"Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
the last whose realm was fair and free
between the Mountains and the Sea."
Sixth and last of the High Kings of the Noldor. The only son of High King Fingon, Gil-galad was born in Beleriand late in the First Age, and was still a child at the time of the Dagor Bragollach; his father sent him to Círdan at the Havens for safekeeping when Morgoth broke the Siege of Angband in that battle.
Fingon was lost in the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, but the crown passed to Gil-galad's uncle Turgon in Gondolin, rather than Gil-galad himself (presumably because of his youth at that time). When Gondolin was lost, Gil-galad received the Kingship of the Noldor; he dwelt with the Exiles of the city at the Mouths of Sirion during the remainder of the First Age.
After the destruction of Beleriand during the War of Wrath, Gil-galad founded a kingdom in Lindon in the far northwest of Middle-earth, between the Blue Mountains and the Great Sea. There he and his people prospered, until Sauron returned; he came first to Lindon in the form of Annatar, the Lord of Gifts, but Gil-galad and Elrond rejected him. Soon after, the One Ring was forged, and there was war in Middle-earth between the Elves and Sauron.
After the Downfall of Númenor, Elendil and his sons came to Middle-earth and formed an alliance with Gil-galad, the Last Alliance of Elves and Men. They marched on Mordor and besieged Sauron's Dark Tower. Sauron was defeated, but Gil-galad met his death in that war.
In The Silmarillion, Gil-galad is described unambiguously as the son of Fingon, but in fact this statement serves to conceal rather complex textual development that leaves his line of descent less certain than it might initially appear.
At the time he was writing The Lord of the Rings, it seems clear that Tolkien imagined Gil-galad to be the son of Felagund (later named Finrod) of Nargothrond, and this is stated explicitly in early drafts of the Tale of Years.
After it became established that Finrod had no children, however, Tolkien amended his line of descent to make Gil-galad the son of Finrod's brother Orodreth, and then, in another amendment, Finrod's great nephew. This final arrangement reorganises the family relationships described in The Silmarillion to a considerable degree, but still leaves Gil-galad as heir to the Kingship of the Noldor (if through a rather circuitous line of descent). It seems, therefore, that the notion of Gil-galad as son of Fingon was probably not Tolkien's final intention.
A full treatment of this situation is given by Christopher Tolkien in volume 12 of The History of Middle-earth (in notes to The Shibboleth of Fëanor). There he states that Gil-galad's connection to Fingon was 'an ephemeral idea', and indicates that, with hindsight, he would have preferred to leave Gil-galad's parentage indefinite in The Silmarillion. Nonetheless, this relationship is established in the published text, and the complexity of the underlying textual situation makes it impractical to unravel.
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