Because of the fire and storm digital conversation about the Amazon Prime series, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, some may have missed a little bit of good Tolkien news. HarperCollins is releasing another Middle-earth legendarium book–an event that I always look forward to. Following the 12-volume History of Middle-earth, Christopher Tolkien published a trilogy of First Age Middle-earth tales:
- The Children of Húrin (2007)
- Beren and Lúthien (2017)
- The Fall of Gondolin (2018)
Given that the Prime Rings of Power show is set in the Second Age, I am not surprised to see that at Second Age book is on its way. The Fall of Númenor, and Other Tales from the Second Age of Middle-earth is edited by Brian Sibley, a famous adapter of Tolkien’s works. I do not haunt the digital hallways of Tolkien speculation, and neither am I privileged to have seen an advance copy of the book. I have not even seen a Table of Contents yet. However, according to the publisher’s description (below), it looks like it follows the Chronology of the Westlands, or the Tale of Years, in capturing many of the great stories of the Second Age of Middle-earth. Reputedly, there are ten new Alan Lee paintings (as slides), as well as pencil sketches and his art on the cover. The Fall of Númenor is set to release in mid-November in the United States–though not until Christmas here in Canada.
For those who are anxious to get explore the Second Age–either to anticipate the new The Fall of Númenor collection or to deepen your experience of The Rings of Power–I thought I would share my “Reading Sheet on the Downfall of Númenor.” I spoke in the summer at TolkienMoot XVIII on the collapse of Númenor in the Second Age, and thought this might be helpful to some. It is not anything original, and I might be missing things you think should be here. However, this works as a brief back-pocket guide to one of Tolkien’s central myths: Ar-Pharazôn the Pretender, Sauron’s defeat and his haunting cult of death, the Númenórean transgression of the Ban of the Valar, the White Tree of Númenor burning and finding new life in hope, Eru Ilúvatar’s destruction of the island of Númenor, the last King’s fleet lost in the chasm, the remaking of the world, and the founding of Arnor and Gondor by Elendil’s sons, Isildur and Anárion.
And, of course, the story begins again, Isildur’s bane and the rings of power the temptation of Frodo and all that follows–as well as all that preceded, the Sinking of Atlantis, the Garden of Eden, all the stories we share. The Downfall of Númenor is a myth that was with Tolkien for most of his life and patterns much of what he gave us.
Texts of the Downfall of Númenor
This list includes Second Age stories, with stories specifically about the Downfall in bold.
Letter #131 To Milton Waldman (2nd age) in Humphrey Carpenter’s Tolkien letter collection
- Parts of Appendix A, “The Númenorean Kings,” “Gondor and the Heirs of Anárion” (roughly the first 1/6th)
- Appendix B, “The Second Age” (2nd age)
- “Akallabêth,” especially “The Downfall of Númenor”
- “Of the Rings of Power” (2nd age)
Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth (2nd age)
- A Description of the Island of Númenor/The Line of Elros
- Aldarion and Erendis
- The History of Galadriel and Celeborn and Appendices
The Lost Road and Other Writings (History of Middle-earth 5)
Sauron Defeated (History of Middle-earth 9)
The Peoples of Middle-earth (History of Middle-earth 12)
- The History of the Akallabêth
- Tal-Elmar (2nd age)
- Of Dwarves and Men/Glorfindel (2nd age)
- The Tale of Years of the Second Age/The Heirs of Elendil/The Making of Appendix A (2nd age)
Publisher’s Description for The Fall of Númenor
J.R.R. Tolkien famously described the Second Age of Middle-earth as a ‘dark age, and not very much of its history is (or need be) told’. And for many years readers would need to be content with the tantalizing glimpses of it found within the pages of The Lord of the Rings and its appendices, including the forging of the Rings of Power, the building of the Barad-dûr and the rise of Sauron.
It was not until Christopher Tolkien published The Silmarillion after his father’s death that a fuller story could be told. Although much of the book’s content concerned the First Age of Middle-earth, there were at its close two key works that revealed the tumultuous events concerning the rise and fall of the island of Númenor. Raised out of the Great Sea and gifted to the Men of Middle-earth as a reward for aiding the angelic Valar and the Elves in the defeat and capture of the Dark Lord Morgoth, the kingdom became a seat of influence and wealth; but as the Númenóreans’ power increased, the seed of their downfall would inevitably be sown, culminating in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men.
Even greater insight into the Second Age would be revealed in subsequent publications, first in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth, then expanded upon in Christopher Tolkien’s magisterial twelve-volume The History of Middle-earth, in which he presented and discussed a wealth of further tales written by his father, many in draft form.
Now, adhering to the timeline of ‘The Tale of Years’ in the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, editor Brian Sibley has assembled into one comprehensive volume a new chronicle of the Second Age of Middle-earth, told substantially in the words of J.R.R. Tolkien from the various published texts, with new illustrations in watercolour and pencil by the doyen of Tolkien art, Alan Lee.
Thanks for this! I’d been working on Númenor – and, over-ambitiously, possible Narnian parallels – for a conference to which Dr. Claudio Testi was invited – when ‘corona’ came along. This gave me the chance to do a lot more reading and thinking (and saving possible Narnian parallels for a complementary paper?) – and to take advantage of all the Númenor-related material in Carl Hostetter’s edition, The Nature of Middle-earth. So, I would definitely add that to your Númenórean resources list. The amazing and delightful additions there to ‘A Description of the Island of Númenor’ as published in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth left me wondering if there may be yet more to come that ‘we’ don’t know about.
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Just rereading Tolkien’s ‘Drafts from a letter to “Mr Rang”‘ (Letter 297) and arriving at the end see “[The text ends with a brief discussion of Númenórean religion.]”! The History of Middle-earth volumes are happily enriched with additions to various previously published letters – I have not gone searching to check if Christopher ever gave us more of these drafts and this “brief discussion”, but the phenomenon underlines the curiosity as to the likelihood that there is more that ‘we’ don’t know about, and the hopeful possibility that someone like Carl Hostetter may publish additional examples.
Thanks for all this David. Love hearing from you and am always amazed at your capacious literary imagination when it comes to connectivity.
I, myself, am always over-doing conferences, saying too much, for that is too much fun.
Yes, of course, I honestly didn’t think about The Nature of Middle-earth even thought it was inches from my fingertips while writing this. I also did not include small referential things, footnotes, legendary comments, and 1,000 other linkages. This is just meant to be a broad sheet.
I am very much inclined to read ‘A Description of the Island of Númenor’ as published in Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth right now.
Thanks! I don’t have a copy of any of the editions of Tolkien’s Letters since 1995 when Christina Scull and Wayne Hammond apparently richly expanded the index – but that new index is probably a happy place to look for more Númenórean references.
Do read Carl Hostetter’s additions to ‘A Description of the Island of Númenor’ – if only for the Bears (!) – better yet, read Christopher’s and Carl Hostetter’s versions together to get the fullest picture at once!
Tangentially, a Tolkien and Lewis ‘gem’ that I missed (and missed you discussing it, if you did) back in the day, is Andy Orchard’s little talk here from around the 28 to 4o minutes points (though the whole session is worth watching – not least the question-time):
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As I recall, JRR Tolkien said that both he and Christopher had a recurring dream about a great wave whelming the land, which gave rise to his writing about Númenor.