothers learnt of the possession of the Silmaril recovered by Beren and Lúthien in the hands of Dior, the new King of Doriath. Maedhros restrained his brothers' urge to attack, and instead, sent a message to Dior demanding that he yield the Silmaril to them, but Dior ignored it. Celegorm's words convinced the Fëanorians to launch an assault. Thus Doriath was destroyed, Dior was killed, and the brothers emerged victorious, but the brothers Celegorm, Curufin and Caranthir were slain and the Silmaril was not recovered. Upon learning that Celegorm's servants had left Dior's twin sons, Eluréd and Elurín, to starve in a dark forest, Maedhros went on a long search for them, but it proved to be fruitless.

Maedhros and his surviving brothers then dwelt on Amon Ereb in East Beleriand. When they heard that Elwing, who had escaped from Doriath with the Silmaril, was now living at the Havens of Sirion. Maedhros, repenting of his deeds at Doriath, counselled against trying to regain the jewel by force. But the unfulfilment of the oath came to torment the brothers heavily, so they sent messages of friendship but with firm demands to surrender the Silmaril. However, the people refused, arguing that they could not negotiate while their leader and Elwing's husband, Eärendil, was away at sea. In Y.S. 532, the Fëanorians attacked Sirion—but Elwing cast herself and the jewel into the sea and they did not gain what they sought. Elwing was ultimately rescued by the power of Ulmo and reunited with Eärendil in the West. Eärendil and Elwing's sons, Elrond and Elros were taken captive by Maedhros and Maglor, but were treated gently and kindly.

After the War of Wrath, Maedhros and Maglor, the last of the sons of Fëanor, told Eönwë that the remaining two Silmarils captured from Morgoth should be given to them, but Eönwë replied that the Silmarils would not suffer them to hold them and that the brothers had to face judgement from the Valar in Aman. Maglor was willing to listen, but Maedhros reminded Maglor that they had sworn that none, even the Valar, could release them from their oath, and because of this, it would curse them into committing evil deeds in Aman. Resigned, the brothers stole the Silmarils, but the jewels burned their hands because of all the evil deeds they had committed. Unable to endure the suffering, Maedhros killed himself,throwing himself and his Silmaril into a fiery chasm of the Earth, while Maglor casts his Silmaril into the sea and never returns to his folk, wandering along the coast and lamenting his loss and pain instead.[T 11]

Reception and analysis[edit]

Jenny Dolfen's portrayal of Fingon rescuing Maedhros from Thangorodrim

The award-winning[2] Tolkien watercolour artist Jenny Dolfen is said by the Tolkien Society to have "a particular penchant" for characters from The Silmarillion, in particular Maedhros.[3]

The Tolkien scholar Verlyn Flieger writes that Maedhros's death was caused by the Silmarils. She finds this contradictory, as the Silmarils embody the light of the Two Trees; Tolkien described the Silmarils variously as "holy", "unsullied", and "hallowed", but their effect is evil.[4]

Dimitra Fimi, analysing Celtic influence on Middle-earth, writes that the loss of Maedhros's hand is directly paralleled by the loss of Nuadhu's arm in the first battle of Moytirra.[5] Annie Kinniburgh similarly relates the Noldor elves to the Irish Tuatha Dé Danann, citing the same parallel.[6]

House of Fëanor[edit]

Fëanor family tree[T 12][a]


  1. ^ The birth order of Fëanor's sons in the family tree is based on The Shibboleth of Fëanor, a late note by Tolkien. In The Silmarillion the birth order is: Maedhros, Maglor, Celegorm, Caranthir, Curufin (father of Celebrimbor), Amrod, and Amras.



  1. ^ Tolkien 1986, "The Quenta", p. 212
  2. ^ Tolkien 1996, "The Problem of Ros"
  3. ^ "...after the death of Fingolfin ... the Noldor then became divided into separate kingships under Fingon, son of Fingolfin, Turgon his younger brother, Maedros son of Fëanor, and Finrod son of Arfin [Finarfin]; and the following of Finrod had become the greatest." Tolkien 1996
  4. ^ Tolkien 1984
  5. ^ "He [Fëanor] gives the green stone to Maidros...The Green Stone of Fëanor given by Maidros to Fingon." Tolkien 1994, pp. 176–177
  6. ^ Tolkien 1986, "The Quenta", pp. 201-202
  7. ^ Tolkien 1986, "The Earliest 'Silmarillion'", pp. 38, 70, "The Quenta", p. 153
  8. ^ a b Tolkien 1996, "The Shibboleth of Fëanor"
  9. ^ Tolkien 1996, "The Shibboleth of Fëanor"
  10. ^ a b c d Tolkien 1977, "Of the Return of the Noldor"
  11. ^ "No other player has there been, / no other lips or fingers seen / so skilled, 'tis said in elven-lore, / save Maelor son of Fëanor, / forgotten harper, singer doomed, / who young when Laurelin yet bloomed / to endless lamentation passed /and in the tombless sea was cast." Tolkien 1985
  12. ^ Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien (ed.), The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 978-0-395-25730-2


  1. ^ Hostetter, Carl F., ed. (2000), "From The Shibboleth of Fëanor", Vinyar Tengwar, The Elvish Linguistic Fellowship, 41, ISSN 1054-7606
  2. ^ Gunner, Shaun (20 April 2014). "Inaugural Tolkien Society Award winners announced". The Tolkien Society. Retrieved 12 February 2021. Best Artwork Jenny Dolfen, “Eärendil the Mariner“
  3. ^ Gunner, Shaun (October 2015). "Jenny Dolfen announces new Tolkien art book". The Tolkien Society. Retrieved 12 February 2021.
  4. ^ Flieger, Verlyn (2014). "The Jewels, the Stone, the Ring, and the Making of Meaning". In Houghton, John Wm.; Croft, Janet Brennan; Martsch, Nancy (eds.). Tolkien in the New Century: Essays in Honor of Tom Shippey. McFarland & Company. p. 68. ISBN 978-0-7864-7438-7.
  5. ^ Fimi, Dimitra (2006). "'Mad' Elves and 'Elusive Beauty': Some Celtic Strands of Tolkien's Mythology". Folklore. 117 (2): 156–170. doi:10.1080/00155870600707847.
  6. ^ Kinniburgh, Annie (2009). "The Noldor and the Tuatha Dé Danaan: J.R.R. Tolkien's Irish Influences". Mythlore. 28 (1). Article 3.