Who was Fingolfin, and why is he one of the greatest characters in the greater Tolkien Legendarium?
Fingolfin was one of the mightiest warriors among the Eldar of any age, and a great leader, as well. He guided the main host of the Noldor across the Helcaraxë before the rising of the Sun, and marshalled them in the defeat of Morgoth’s forces in the Dagor Aglareb (Glorious Battle), holding the Siege of Angband for almost 400 years, giving evidence of his military leadership.
With regard to his martial prowess, his greatest fight was to be his last. In the midst of the Battle of the Sudden Flame, Fingolfin received a false report that the armies of his allies and kin had been utterly routed. Filled with wrath and despair, Fingolfin rode across the wasteland of Anfauglith to the Land of Shadow and Dread, to the very doors of Angband, fortress of Morgoth.
Fingolfin pounded on the gates of the fortress and challenged Morgoth to single combat, naming him a coward if he didn’t stand forth. And Morgoth came, for shame of fear, being the only one among the Valar to ever know fear.
They raged in combat, with Fingolfin easily evading Morgoth’s great mace Grond, and delivering Morgoth 7 wounds during the fight. But Morgoth was of the Valar, and could not be killed, and Fingolfin grew weary, and stumbled into one of the great craters created by Morgoth’s weapon. Morgoth took his chance, and crushed Fingolfin under his foot, but not before Fingolfin hewed the foot of Morgoth with his sword, causing him to limp until the end of days.
In skill of arms, Fingolfin could be argued to be the greatest warrior among all the Children of Ilúvatar, and if not the greatest, then perhaps only second (or third) to Ecthelion of the Fountain, who slew (and was slain by) Gothmog, Lord of the Balrogs, and possibly Glorfindel, who (also) killed and was killed by a Balrog.