‘Kings and Gods Out of the Sunset’ – Tolkien’s First Telling of Numenor

The first time Tolkien mentioned Numenor in relation to Lord of the Rings was in a 1951 letter to a potential publisher. He was asked to give an outline of both the Silmarillion and the sequel to The Hobbit, and ended up giving a 10,000 word dissertation on both and how they related to one another.

Tolkien made it clear that the Silmarillion-proper ended with the First Age, when “the ship of Earendil adorned with the last Silmaril is set in heaven as they brightest star.” But there was another “cycle,” as he called it – the Second Age. “But it is on Earth a dark age, and not very much of its history is (or need be) told.”

The Men who had helped the Elves in the fight against Morgoth and Sauron, the Enemies, “were rewarded for their valour and faithful alliance, by being allowed to dwell ‘western-most of all mortals’, in the great ‘Atlantis’ isle of Numenore.” The first king of Numenore was Elros, Earendil’s son and Elrond’s brother.

As the greatest of all mariners, they set sail, leaving Middle-earth, to inhabit Numenor, a star-shaped island. There, for a time, life was pretty good. In Middle-earth, however, though Morgoth had been defeated, Sauron, his protégée, was hard at work. He was able to convince many of the Elves in Middle-earth that he was actually a pretty swell fellow. This was when the rings of power were made. In secret, Sauron forged the One Ring to rule them all (as the saying goes).

While things were quickly going to hell in Middle-earth, life in Numenor was fairly blissful. “They became thus in appearance, and even in powers of mind, hardly distinguishable from the Elves – but they remained mortal, even though rewarded by a triple, or more than triple, span of years. Their reward is their undoing – or the means of their temptation.”

Through their longevity, they were able to accomplish a ridiculous amount of good, including great achievements in art and wisdom. “But this breeds a possessive attitude to these things, and desire awakes for more time for their enjoyment.”

The Valar (Tolkien calls them ‘gods’ in this letter), had placed a ban on the Numenoreans. From the founding of the island, they were never allowed to sail west toward the Blessed Realm. They could, however, sail north and south, as well as east to Middle-earth.

They do this in earnest. While reaching the shores of Middle-earth, they came into contact with Elves and other Men, aiding them in their fight against Sauron. But it’s through all of this that their downfall comes.

Tolkien here explains that it comes in three stages. Because they fought against Sauron, they “incur his undying hatred.” This is the first stage. But it also includes quite a number of good things. “In those days they would come amongst Wild Men as almost divine benefactors, bringing gifts of arts and knowledge, and passing away again – leaving many legends behind of kings and gods out of the sunset.”

The “days of Pride and Glory” make up the second stage of their downfall. Begrudging the ban against sailing to the Blessed Realm, “they begin to seek wealth rather than bliss.” Tolkien explains that their desire for immortality “produced a cult of the dead, and they lavished wealth and art on tombs and memorials.” They still traveled to Middle-earth, but on its shores they built “strongholds and ‘factories’ of lords seeking wealth, and the Numenoreans became tax-gatherers carrying off over the sea ever more and more goods in their great ships. The Numenoreans began the forging of arms and engines.”

The third stage began with Tar-Calion the Golden, the king of Numenor. He had heard that Sauron had proclaimed himself the “King of Kings and Lord of the World,” and so he sailed to Middle-earth with a vast army and captured Sauron, bringing him back to Numenor. There, Sauron played nice and “humbled” himself as the servant of the king. Soon, however, he became the chief counsellor.

“He denies the existence of God, saying that the One is mere invention of the jealous Valar of the West, the oracle of their own wishes.” He proclaimed that Morgoth, “the chief of the gods…that dwells in the Void,” was the true god who would “conquer in the end.” The ban placed upon them by the Valar was only an attempt to keep the Numenoreans from gaining immortality.

The Numenoreans (most of them, anyway) buy it and build a temple to Morgoth. “The Faithful are persecuted and sacrificed. The Numenoreans carry their evil also to Middle-earth and there become cruel and wicked lords of necromancy, slaying and tormenting men; and the old legends are overlaid with dark tales of horror.” Though they went into Middle-earth, they didn’t really go into the northwest portions, where the Elves lived.

Tal-Calion began to feel old age creeping in, and Sauron convinced him to break the ban, sail to the West and wage a war against the Valar to gain immortality. “Faced by this rebellion of appalling folly and blasphemy, and also real peril (since the Numenoreans directed by Sauron could have wrought ruin in Valinor itself) the Valar lay down their delegated power and appeal to God, and receive the power and permission to deal with the situation.”

To defeat the, the Valar open a rift in the ocean. This swallows Tal-Calion’s ships as well as the island of Numenor itself. It also vastly changes the landscape of Middle-earth. The world itself had been flat, but now it was made round. The West – the Blessed Realms – were no more. “Men may sail now West, if they will, as far as they may, and come no nearer to Valinor or the Blessed Realm, but return only into the east and so back again…. Only the ‘immortals’, the lingering Elves, may still if they will, wearing the circle of the world, take ship and fight the ‘straight way’, and come to the ancient or True West, and be at peace.”

But the story is not yet over – that is for tomorrow.

A Few Notes

  • In 1950, Tolkien had Tar-Calion as the thirteenth king of Numenor, but by the time Lord of the Rings was published, he had become the twenty-fourth. In later writings, he was the twenty-fifth.
  • A good map showing the changed Middle-earth is here. Everything is blue was covered by the sea after the end Numenor.
  • And here’s a map of the world in the Second Age.
Camera: Mamiya C3 Film: Film: FujiChrome Provia 100F (xpro - not expired)

Camera: Mamiya C3
Film: Film: FujiChrome Provia 100F (xpro – not expired)

About the Photo
I took this having no idea what I was doing. I metered for light and set my camera accordingly, but I’m not really very good at that, especially in low light. I always over-compensate. This time, however, I decided to trust the exposure meter.

  • Day 103
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 510
  • 410 miles to Lothlórien
  • 1,268 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: Book II, Chapter 3. Encamped along the western foothills of the Misty Mountains. Third night out from Rivendell. (map)


2 thoughts on “‘Kings and Gods Out of the Sunset’ – Tolkien’s First Telling of Numenor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s