@vardasvapors made a good post about how, uh, filtering our relationships with a text through fandom can get really weird and dysfunctional, so I thought I’d take a (short) break from calling him a Horrible Orc Creature to talk about why Maedhros is actually a character I find really compelling.
Someone (okay, VV again) mentioned that they enjoy how well Tolkien does double edged character traits and never is that more evident than with
this dipshit no I promise to do this properly.
The most obvious place to start is duty. Or, maybe more accurately, cussedness. I hardly need to write an essay on where a refusal to stop or consider other options leads (i.e. off a cliff, into a lava pit), but it’s also important to remember where we started:
It is said indeed that Maedhros himself devised this plan [i.e. holding the front lines in a war with a godmonster that only just got done torturing him], because he was very willing that the chief peril of assault should fall upon himself.
Of all his brothers (…of damn near all the House of Finwe even, humility isn’t exactly a family trait), Maedhros is most able to put aside pride and personal honour in favour of accomplishing his goals. Which is pretty fucking laudable when it involves giving up the crown his father did any number of dubious deeds to secure, taking the most distant and least hospitable land available to lessen potential conflict, or laughing off Thingol’s dickwaving. His pragmatism is significantly less appealing when he’s ambushing messengers at peace talks (we tend to misremember his capture as a result of naively expecting Morgoth to honour terms when really the opposite was true; Morgoth just ambushed harder), sacking refugee camps, or taking children hostage.
While Maedhros’ record as a war leader is shaky, he does pretty well as a diplomat. It’s hardly surprising given the likely education Finwe 3.0 received in politicking (lots) vs doing wars (none), but, like, how hard was it to maintain even the pretence of friendly relationships with Fingolfin and everyone that crossed the ice with him? How hard was it to form any kind of alliance in the aftermath of the Dagor Bragollach, with the three Cs systematically alienating everyone they crossed paths with? …never mind that, how hard was it to hold together a dying, defeated people and lead them into performing increasingly monstrous acts without a one of them faltering until the third disastrous attack on a civilian population? Does this make his increasingly desperate and utterly ineffectual letter writing campaign funnier or sadder?
Also, cause I hate myself and want to be sad, let’s talk about Estel - trust or hope in the absence of any certainty which, in Finrod’s words, “is not defeated by the ways of the world, for it does not come from experience, but from our nature and first being.” Like, how much does it cost to hold onto that in the face of, you know, the entire damn book? Well, we know the cost to other people and it’s a corpse pile so fucking high they had to update the maps. (I’m not really sure if this counts though, is it fair to call daring to hold onto hope a flaw? Would not uniting in one last attempt to overthrow Morgoth have ended any better?)
Anyway yeah, Maedhros’ most admirable qualities are also the flaws that lead, irrevocably, to monstrosity and death, and that’s a damn tragedy (in the proper greek fuck-your-
mother half-cousin sense of the term)