The Secret Lives of Redheads:
Amrod and Amras
Author's admission: All of my life I have had a
fondness for redheads. After first reading The Lord of the Rings in February of 2002, my
first question (after 'why didn't I read this earlier in life?') was: 'Why aren't there any
redheads in this amazing world of Middle-earth? Tolkien must not have been fond of them!' Doing
some research, however, I have found that in fact there were some 'russet-tops' to be found.
These are two, and I am sure there are more to be found.
Notes contained in brackets
within quotes are Christopher Tolkien's editorial notes.
Amrod and Amras were
Noldorian twin Elves who lived during the First Age, the final two sons of seven born to
Fëanor and Nerdanel. As sons of Fëanor, they joined in uttering the oath to retrieve
the Silmarils and so were bound to the tragedies that followed. They followed Fëanor and
their five brothers through their journeys and wars: to the Firth of Drengist after seizing the
ships they had stolen from the Teleri, leaving Fingolfin and the great Elven host at the
Helcaraxë; enduring Fëanor's death; fortifying the camp at Hithlum during Maedhros'
captivity at Angband; joining Maedhros at Dagor Aglareb, the Glorious Battle; then settling in
Eastern Beleriand, for the most part resisting the four hundred year siege of Angbad, becoming
hunters near the borders of Doriath. During the fourth great battle of Beleriand, Dagor
Bragollach, they retreated to Amon Ereb joined by their brother Caranthir. They were both killed
at Arvernien at the mouths of the Sirion, joining Maedhros and Maglor in a final attempt to
redeem their oath and take the Silmaril which Elwing possessed. Early in The Silmarillion
they are described thus: "
the youngest Amrod and Amras, who were twin brothers, alike
in mood and face. In later days they were great hunters in the woods of Middle-earth;
Not only are they unique in that they are twins, but their very names belie another
highly unusual trait among the primarily dark haired, grey eyed Noldo: they have red hair.
According to The History of Middle Earth, Vol. XII, The Peoples of Middle Earth, the twins
may even have been identical. Below is an extended quotation which reveals Tolkien's explanation
for their names, which were originally Ambarto (which was then changed again to Umbarto and back
again) and Ambarussa.
These two names of [the] twins (i-Wenyn) were evidently
meant to begin similarly. Ambarussa 'top-russet' must have referred to hair: the first and
last of Nerdanel's children had the reddish hair of her kin. Around the name Ambarto [>
Umbarto] - which one might expect to begin with an element of the same sense at (Ambarussa) -
much legend and discussion gathered. The most authentic seems to be thus:
The two twins
were both red-haired. Nerdanel gave them both the name Ambarussa - for they were much
alike and remained so while they lived. When Fëanor begged that their names should at least
be different Nerdanel looked strange, and after a while said: 'Then let one be called [Ambarto >]
Umbarto, but which, time will decide.'
Fëanor was disturbed by this ominous
name ('Fated'), and changed it to Ambarto - or in some versions thought Nerdanel had said
Ambarto, using the same first element as in Ambarussa (sc. amba + Quenya arta 'exalted,
lofty'). But Nerdanel said: 'Umbarto I spoke; yet do as you wish. It will make no
If their own mother was willing to give them the same name, and they called
each other by the same name, I conjecture that they were identical twins. There is a snippet of a
story regarding their death during the tragedy of the Kinslaying which will be referenced later,
but it appears that even as Tolkien was naming these twins of Fëanor some story to do with
the ill-omened name of Umbarto was simmering in his mind. One key aspect about these two that I
have not yet been able to discover is when Tolkien changed their names from Ambarussa and Umbarto
to Amras and Amrod, unless the latter names are Sindarin conversions from Quenya, but in looking
at an abridged Sindarin dictionary, this does not appear to be the case.
These two with
red hair apparently are not as unique as they might first appear to be, per this phrase and
others: "the first and last of Nerdanel's children had the reddish hair of her
kin" (emphasis mine) Tolkien elaborates on Nerdanel's father, who has two different
names: Mahtan is the more common, and the one used in the 1977 published version of The
Silmarillion, but his other name was Urundil. Again, per HoME XII:
father was an 'Aulendil' [> 'Aulendur'], and became a great smith. He loved copper, and set it
above gold. His name was [space; pencilled later Sarmo?], but he was most widely known as
Urundil 'copper-lover.' He usually wore a band of copper about his head. His hair was not as dark
or black as was that of most of the Noldor, but brown, and had glints of coppery-red in it. Of
Nerdanel's seven children the oldest, and the twins (a very rare thing among the Eldar) had hair
of this kind. The eldest also wore a copper circlet.
Given these tantalizing hints, there
could easily have been a line of Noldorian Elves who had hair of auburn and red, unnamed within
the countless thousands of the First Born.
Sadly, as with all of the sons of Fëanor
(save Curufin, whose son Celebrimbor became the most famous Elven-smith), Amrod and Amras never
married and never had children. Given how unique Tolkien made these two red-haired twins, one
wonders why he didn't give them a more prominent role in the story of The Silmarillion.
Though Maglor is said to be the most even-tempered of Fëanor's sons, there is no indication
that Amrod and Amras were instigators of any of the tragic events in which they participated;
indeed, being the youngest sons, they were probably driven the most out of a sense of familial
Tolkien originally saw their story differently, however, according to HoME
In the night Fëanor, filled with malice, aroused Curufin, and with him and a
few of those most close to Fëanor in obedience he went to the ships and set them all
In the morning the host was mustered, but of Fëanor's seven sons, only
six were to be found. Then Ambarussa went pale with fear. 'Did you not then rouse Ambarussa my
brother (whom you called Ambarto)?' he said. 'He would not come ashore to sleep (he said) in
discomfort.' But it is thought (and no doubt F'anor guessed this also) that it was in the mind of
Ambarto to sail his ship back [?afterwards] and rejoin Nerdanel; for he had been much
[?shocked] by the deed of his father.
'That ship I destroyed first,' said
Fëanor, (hiding his own dismay). 'Then rightly you gave the name to the youngest of your
children,' said Ambarussa, 'and Umbarto "the Fated" was its true form. Fell and fey you
become.' And after that no one dared speak again to Fëanor of this matter.
fascinating story that didn't make Tolkien's final cut provides multiple insights into these
twins that cannot be culled from The Silmarillion as it was published. Amras, the youngest
son of F'anor, is stealing a boat from under his father's nose to return to Valinor, thinking
that his father's actions are too extreme and he can no longer follow? And Amrod, sharing those
feelings, but being left behind or choosing to stay, either action separating him from his twin?
Either choice Amrod made was very uncommon, and highly unlikely between identical twins, who
often create their own language as infants and have an uncanny ability to sense each other's
moods. So why didn't Tolkien pursue this storyline? Maybe it added one too many elements of
tragedy to the House of Fëanor, or maybe it simply didn't attract his attention and he
removed these dually unique red-haired twins more to the background, caught up in other eddies of
the stories of the First Age.
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