“The Men of the Three Houses were rewarded for their valour and faithful alliance, by being allowed to dwell ‘westernmost of all mortals’, in the great ‘Atlantis’ isle of Númenóre. The doom or gift of God, of mortality, the gods of course cannot abrogate, but the Númenóreans have a great span of life.”(The Silmarillion, xviii)
The Silmarillion proper comes to an end with the downfall of Morgoth which ends the First Age of Middle-earth. The Second Age immediately follows, the age of that great civilization of men, Númenor. It is also the age in which Sauron assumes the mantle of “chief bad guy” and in which the stage is set for much of the backstory of The Lord of the Rings.
I am going to do a 3-part series on the story of “Akallabêth”, corresponding with the founding, fall, and end of Númenor, but to begin I’d like revisit what Tolkien himself had to say about the Second Age in his letter to Milton Waldman, which as you’ll recall serves as the introduction to the book we know as The Silmarillion.
The 3 Main Themes
According to Tolkien, there are 3 main themes of the Second Age of Middle-earth. They are:
- The Delaying Elves: The remaining Elves of Beleriand do not return to the West, but instead establish three main realms in what will become the regions known to us as the land of the hobbits. These are Elrond’s Rivendell, Gilgalad’s sea-kingdom Lindon, and Eregion, which neighbors the Mines of Moria.
- Sauron, The (New) Dark Lord: Sauron learned his master’s tricks well. He feigns repentance and friendship, only to become a staggering menace himself.
- Númenor-Atlantis: Elros the halfelven, son of Eärendil, becomes king of the Edain, the mortal Men that aided the Elves of Beleriand, who are, for their part in the war against Morgoth, rewarded with an island kingdom as close to the Blessed Realm as mortals may dare. However, they quickly swell with pride, and become easy targets for the designs of Sauron.
A New Enemy: [Sauron] repents in fear when the First Enemy is utterly defeated, but in the end does not do as was commanded, return to the judgement of the gods. He lingers in Middle-earth. Very slowly, beginning with fair motives: the reorganising and rehabilitation of the ruin of Middle-earth, ‘neglected by the gods’, he becomes a re-incarnation of Evil, and a thing lusting for Complete Power – and so consumed ever more fiercely with hate (especially of gods and Elves).xviii
Sauron’s Cunning: Sauron found their weak point in suggesting that, helping one another, they could make Western Middle-earth as beautiful as Valinor. It was really a veiled attack on the gods, an incitement to try and make a separate independent paradise. Gilgalad repulsed all such overtures, as also did Elrond. But at Eregion great work began – and the Elves came their nearest to falling to ‘magic’ and machinery.xix
The Weakness of Men: The Downfall is partly the result of an inner weakness in Men – consequent, if you will, upon the first Fall (unrecorded in these tales), repented but not finally healed. Reward on earth is more dangerous for men than punishment! The Fall is achieved by the cunning of Sauron in exploiting this weakness. Its central theme is (inevitably, I think, in a story of Men) a Ban, or Prohibition.xxi
By the way – if you’re wondering how to actually pronounce “Akallabêth” then you are in good company. I don’t know if Tolkien ever told us for certain. However, the best I can tell it is AH-KAHL-lahb-ayth. Still, if you think it’s something different, feel free to comment below!