Sunday, February 12, 2012

Unfinished Tales: A Description of the Island of Númenor

Discussion of Unfinished Tales resumed on the Barrow-downs this past week with the first tale of the book's second Part. Except that it isn't a tale, precisely speaking. This piece is "A Description of the Island of Númenor" and it is a pretty much complete, fairly short account of the island-kingdom of Númenor. As such, it doesn't actually tell a story, but it does give an otherwise unparalleled look into the geography and culture of the Númenóreans.

Part 2 of Unfinished Tales is about the Second Age, which began with the defeat of the Dark Lord Morgoth. In reward for their loyalty against him, the three houses of Men allied with the Elves were given the island of Númenor, which was raised from the depths of the ocean especially for them. The Second Age would end after the cumulative effects of the Númenóreans fighting Sauron, being seduced by Sauron, being destroyed (ala Atlantis) by the Powers-that-be for that seduction, and a remnant of the Númenóreans riding the tidal waves to Middle-earth where they would establish the Kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor and face Sauron again, and win, in the War of the Last Alliance of Elves and Men, when Sauron was defeated and his Ring taken.

In other words, the Second Age was pretty much the Age of Númenor. From the point of view of The Lord of the Rings, the most important thing that happened outside of Númenor was the creation of the Rings of Power and the war between the Elves and Sauron that followed--a war that the Númenóreans entered on the side of the Elves, decisively defeating Sauron (yes, even with his ring), starting the whole cycle of Sauron-related events that would destroy their kingdom and begin the Third Age.

So Númenor is clearly and important part of Tolkien's legendarium. It isn't exactly in Middle-earth, which generally refers to the lands East of the Sea, but it certainly isn't "The West," where Frodo is taken at the end of The Lord of the Rings, where normally only Elves can go. Instead, Númenor occupies a special halfway spot, the closest thing to paradise that Men can have on this earth. Most significantly, Men lose Númenor in a "second fall" of sorts, one which is mostly their own fault. Sauron eggs them on at the end and probably hastens their demise, but the Númenóreans really have no one to blame but themselves.

Obviously, if Númenor is so important, you would expect Tolkien to have written a lot about it--but he didn't; not really. Thus, "A Description of the Island of Númenor," despite its brevity (it's about 9 pages, counting footnotes), has a lot of interest to the Tolkien fan wanting to know more about this crucial, but enigmatic, race.

Unfortunately, the picture I composed for this "tale" isn't great. The lack of particular characters and the emphasis on geography made it a challenge to come up with a relatively simple scene and the final result is a bit lacklustre--mostly because I left the stud-wide strip of green at the bottom of the backdrop baseplate and didn't orient the backdrop at a 90 degree angle. This was also a fairly lazy build, since I simply imported the smithy from 6918 Blacksmith Attack.

Ignoring the deficiencies of my building, however, this scene draws on a few brief lines in the "tale" that mention the scarcity of swords in early Númenor. Before they began exploring back to Middle-earth, the Númenóreans had almost no use for swords. The ones that had were heirlooms from the First Age and their part in the war against Morgoth. The only swords that WERE being forged in Númenor were for the King's Heir on the day he took at that office. Thus we see a royal or high official with a more junior assistant at the smithy to inspect the smith's handiwork.

The background, apart from hiding the brick wall against which this photograph was taken, allowed me to work a little bit of Númenor's geography into this image. The single mountain is Meneltarma, Númenor's only mountain. Meneltarma was the place of worship for the Númenóreans, which is part of the reason we don't see much religion in The Lord of the Rings: because, rather like the Jewish temple, the place of worship was lost, although there was a legend that the mountain was not drowned with the rest of Númenor, but rose again above the waves.

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