‘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)

It Is a Strange Road – The Impossible Distance from Weathertop to Rivendell

Camera: Tru-View (Diana Clone, circa 1960) || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 160 Tungsten (expired 12/1994, x-pro)

Camera: Tru-View (Diana Clone, circa 1960) || Film: Kodak Ektachrome 160 Tungsten (expired 12/1994, x-pro)

Our heroes are beat. As they walk along, Frodo notices how “their back bowed under their burdens. Even Strider seemed tired and heavy-hearted.” There are many miles to go – but how many?

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 12 (p199, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
Yesterday, I reached the milestone of 250 miles since leaving Hobbiton. And so, by this point in the story, our hobbits had tramped 250 miles. When they got to Weathertop (240 miles from Hobbiton), Merry asked Strider how far it was to Rivendell. Strider didn’t know, and he gave some vague answer like “Some say it is so far, and some say otherwise.” This road was a “strange road,” he said.

He claimed that he could do it in twelve days under the right conditions. With the hobbits, however, he gave himself two extra.


In a project such as this, I need exact measurements. Unfortunately, those do not exist. In some places, Tolkien was just fuzzy. Fortunately, we’ve got two sources – the Atlas of Middle-earth and Journeys of Frodo that contain much of the work we might use to figure it out.

The chart I’m employing for the mileage is based off of the Atlas, which itself is vague in some areas. For example, the mileage given for October 18th, when the proto-fellowship comes across the Trolls, is 34-21 miles (whatever that means – why the larger number is first, I have no idea). The chart I use seems to split the differences.

So to answer Merry’s question, we’ve got to do some math and some estimating. In Unfinished Tales, Tolkien gives the mileage from Bree to Rivendell as 348 miles. The distance from Bree to Weathertop isn’t given, so we have to look at the maps and give it our best guess, which is 95 miles by the East Road. Since the hobbits didn’t stick to the road, their actual mileage was about 106.

Answering Merry’s question is now simple, though not perfect. It’s 253 East Road miles from Weathertop to Rivendell. So then why is it, according to the Atlas, between 196 and 232 miles from Weathertop to Rivendell? I have absolutely no idea. Tolkien was vague, the world is imaginary, and there’s no actual way to tell. If you think about this for too long, you’ll end up in a puddle of frustrations. Repeat to yourself it’s just a book, you should really just relax.

In an early draft (as given in The Return of the Shadow), Tolkien did try to nail it down by having Strider (Trotter, actually) tell Merry that it was 120 miles from Bree to Weathertop by the East Road, and “close on 200 from Weathertop to the Ford [of Bruinen – near Rivendell].” It should tell us something that Tolkien backed off of the specifics. For this part of the story, it’s a detail, but hardly an interesting one (which is why I’m writing about it?)


For my own travels in Middle-earth, I’m sticking by the chart here, and the figure of 218 miles from Weathertop to Rivendell. It’s a nice, middle of the road number. I have no real idea how it was figured out, but that’s okay, as I’m just along for the journey and am perfectly fine with some things just not adding up.

A Few Notes:

  • There’s actually a rather large (in distance) mistake in the published Lord of the Rings. At the Prancing Pony, Strider tells Sam that Weathertop was halfway between Bree and Rivendell. This, even according to Tolkien’s own maps, is impossible. What he probably meant to write was that Weathertop was halfway between Bree and the Last Bridge. This is actually a leftover from an early draft where Weathertop really was halfway between Bree and Rivendell (which always seemed to be the same distance away from each other. When he moved the mountain, he forgot to adjust the relative distances.
  • I’m really glad that someone before me figured out all this stuff. Even with my unhealthy love of maps, I couldn’t have sussed out the details.

About the Photo
Oh hell, I had to use something, didn’t I? I figure that if the road wasn’t measured beyond the Forsaken Inn, it must have been fairly primitive.

  • Day 53
  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 256
  • 204 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,523 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: South of the East Road, southeast of Weathertop (map)

What Do They Live On When They Can’t Get Hobbit? (Day 37)

Camera: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye || Film: Kodak PPF-2 (expired 09/1999)

Camera: Kodak Brownie Hawkeye || Film: Kodak PPF-2 (expired 09/1999)

Today our hobbits are being eaten alive! But relax, it’s only by bugs as they trudge through the northern end of Midgewater Marsh.

Thoughts on the Passage – Book I, Chapter 11 (p182-3, 50th Anniv. Ed.)
“Midgewater! There are more Midges than water!” We’re told that “they spent a miserable day in this lonely and unpleasant country.” And while we can all imagine a marsh with bugs drinking your blood – “What do they live on when they can’t get hobbit?” – it’s sometimes hard to picture exactly where our heroes are tramping.

Most editions of Lord of the Rings come with maps. The paperback versions leave much to be desired, which is why I sought out the one volume hardback edition with the big foldout maps. You’ll recognize it below:


This is the general area where our hobbits are traveling, Strider as their guide. Midgewater looks like a spire from a Russian Orthodox church. It’s not incredibly detailed, but it’s the map that Tolkien and his son worked long and hard upon, and for the longest time, it’s the only map that was available.

These days, there’s another choice – Atlas of Middle-earth by Karen Wynn Fonstad. Not only does it cover Lord of the Rings, but it contains maps for the entire legendarium. It’s ridiculously complete and meticulously researched. In fact, it’s Fonstad’s work on mileage that I use for this blog. Here’s a map of the same area:


But if, for Frodo’s path, this is still not enough, you could do worse than tracking down a fairly out of print book titled Journeys of Frodo by Barbara Strachey. This is, by far, the most complete and detailed of the maps. The book contains 50 or so contour maps showing the path of Frodo explicitly. See?


Each map contains the campsites, eating places, and various other stops that Frodo used on his journey to Mordor.

There are, of course, differences between the two maps, but that’s just how it goes. I’m sure you’ll pick your favorites, so I highly suggest you get both. Since Strachey’s Journeys of Frodo is out of print, you’ll have to make do with a used copy, but they’re easy enough to find online.

Since all are copyrighted, I really can’t use them except in reviews (such as this), so having them with you while you read my blog could be incredibly helpful. I peruse them often while I write.

About the Photo
I don’t exactly have a lot of marshy photos as I mostly shoot in the desert (did you know that Washington had one of those? – technically, it’s shrub-steppe). But maybe this could be Midgewater Marsh if the cows took over. (And yes, it really bugged me that the blade of grass was in front of the cow’s face. I was really upset about it after I developed the film and saw the disaster.)

  • Miles today: 5
  • Miles thus far: 175
  • 39 miles to Weathertop
  • 285 miles to Rivendell
  • 1,604 miles to Mt. Doom

Today’s stopping place: In the middle of Midgewater Marsh! (map)

Day 3 – Of Maps and Birch Beer

Camera: Mamiya C3 | Film: Film: FujiChrome Provia 100F (xpro)

Camera: Mamiya C3 | Film: FujiChrome Provia 100F (xpro)

Though it’s my third day at this little adventure, our hobbits are just now ending their first. The miles that I covered today are covered in only a paragraph in the book. After a few hours’ rest, they walked, still avoiding roads, through a grove of birches, stopped again to eat “a very frugal supper (for hobbits),” and then struck another road, which they crossed. As they walked through the dark, they hummed and eventually began to sing.

Thoughts on the Passage – p71 (of the 50th Anniversary Edition)
It’s only a paragraph, but I thought of so much to say. First, I’m very happy to learn that Middle-Earth had at least some birch trees. I trust that the hobbits, being enterprising, discovered birch beer. Maybe they even invented it (it’s a much better claim to fame than inventing the game of golf, I’d wager).

Tolkien gives us so many place names and I’ve yet to find a good map that covers them. Our hobbits were moving apart from the roads, but mostly paralleling The Water, which ran east toward the Brandywine River. After crossing the main road to the Brandywine Bridge, they struck another road which led to Woodhall, Stock and the Bucklebury Ferry (which is south/downriver from the bridge). Woodhall is actually just off this road.

These aren’t really my thoughts, per se, but I am reminded again and again, just in this short paragraph how detailed Tolkien’s world was. The larger picture didn’t involve The Shire at all, let alone some two horse town on an off road from an off road to Bywater. It’s ridiculously wonderful.

On that, the “Woody-End” mentioned in the same paragraph is described as “a wild corner of the Eastfarthing.” The Shire was divided into four farthings (“farthing” is older English for quarter). I found this map, which seems to be good, but the resolution on it makes he words incredibly hard to read.

Today’s Quote
“Thin-clad birches, swaying in a light wind above their heads, made a black net against the pale sky.”

On the Exercising
Today was much better than yesterday. Mostly because I only did four miles. I was really hurting after yesterday’s, so I decided to tone it down a bit. I’m trying to work up to an average of five miles each day, but also, I don’t want to overdo it. Also, also, I don’t want to be exercising simply so I can eat more cookies. That said, I’m going to have a cookie now.

miles today: 4
miles thus far: 14 (444 miles to Rivendell – 1,765 to Mt. Doom)
stopping place: In a deeply cloven track between tall trees – a ways after crossing the Stock Road.

*Also, happy birthday, Tolkien!