Blind Read Through: J.R.R. Tolkien; The Silmarillion, Akallabêth, part 1
“And the Doom of Men, that they should depart, was at first a gift of Ilùvatar. It became a grief to them only because coming under the shadow of Morgoth it seemed to them that they were surrounded by a great darkness, of which they were afraid; and some grew wilful and proud and would not yield , until life was reft from them. We who beat the ever mounting burden of the years do not clearly understand this; but if that grief has returned to trouble you, as you say, then we fear that the Shadow arises once more and grows again in your hearts.“
Welcome back to another Blind Read! This week we delve into the Decendents of Elves and Men, otherwise known as the Númenorians or Dúnedain.
Tolkien begins the chapter by giving us an abridgment of the story of Men in The Silmarillion, but with a slight adjustment: “It is said by the Eldar that Men came into the world in the time of the Shadow of Morgoth, and they fell swiftly under his dominion; for he sent his emissaries among them, and they listened to his evil and cunning words, and they worshipped the Darkness and yet feared it.“
Interestingly, he begins this chapter from the perspective of the Eldar because the majority of the end of The Silmarillion has to do with how the “men” (meaning humans) helped with the ultimate defeat of Morgoth. Indeed without their influence, Morgoth would probably have taken over the land of Middle-earth.
What I find so fascinating about this passage is that Tolkien is saying that the majority of Men in the first age fell under Morgoth’s deception. However, just a select few, the Edain, who made their way West into Beleriand, were free of The Dark Lord’s corruption. Indeed, these Edain are whom we’ve read about thus far in the Quenta Silmarillion.
With Morgoth’s defeat, his thralls went back into the east, and the Edain faithful to the Valar were rewarded for their servitude. “Eönwë came among them and taught them; and they were given wisdom and power and life more enduring than any others of mortal race have possessed.”
They were also given land that was “neither part of Middle-earth nor of Valinor, for it was sundered from either by a wide sea.” The Valar raised the ground from the sea and enriched it with life, and the Star of Eärendil shone like a northern light to show the Edain how to reach that land. The land was called Andor, or “Númenóre in the High Eldarin tongue.“
“This was the beginning of that people that in the Grey-elven speech are called the Dúnedain: the Númenóreans, Kings among Men.“
These “Kings among Men” were blessed with abnormally long lives to allow them to gain wisdom and help with the progression of Men in Arda, but the original gift of Ilùvatar was still intact. The gift of death.
Ilùvatar (you can read this as God) wanted Men of Middle-earth to have the ability to die, so he gave them short lifespans. The Valar are eternal, and the Eldar are immortal unless mortally injured. So men were given short lives to appreciate the splendor that Ilùvatar and the Valar had wrought. The drawback was that none of the great human kingdoms of the First Age could produce the marvels that the Elves or even Dwarves were able to create. Thus Númenor allowed them to grow “wise and glorious, and in all things more like the Firstborn than any other of the kindreds of Men; and they were tall, taller than the tallest sons of Middle-earth; and the light of their eyes was like the bright stars.“
It was here on Númenor, the island kingdom, that Elros, brother to Elrond and son of Eärendil and Elwing, became the first King of the Dúnedain in the great city of Armenelos.
Because of his parent’s sacrifice and their mixed blood, the Valar gave the brothers the choice of whom they would live their lives. Elrond chose Noldor blood and lived the rest of his life amongst the Elves. Elros, however, decided the blood of Man, and it’s from his shared blood that the Númenórian line descended.
Elros ruled in splendor for over four hundred years, growing Númenor into the legend it would become. “The Dúnedain dwelt under the protection of the Valar and in the friendship of the Eldar, and they increased in stature both of mind and body.”
They accepted a ban from the Valar that they were not to sail to the west and thus spent their time growing in knowledge and the arts. They became great shipbuilders, as you would expect of people living on an island. They accepted gifts from the Valar and planted seedlings of the great trees of Valinor, echoing Telperion. I have to wonder if this is the antecedent of the great white tree of Gondor we see in The Lord of the Rings. The men of Gondor were, in essence, descendants of the Dúnedain, so having the tree be the standard on their armor and flags makes sense, especially because Aragorn was a descendant of those great kings.
It was during this time that Middle-earth’s wisdom faded, all while the Númenórian knowledge increased. It was only a matter of time before the Dúnedain would make their way to the mainland. Over the years of building ships and gaining their knowledge, a natural curiosity about the surrounding world cropped up among the Dúnedain. They were denied the ability to sail west, so naturally, they sailed east to Middle-earth’s dark lands.
This was the beginning of the corruption of the Dúnedain. They came as seekers of knowledge but went to the land that had regressed. They came to a land of people who had become hunter-gatherers and lived tribally. They came as wanderers and became conquerors. They became, in their own eyes, Gods of Middle-earth.
Join me next week as we review the second episode of The Rings of Power before returning to the saga of the Dúnedain!