Middle-earth Explained: Numenor And The Men Of The West

The recent reveal of an official synopsis for Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings adaptation has left us all excited to jump back into Middle-earth and revel in the many joys it has to offer us. But to get fully prepared for Amazon’s upcoming series requires more than just a movie marathon or even a reread of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord Of The Rings – Amazon is pulling from Tolkien’s extensive deep lore for their series, and diving into regions of Middle-earth previously unexplored by either the films or main books.

Numenor
Numenor | io9.gizmodo.com

One such region is Númenor, the “breathtaking island kingdom” mentioned by Amazon in their synopsis as one of the focal points of the series. “Breathtaking” is indeed an accurate descriptor: although the reign of the Númenóreans was relatively brief in the grand scale of Middle-earth’s history, they are incredibly significant to Tolkien’s saga – representing the very height of human vanity, and arguably one of the furthest falls from grace since the rebellion of Melkor in the First Age and the Kinslaying of the Elves in Valinor. In the Second Age, thousands of years before the time of Aragorn, his Númenórean ancestors built a vast empire spanning the oceans and unmapped coasts of Middle-earth…an empire that would ultimately collapse into ruinous calamity, at least partly because Tolkien had a lifelong obsession with the Atlantis myth and had to take it out on his fictional characters. And now Amazon’s Second Age series (which for some reason is still titled The Lord Of The Rings) will take us on an epic journey alongside the Númenóreans, through their heyday and their terrible fall.

To understand Númenor, we have to go back to the First Age of Middle-earth, and the frequent alliances between Men and Elves that forged a seemingly unbreakable bond of friendship between the two races. The First Age ended in a glorious triumph of good over evil, with Middle-earth’s entire pantheon of gods, the Valar, arriving in a divine cavalcade to finally defeat the dark lord Morgoth and disperse or destroy his armies of orcs and dragons: but defeating a dark lord is hard work, and sometimes requires you to destroy large portions of the world to do so – and thus, there was a refugee crisis in Middle-earth as Men and Elves had to flee from their ancestral homelands, trying to get out ahead of the rapidly disintegrating coastlines and crumbling mountain ranges. Thankfully for Men, the Valar were feeling pretty generous and decided to simply lift an island out of the sea as a gift to humans and compensation for their countless sacrifices. This island, most commonly known as Númenor, had many names: but one – Andor – literally means “The Land of Gift”.

As if that wasn’t enough, the gods also decided to give significantly longer lives (around 200 years, on average) to the Númenórean people, so they could enjoy their Land of Gift even longer and reap the benefits they had earned. This probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Spoiler Alert: it wasn’t.

But throughout the early Second Age, the Númenóreans were content with what they had: their star-shaped island and its farms, forests, rivers, seashores, and single mountain. This mountain, named the Meneltarma, rose out of the center of the island and was crowned by a holy shrine and a nesting-place of many sacred eagles. But because Númenor was situated directly in between Middle-earth and the divine lands of the Valar in distant Valinor, and because the Meneltarma was so tall, a person standing at the mountain’s summit on a clear day could just about see the shores of paradise to the west (because the earth was canonically flat in the Second Age). Elves from Valinor sometimes even visited Númenórean shores and delighted Men with their company and rich gifts, which had no equal in Middle-earth. But the Valar strictly prohibited Númenóreans from returning the favor and sailing to Valinor.

The first king of Númenor was Elros, the long-lived twin brother of Elrond Half-elven, but Amazon’s Middle-earth series will likely begin sometime after his reign – during an era of “relative peace”, as their synopsis claims, and presumably not long before the forging of the One Ring in Second Age 1600. I suspect the series will open in the waning years of Tar-Meneldur’s reign, a blissful period of time depicted in The Mariner’s Wife, Tolkien’s only nearly complete tale of the Second Age. This would naturally segue into the story of Meneldur’s son, Tar-Aldarion: under whose reign the kingdom became an empire, with fleets of ships (often personally piloted by Aldarion) constantly departing to Middle-earth’s shores, setting up outposts and colonies there. His rule was not tyrannical or cruel, but his restlessness was an omen of worse to come. And after his death, his colonists became hostile to the indigenous peoples they encountered, and hurt the earth in their hunt for resources.

Numenor
The Druedain | theonering.net

Prior to Aldarion’s reign, a group of forest-dwelling Men known as the Drúedain had also lived in Númenor – but as the empire expanded and its people became more dissatisfied with the gifts they had been given, the Drúedain predicted the doom that would soon follow, and they abandoned the island over the next few centuries, returning to Middle-earth and disappearing from history for thousands of years: until the Third Age, when they would reappear as the Wild Men in Rohan and Gondor. In them, I see the perfect viewpoint characters for Amazon’s series, as they embody the down-to-earth, hobbit-like qualities of Tolkien’s most iconic heroes.

By this point, war was raging between the Elves and the dark lord Sauron on the mainland – though this would not have initially affected Númenor had its colonies in Middle-earth not become so crucial to the kingdom. Tar-Minastir and his successors sent forces across the sea to aid the Elves in battle, provoking Sauron to turn the full force of his hatred towards the island. He was able to bring at least three Númenórean lords into his service using Rings of Power, and they became terrible Ringwraiths. But even on the island itself, the shadow of Sauron inspired darkness in the hearts of Men: kings became as greedy for life as they were for power and wealth, and their fear of death led some to resent the immortal Elves or speak openly against them. Elven ships stopped coming from Valinor. Those who still held the Elves in reverence were called the Faithful.

Upon the death of Tar-Palantir, the last good and wise king, his daughter Tar-Míriel’s throne was quickly usurped by her cousin, a reckless and easily corruptible man named Ar-Pharazôn. He rejected the Elves and their help entirely, and concentrated his power solely on maintaining the empire he had stolen. In his arrogance, he sent a great armada to Middle-earth to capture Sauron, and the dark lord willingly surrendered himself up to the king, gaining free passage into Ar-Pharazôn’s court – and eventually an enviable position as his most trusted counsellor and right-hand man. Seduced by Sauron’s charismatic malice, Ar-Pharazôn ran his empire as the dark lord saw fit: inciting violence and panic among his citizens (remind you of anybody else?), and instituting a new religion based around the ancient evil of Morgoth, for whose temple Sauron demanded a steady flow of human sacrifices. These victims were often political prisoners from among the Faithful, Sauron’s chief enemies.

As Ar-Pharazôn’s life neared its natural end (and lifespans were steadily diminishing in Númenor, as the Valar slowly retracted their gifts), the king turned to Sauron in desperation, demanding a cure for death. Sauron, seizing his opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, instructed him to build a fleet of ships capable of sailing into the west – breaking the ban of the Valar – and storming paradise: for only in the uttermost west of Valinor could deathlessness be obtained. Ar-Pharazôn was too far gone to see through his lies and immediately started building his fleet: but the Faithful, led by Elendil of Andúnië, built their own in secret, preparing for the inevitable catastrophe.

In Second Age 3319, Ar-Pharazôn’s mighty fleet departed into the west, with the king himself joining his army on the perilous journey – while Sauron remained in his lofty temple, laughing at the ignorance of Men. Ar-Pharazôn reached Valinor and set foot in the undying lands of the gods, but the Valar, themselves afraid of the king’s power, prayed to the One Above All, Eru, to help them in that hour…and, well, they got more than they bargained for. Not only were Ar-Pharazôn and his army crushed beneath a mountain, but Númenor itself was unmade, and the island descended into the abyss. Most of the population died, and the few that survived were the Faithful, escaping in their own ships back to Middle-earth. Eru also took the extra measure of reshaping the earth into a globe so that mortals could never again reach Valinor, but would instead spend their days sailing west in a never-ending, self-destructive search for paradise.

Downfall of Numenor
Downfall of Numenor | silmarillionseries.com

And as for Sauron, who was caught up in the downfall…he died so hard that, even though his soul escaped intact, he was never again able to appear beautiful to Men or Elves. His greatest weapons, which had been seduction and deception, now became brute strength and violence. But that didn’t stop him from pursuing Elendil and the Faithful back to Middle-earth and continuing the fight against their new “kingdoms in exile” all the way into the Third Age, when Aragorn – Elendil’s last legitimate heir – was instrumental in his ultimate defeat.

And there you have it. The moral of this story is that (a) imperialism is evil, obviously, and that (b) you should be content with what you have – because the gods can take it away, and they will likely do some planetary redecorating while they’re at it.

But what do you think? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

10 Things Amazon’s “Lord Of The Rings” Should Never Do!

Yesterday I discussed the ten things that, in my opinion, Amazon Prime’s The Lord Of The Rings simply can’t do without: Blue Wizards, a cohesive tale of Galadriel and Celeborn, dark thematic material…these are the essential building blocks that Amazon can and should use to construct their unique take on Middle-earth. So how about the ten things that they should never do?

Well, before we get into the list, let me remind you all that Amazon’s series isn’t a straight-up adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings, the classic best-selling novel. Instead, it’s based on the tantalizing hints, references and scraps of unfinished stories about the Second Age of Middle-earth, a time period in the world’s history when Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, first rose to power with the help of the One Ring. That being said, Sauron isn’t the only thing you’ll find in this new adaptation that will be reminiscent of previous books, films and video games: characters like Galadriel, Elrond and Glorfindel will all presumably make appearances; locations like Rivendell, Mount Doom and Moria will be visited; events like the War of the Last Alliance and the forging of the Great Rings will be witnessed.

With that out of the way, let’s get to my list.

Lord Of The Rings Elves
lotr.fandom.com

10: Sorrowful Elves. It’s important to remember that the Second Age ends about three-thousand years prior to Frodo Baggins’ quest at the very end of the Third Age. A lot of stuff happens in between those two points – including the events that cause the Elves to begin their slow decline into sorrow and grief. At the start of the Second Age, however, we should see the Elves in their heyday: a happy, peaceful people with a flourishing culture, working to rebuild after the traumas of the First Age. That means characters like Elrond, best known for being grim and dour, are going to be cheerful, bright and optimistic in the Amazon series; wise, experienced leaders like Galadriel will still be learning, growing, and making mistakes; aged, brooding wise men like Círdan…well, he’ll still be an aged, brooding wise man, but the rest of them will be different. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they should be singing “tra-la-la-la-lally,” but at the same time it doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t be, either.

Lord Of The Rings The Hobbit
theonering.net

9: A Reliance On CGI. I’m flexible on this issue: on the one hand, I think CGI is an essential element in the making of any fantasy world, and particularly Middle-earth, and I definitely wouldn’t discourage Amazon from using it in many of the same ways Peter Jackson did in his original trilogy (to build fantastical locations, digitally construct armies, certain creatures, etc); but on the other hand, I’d counsel them not to rely on special effects as much as Jackson did with The Hobbit films – practical effects, real location shoots, physical props and sets: for the most part, these can do the job just as well as green-screens and digital wizardry.

Lord Of The Rings Sauron
agonybooth.com

8: A Fully Evil Sauron. It would be almost ridiculously easy to depict Second Age Sauron as a purely evil character, but that’s not the Sauron I want to see. Tolkien wrote that, in the beginning, Sauron was a perfectionist, whose plans for Middle-earth were ambitious, but no more evil than those of any reformer’s. He eventually grew to be a tyrant, thinking that Elves and Men could only flourish if they relinquished their own free will and submitted to his rule. Sound familiar? Yeah, that’s because the Sauron of the Second Age has more in common with the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s trickster god Loki (one of the most popular villains there is) than with the flaming eye of Peter Jackson’s films. Sauron, in fact, tried to do good – but his fate had been decided long before, when he turned away from the teachings of Eru and began learning from the devilish Morgoth, whose evil teachings Sauron implemented in his own plans. Amazon could do some amazing things with that storyline.

Lord Of The Rings Eru
comiccrossroads.fandom.com

7: Eru. Speaking of Eru, it’s about time I addressed him. In my last post, I said it would be a mistake to leave the Valar (Middle-earth’s pantheon of gods) out of the series, and I stand by that. But there’s one god I never want to see take a physical form in The Lord Of The Rings, and that’s Eru Ilúvatar, the One Above All. Eru is the highest, mightiest being in all of Tolkien’s legendarium – his song set all of history into motion; his plan is the divine plan, which cannot be undone by any design of Morgoth’s or Sauron’s; near the end of the Second Age, he intervenes one last time in the affairs of the world, reshaping the earth into a globe (it was flat previously), and sending the country of Númenor to the bottom of the sea. But though that means he’ll probably be brought up frequently in conversation, he shouldn’t ever be seen; at most, he should be a voice, but even that feels wrong. Eru is incomprehensible, on a plane of existence higher than any of our protagonists should be able to understand. Keep him offscreen. Leave the mystery intact.

Lord Of The Rings Middle-earth
pinterest.com

6: Whitewashing. The fantasy genre already has a problem with diversity – series like Game Of Thrones employ one or two people of color in lead roles over the course of several seasons, and the few exceptions to the rule, such as The Witcher, get viciously attacked by an online community that resorts to the same tired excuses for why people of color are simply unthinkable in worlds filled with dragons, elves, orcs and wizards: it’s unrealistic because fantasy worlds are Euro-centric and Europe obviously never had any racial diversity; race-bending white characters is wrong because people of color need to write their own stories if they want to see themselves represented in mainstream media (but whitewashing characters of color is somehow okay?); Tolkien came from a different time period, and the series should reflect that by not having people of color, who clearly didn’t exist forty years ago. The cast of Lord Of The Rings currently includes a handful of people of color – but only fifteen actors have been cast so far, and I hope to see the number increase as more come onboard the project. I want to see Amazon take advantage of the amazing opportunity they have, and use their platform to hire talent of many different ethnicities – not to mention genders, sexual orientations and ages.

Lord Of The Rings Gandalf
independent.co.uk

5: Gandalf. Gandalf the Grey, along with his partners Saruman and Radagast, were both sent to Middle-earth in the Third Age: to be the enemies of Sauron in that age, and that age alone. They didn’t witness any of the events of the Second Age, and they had never fought Sauron before the attack on Dol Guldur as depicted in The Hobbit; if they had, Gandalf would likely have been able to recognize the One Ring immediately, and Saruman might never have been deceived by Sauron’s lies. Having them arrive earlier in the timeline would be a very bad move – yet people continue to mistakenly assume that Gandalf is either going to be a major character, or a female lead, of the upcoming series. To avoid further confusion, I hope Amazon gives the series an official title soon that differentiates it from The Lord Of The Rings, which immediately brings to mind images of Gandalf and hobbits.

Lord Of The Rings Hobbit
thedailybeast.com

4: Hobbits. Allow me to clarify: hobbits did exist in the Second Age, even though they are only recorded in the Third Age and later. But these hobbits (a) dwelt only in Wilderland east of the Misty Mountains, and not in the Shire, and (b) had no impact on Middle-earth’s history at this time. Most importantly, there should be no interaction between Sauron and the hobbits: he, above all others, should never hear of them or even be aware that they exist. Why? Because the whole reason Frodo’s quest succeeds in The Lord Of The Rings is because Sauron (like Smaug before him) had never dealt with hobbits before. They were the unforeseen heroes of the Third Age, who “suddenly became, by no wish of their own, both important and renowned, and troubled the counsels of the Wise and Great.” So, Amazon: if you want to throw in some hobbits, put them in at the very end of the entire series, during the disaster of the Gladden Fields, when such an appearance might make sense. No sword-wielding hobbit heroics in the Second Age, please.

Lord Of The Rings Game Of Thrones
esquire.com

3: Game Of Thrones. Now, I’m not totally opposed to the series being more mature than the adaptations we’ve seen before: Tolkien’s world definitely isn’t grimdark or gritty, but the Second Age is a time of decadence, vice, violence and horrific evils (including, but not limited to, hundreds upon thousands of human sacrifices). So when I say I don’t want The Lord Of The Rings to be Game Of Thrones, I’m not necessarily saying it shouldn’t include violence (I refer you back to the human sacrifices), sexuality, and/or mature themes. I’m saying it should never revel in these things or use them for shock value, as Game Of Thrones was often accused of doing. So no, I don’t want to see violence against women used to subvert expectations; I don’t want to see nudity used to make exposition-heavy dialogue “more interesting” or whatever the excuse was; I don’t want to see fan-favorite characters get brutally murdered just to prove a cynical point. Tolkien’s world is one where hope survives even against immeasurable odds, where light endures in the darkest situations, where heroes are…for the most part…heroic. George R.R. Martin’s world is bleak, pessimistic, and, at least in the TV series, there is no end to its cycle of death, defeat and petty power struggles. That’s not bad: it’s just not Tolkien.

Lord Of The Rings Peter Jackson
lotr.fandom.com

2: Incessant Callbacks. Often, a prequel to some successful film franchise (such as…oh I don’t know, The Hobbit) fails in part because it never tries to be its own thing: instead, with the help of callbacks, references and hints, it simply serves to remind viewers to go check out another, usually better, film or TV property that came before it. Using The Hobbit as an example: remember the really weird shout-out to Aragorn in The Battle Of The Five Armies that makes no sense, considering Aragorn was a ten year-old during the time of that film? Or how they refer to the recently drowned Master of Lake-town as being “half-way down the Anduin” when there’s no conceivable way he could ever have gotten there from the Lake of Esgaroth, as shown by their own maps? How about that bizarrely contrived scene where Legolas learns about Gimli sixty years before ever meeting him? These things serve no purpose in The Hobbit, except to remind us that, yes, we are still watching a prequel to The Lord Of The Rings, as hard as it is to believe. Amazon doesn’t need to make that mistake: focus on telling a good story first, then weave in some subtle foreshadowing or evocative parallels later (also, for the love of Eru, choose better callbacks: one reason why those in The Hobbit fail is because they’re calling back to the weirdest things – athelas? Peter Jackson’s carrot-eating cameo? Why were these things necessary?)

Lord Of The Rings
ahscribbles.com

1: Strictly Movie Canon. We know that Amazon wants to maintain some level of continuity with the classic Peter Jackson trilogy, and at one point they even approached Jackson – either for his help as a consultant, or simply for his blessing. It makes sense: Jackson defined Middle-earth with his award-winning, critically-acclaimed, hugely successful three-film magnum opus. He and his team are widely viewed as experts when it comes to worldbuilding of any kind. But there’s no need for Amazon to feel beholden to his specific vision of Middle-earth: while his is certainly the most iconic, it wasn’t the first, not will it be the last. Amazon should feel free to branch out, to use the books more frequently as source material than the movie, and along the way to establish their own unique take on Tolkien’s world. Let’s not forget: Peter Jackson has broken his own canon on occasion – Bilbo’s encounter with Gollum in the prologue of The Fellowship Of The Ring is completely different to the same scene in An Unexpected Journey: different actor, different scenery, set design, clothing design, everything. Amazon should be able to do that too.

So what do you think of my list? Do you disagree with my picks (it’s worth remembering that I’m a pretty positive person, so it was hard for me to even think of ten things I didn’t want to see)? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!