The Fall of Numenor – A Review

“The Fall of Numenor” is a compilation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings about Numenor and the Second Age of Middle-earth. It is edited by Brian Sibley and is the most recent of a
number of compilations of Tolkien’s various writings centred around his created mythology. Examples of earlier works include “Beren and Luthien” and “The Fall of Gondolin” (to mention but two) which were edited and compiled by his son and literary executor, Christopher Tolkien.

The raw material, if I can call it that, of these compilations has seen print in various works edited by Christopher, in the form of “Unfinished Tales” and the multi-volume “History of Middle-earth”. Although these works organise Tolkien’s writings (which in the mind of the author were not for publication) chronologically and to a degree thematically, because of the way in which the source material was created – because Tolkien reworked or “retold” much of the material – it has been something of a challenge to get a consistent narrative of any of the stories. Thus the decision was made to re-organise the material into something resembling a narrative, recognising that total consistency of the storyline or the characterisation was not going to be achieved. In many respects the project has been successful, presenting readers with a compilation of otherwise scattered material and the ability to understand the creative process and at the same time enjoy the product of Tolkien’s creative effort.

The passing of Christopher Tolkien, whose last contribution was “The Fall of Gondolin” has not meant the end of the work. “The Nature of Middle-earth” was an edited compilation by Carl F. Hostetter and was published in 2021. Brian Sibley’s compilation of Tolkien’s writings on the Second Age -“The Fall of Numenor” is the latest offering.

The organisation of the material is based on Tolkien’s “Tale of the Years” which is a chronology of the events that preceded the narrative of “The Lord of the Rings” and the chronological entries are supplemented or expanded from Tolkien’s various sources. In addition to providing a history of Numenor the actions of the Dark Lord Sauron are woven into the story, as is the tale of the forging of the Rings of Power. Although the Rings do not feature with any prominence in the tale of the decline and fall of Numenor, Sauron’s part in the story is essential. Although the Dark Lord is more closely associated with the conflict with the Elves of Lindon led by Gil-Galad the involvement of the Numenoreans with the affairs of Middle-earth resulted in Sauron being taken to Numenor (or was his presence there part of his cunning master-plan). Once there he proceeded with the corruption of the Numenoreans which led to the attempt by Ar-Pharazon to travel to and reach the Undying Lands. This breach of the Ban of the Valar led to the destruction of Numenor. Sauron’s bodily form was destroyed but in spirit form he returned to Middle-earth and took up the One Ring.

The “faithful” Numenoreans, led by Elendil the Tall and his sons Isildur and Anorien sailed from the wreck of Nemenor and established the Realms in Exile in Middle-earth. The final conflict with Sauron which saw the end of the Second Age and the loss of the One Ring brings the narrative to an end.

The chronology set out by Tolkien covers thousands of years so necessarily the tale is somewhat episodic in form and where there are expansions – such as the tale of Aldarion and Erendis – the material is inserted at the appropriate chronological spot. Most of the material about Aldarion and Erendis comes from “Unfinished Tales”.

There is little need for editorial comment, which is kept to a minimum. What is helpful is that much of the narrative is fleshed out from other sources including “The Lord of the Rings” so that the reader has an editorially complete picture of the subject matter at hand.

Much of the style to tale telling is in Tolkien’s “grand manner” which characterises the narrative in “The Silmarillion”. Readers familiar with that work should have little difficulty with “The Fall of Numenor” but those looking for a narrative similar to “The Lord of the Rings” will be disappointed. Tolkien’s “grand manner” is characteristic of most of the writings about the First and Second Ages. Those seeking an expansion of “The Tale of the Years” chronology will be well rewarded. Bringing all the material into the compass of a single book and in such an organised form is extremely helpful. In addition, as I have suggested, the hand of the editor is very light. Sibley has organised the material with care and, as an editor should, has allowed Tolkien to speak for himself.

“The Fall of Numenor” is a welcome addition to the Tolkien library. I describe it as thus because for me the Tolkien Canon are those works published while Tolkien was alive or which was in preparation when he passed – thus “The Silmarillion” is included. However, the timing of publication is interesting if only for the fact that the very same story that is told in “The Fall of Numenor” is the subject of Amazon’s “The Lord of the Rings:The Rings of Power”.

The release of the book must be a huge source of frustration for the show runners of the Amazon project because what they can use (and for television only) is the material within the covers of “The Lord of the Rings”. None of the material dealing with the Second Age which has been published elsewhere – like “The Silmarillion” or “Unfinished Tales” for example – can be used. Thus, the details of the story line in “Rings of Power” must be derived from LOTR or from the imagination of the writers. I am sure that the writers must look greedily at “The Fall of Numenor” but with great frustration, knowing that, like the Undying Lands to the Numenoreans, the content is forbidden them.

Of course, the publishers will benefit. Interest in “The Rings of Power” will drive those who are keen to know the detail to consult – and hopefully buy – “The Fall of Numenor”. And that will spark debate as the inevitable comparisons between text and imagined adaptation are compared and contrasted.

I know there was a body of thought that rejected Peter Jackson’s adaptation of LOTR saying that it was not true to the text, or that pieces had been missed out. One immediate problem with “Rings of Power” is, as I have suggested elsewhere, the compressed time line. Readers of “The Fall” will find a more majestic development of Numenor with clear line towards decline and fall which is all going to occur rather too suddenly in “Rings of Power”. And that is just a beginning. The detail will provoke its own debates and discussions and I imagine that gatherings of Tolkien aficionados either in person or online will have fertile ground for lengthy debate.

But as I have said, the book is a useful addition to the library, presents the material in a coherent and logical form and is a most enjoyable read. It is recommended that readers set aside a few hours to really immerse themselves in the text. This is not a book for reading a paragraph at a time.

1 January 2023.


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