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 Although these works organise Tolkien’s writings (which in the mind of the author were not for publication) chronologically and to a degree thematically, because of the way in which the source material was created – because Tolkien reworked or “retold” much of the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.


It is what it Is – The Science of Middle-earth

Much of the writing about Tolkien and his works focusses upon the literary aspects of his Middle-earth works. Therefore it is rather unusual to come across a book that describes itself as a new understanding of Tolkien and his world using scientific disciplines to examine Middle-earth.

The Science of Middle-earth (Roland LeHouq, Loic Mangin and Jean-Sebastien Steyer (eds) Pegasus Books 2021) provides an interesting, at times provocative and at times amusing look at Tolkien’s Middle-earth world. It is a compilation of essays that consider that scientific foundations of Middle-earth and its denizens. The book claims that Tolkien had an interest in aspects of science – cosmology, geography, metallurgy, botany and geology and without this knowledge he would have been unable to create the Middle-earth of the depth and breadth that he did. It is claimed, too, that Tolkien was aware of the way in which science could align itself with power, imposing its values in an imperialist manner.

Feanor in The Silmarillion, Celebrimbor of Eregion and the thinkers of Lorien combined a quest for knowledge with artistic creation. Tolkien said that

“the Elves represent the artistic, aesthetic and purely scientific aspects of the Humane nature raised to a higher level than is actually seen in Men..they have a devoted love of the physical world, and a desire to observe and understand it for its own sake.” (Tolkien to Michael Straits 1956).

The book is divided into thematic sections – each section gathering together a number of scientific studies and disciplines to demonstrate how these are deployed in Middle-earth. The sections are as follows:

World-building – addressing matters such as the sociology of Middle-earth, economics, families, power and politics, language, evolution and communication in Middle-earth and closes with philosophy in Middle-earth.

Anchoring in Space and Time, in which there are essays on archaeology, history and historiography in Middle-earth, a consideration of linguistics and a study of the mythology of corruption and dependence.

The section on “Spectacular Settings” includes studies of the plants, landscape and geography of Middle-earth including a consideration of the tectonic makeup of Arda, the subterranean worlds and the gemology of Middle-earth along with a consideration of Medieval-Fantastical metallurgy. The One Ring comes in for a careful examination in a consideration of the quality of invisibility it confers along with its complex chemical history and what would be required to make such a potent object.

The people of Middle-earth are considered in the section entitled “Remarkable Characters”. Here are examined the hobbits from a physical point of view including a study and how the rather larger feet of hobbits gives them certain characteristics, the recent discovery of a human ancestor in Indonesia who was nicknamed “hobbit” and how this impacted upon paleoanthropology, the physical decline and metamorphosis of Gollum, the eyesight and optical characteristics of the Elves, the relationship of Dwarves to hyenas and a consideration of whether an Ent is a plant or an animal and some of the “real-world” similarities that exist. Saruman’s Uruks are discussed in a context of genetic modification and the section closes with a phylogenetic approach to humanoids In Middle-earth (aided by some helpful diagrams).

The final section is entitled a Fantastical Bestiary and looks at what re referred to as mythotypes within the realm of beasts and then a consideration of ornithology and the way Tolkien treats birds – and especially the Great Eagles like Thorondor – the fantastical oliphaunts and their relationship to elephants, the nature of Wargs and their parallels in Scandinavian folklore, a careful study of Beorn and whether he was a Man-bear or a Bear-man (there is a difference) – spiders in Middle-earth referred to as arthropods, as well as the different types of dragon that make appearances in the Tolkien canon – it should be recalled that Glaurung could not fly whereas Smaug and Ancalagon the Black could and these evolutionary differences are considered. The horrible Monster in the Water outside the Mithril Gate of Moria is considered and the section closes with a discussion of Tolkien’s cryptozoological bestiary.

All of this provides for vert entertaining reading along with some thought-provoking observations. I do, however, have two problems with the approach adopted.

The first relates to reliance by many of the writers upon Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of the Lord of the Rings. It must be remembered that these movies were Jackson’s imagining of Tolkien’s imagining and although in many case Jackson got it right, my own view is that if a writer is looking at Tolkien’s Middle-earth it must be based upon the materials that Tolkien created. Luckily we have a very large depth of material contained in the published Canon (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion) and the background materials and information provided in Unfinished Tales and in the multi-volume History of Middle-earth. There is more than enough material available from Tolkien’s pen that would not require resort to Jackson’s movies.

The second is the importation of certain physical and scientific realities into the analysis. For example the sections on the Ring focus upon the physical attributes of the Ring and overlook the high level of craftsmanship of Elves like Feanor and Celebrimbor and the fact that Sauron had demi-godlike qualities (he was a Maia) that allowed him to channel his power into an object in a way that is not possible given our current scientific knowledge.

I have always viewed Middle-earth as similar but not identical to our own – not perhaps an alternate reality but a parallel universe. In this respect my own view is that the scientific constraints imposed upon our physical existence need not necessarily apply to Middle-earth. There are similarities in that there are creation myths, the concept of the Fallen Angel and certain supernatural or metaphysical elements in both universes, but that the rules in Middle-earth differ from ours. I do not need a scientific rationale for the long-sightedness of the Elves other than that it is a reality in Middle-earth. Nor do I need an explanation of the One Ring based on the state of OUR knowledge rather than the realities of object creation within a Middle-earth universe.

So from time to time I felt dragged back into the reality of my universe and away from the Secondary World created by Tolkien. I must admit that some of the explanations and theories are quite amusing and for the Tolkien aficionado it may provide some hours of amusement.  But my own view is that as far as Middle-earth and its workings are concerned  – as is so often said these days – it is what it is.

Getting the Right Quotation

It is a matter of concern when the editor of New Zealand largest circulating newspaper makes an assertion about the source of a quote, and gets it wrong. In saying that I am not suggesting that there are similar shortcomings in other stories or articles, but I am sure that we are all familiar with comments that have been taken out of context or that are good for a soundbyte.

So what has prompted my ire on this subject. The Herald editorial for 21 August 2021 entitled “Lord, what a wonderful quest” opens with the following words

“With due acknowledgement to JRR Tolkien: “Deep in the land of Mordor, in the Fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged a master ring, and into this ring he poured his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life.”

Since picking up on these opening words of the epic trilogy 20 years ago, New Zealand has been on a wondrous journey.”


This assertion is patently incorrect. The first volume of “The Lord of the Rings” which is “The Fellowship of the Ring” opens with a foreword from Tolkien himself, followed by a prologue divided into 4 parts –  “Concerning Hobbits”, “Concerning Pipeweed”, “Of the Ordering of the Shire” and “Of the Finding of the Ring” together with a Note of Shire Records. The first chapter, proper, is entitled “A long-expected party” and commences with the words

“When Mr. Bilbo Baggins announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton”. No mention of the origins of the One Ring.

Indeed the origins of the Ring and its history begin to develop throughout the story. The genesis of the One Ring develops in “The Fellowship” – Chapter 2 – “The Shadow of the Past” as Gandalf tells Frodo

“In Eregion long ago many Elven-rings were made, magic rings as you call them, and they were, of course, of various kinds: some more potent and some less. The lesser rings were onl;y essays in the craft before it was full-grown, and to the Elven-smiths they were but trifles – yet still to my mind dangerous for mortals. But the Great Rings, the Rings of Power, they were perilous”

The making of the One Ring is not referred to at this stage in the story but the link with the Dark Lord Sauron is mentioned after Gandalf confirms that Frodo’s ring is indeed the One.

“The Enemy still lacks one thing to give him strength and knowledge to beat down all resistance, break the last defences, and cover all the lands in a second darkness. He lacks the One Ring.

The Three, fairest of all, the Elf-lords hid from him, and his hand never touched them or sullied them. Seven the Dwarf-kings possessed but three he has recovered, and the others the dragons have consumed. Nine he gave to Mortal Men, proud and great, and so ensnared them. Long ago they fell under the dominion of the One, and they became Ringwraiths, shadows under his great Shadow, his most terrible servants. Long ago. It is many a year since the Nine walked abroad”

The aspects of the One Ring and some of its qualities are revealed as the story progresses but it is not until “The Council of Elrond” (Book II, Chapter 2 of “The Fellowship of the Ring”) that we are told of the history of the Ring.

“Then all listened while Elrond in his clear voice spoke of Sauron and the Rings of Power, and their forging in the Second Age of the world long ago. A part of his tale was known to some there, but the full tale to none, and many eyes turned to Elrond in fear and wonder as he told of the Elven-smiths of Eregion and their friendship with Moria, and their eagerness for knowledge, by which Sauron ensnared them. For in that time he was not yet evil to behold, and they received his aid and grew mighty in craft, whereas he learned all their secrets, and betrayed them, and forged secretly in the Mountain of Fire the One Ring to be their master. But Celebrimbor was aware of him, and hid the Three which he had made, and there was war, and the land was laid waste, and the gate of Moria was shut”

So it is clear that “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy does not start with the words quoted as suggested in the editorial. Indeed the true origins of the Ring slowly develop until the revelations at the Council of Elrond – a significant and important chapter, for it is here that Tolkien’s new “hobbit story” transforms into an heroic epic.

There are other references to the origins of the Ring in “The Silmarillion” in the section entitled “Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age” and in “Unfinished Tales” in Part III,  Chapter 4 entitled “The Hunt for the Ring”. Tolkien tells of the making of the Ring in a letter to Milton Waldman (“The Letters of J R R Tolkien” Humphrey Carpenter (ed) at p. 152 – 153)

“The Elves of Eregion made Three supremely beautiful and powerful rings, almost solely of their own imagination , and directed to the preservation of beauty: they did not confer invisibility. But secretly in the subterranean Fire, in his own Black Land, Sauron made One Ring, the Ruling Ring that contained the powers of all the others, and controlled them, so that its wearer could see the thoughts of all those that used the lesser rings, could govern all that they did, and in the end could utterly enslave them…….

[Sauron] rules a growing empire from the great dark tower of Barad-Dur in Mordor, near to the Mountain of Fire, wielding the One Ring.

But to achieve this he had been obliged to let a great part of his own inherent power (a frequent and very significant motive in myth and fairy-story) pass into the One Ring”

But what is the source for the quotation attributed to Tolkien in the Herald editorial. It certainly has Tolkien’s “voice” and the facts contained in it accord with the information in “The Lord of the Rings”.

The quotation comes from the prologue to the Peter Jackson adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings” – “The Fellowship of the Ring”. The words are spoken by Galadriel – the words in brackets are in Elvish:

“(I amar prestar aen.)

The world is changed.

(Han matho ne nen.)

I feel it in the water.

(Han mathon ned cae.)

I feel it in the earth.

(A han noston ned gwilith.)

I smell it in the air.

Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.

It began with the forging of the Great Rings. Three were given to the Elves, immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven to the Dwarf-Lords, great miners and craftsmen of the mountain halls. And nine, nine rings were gifted to the race of Men, who above all else desire power. For within these rings was bound the strength and the will to govern each race.

But they were all of them deceived, for another ring was made. In the land of Mordor, in the Fires of Mount Doom, the Dark Lord Sauron forged a master ring, and into this ring he poured his cruelty, his malice and his will to dominate all life.”

The sentence “In the land of Mordor” is as stated in the movie sound-track. The use of the word “Deep” does not appear in that source. An internet search on the phrase reveals a number of sources all of which repeat the same error.

All that to one side, the words quoted by the Herald editor are from the movie and certainly do not open Tolkien’s trilogy as it appears in print.

This may be seen to be an exercise in pedantry, and perhaps it is. Tolkien scholars (and I rank myself among them) are rather particular about their field of study and the attribution of sources, as is the case in any field of academic study, is important. I have not provided page numbers for the quotes in this piece if only because the number of printings of “The Lord of the Rings” means that pagination varies. I have adopted the system I used in my “The Song of Middle-earth – JRR Tolkien’s Themes Symbols and Myths” citing source and chapter number.

I do not expect a Herald editorial to provide footnotes. But is an accurate quotation and attribution too much to ask?

(Sources consulted in writing this post are J.R.R Tolkien “The Lord of the Rings”; J.R.R. Tolkien “The Silmarillion”; “The Letters of J R R Tolkien” Humphrey Carpenter (ed);J.R.R. Tolkien “Unfinished Tales” (Christopher Tolkien (ed)); Wayne G Hammond and Christina Scull “The Lord of the Rings – A Reader’s Companion”; David Harvey “The Song of Middle-earth: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Themes Symbols and Myths” “The Fellowship of the Ring” Extended DVD Edition – Peter Jackson Director.)

What’s In a Name – A Ring by Any Other

Is it correct that Amazon’s series on Tolkien’s works should be entitled “The Lord of the Rings”.  A recent article in the Herald with an accompanying video perpetuates what I consider to be a misnomer. True, the video does include the title page from The Lord of the Rings but there are other snippets of information that would suggest that the material for the Amazon production will not focus on the tale of the destruction of the One Ring. That ship has already sailed, courtesy of Peter Jackson. I also imagine that there would be significant intellectual property issues is redoing The Lord of the Rings for television. As it is, Amazon paid close to $250 million to acquire the global TV rights – but to what. “The Lord of the Rings”? Or to all of Tolkien’s canon including “The Silmarillion”, “Unfinished Tales” and the various story lines appearing in Christopher Tolkien’s monumental “History of Middle-earth” and the publication of the storylines behind “The Children of Hurin”, “The Tale of Beren and Luthien” and the most recent “The Fall of Gondolin.” I would hope that the Amazon production will delve into some of those storylines.

Those in charge of publicity seem to have overlooked the fact that the new series is set in Middle-earth and will explore new storylines preceding “The Fellowship of the Ring” – the first book in Tolkien trilogy. Does that mean that the series will explore the story behind the making of the Rings of Power, the Last Alliance between Elves and Men and the fall of Isildur?

Necessarily, in my view, preceding that must be told the tale of Numenor and Sauron’s corruption of Ar-Pharazon which led to the drowning of Numenor and the removal of the Seven Stars and Seven Stones and One White Tree to Gondor. I should note that Numenor appears in some of the maps published by Amazon although it did not appear as such in any of the Tolkien maps. Yet one cannot tell the tale of Numenor in isolation, for Numenor was a form of reward for Men. And that reward requires a retelling of the struggle against Morgoth which is inextricably intertwined with the making of the Silmarils by Feanor and his subsequent downfall.

I suppose it all boils down top what is in a name. “Lord of the Rings” is a popular, populist and collective identifier for Tolkien’s work and I can understand why the publicists have chosen to use it. But unless they are going to retell, in more detail, the tale that has been told by Jackson, the use of the title is a misnomer and is misleading. Rather, I would prefer to see the series described, for the moment at least and until the story lines are clearly developed, as Tolkien’s Middle-earth.