This was the beginning of that people that in the Grey-elven speech are called the Dúnedain: the Númenóreans, Kings among Men.(The Silmarillion, 261)
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.
“Akallabêth” is sub-titled “The Downfall of Númenor.” In my first post on “Akallabêth” I examined Tolkien’s thoughts on this story in the Waldman letter. In this and the following posts, I’ll examine the Rise, Decline, and Fall of Númenor.
Morgoth’s Minions: Morgoth is gone from Middle-earth for good, but he sowed plenty of evil seed throughout the world, and it will continue coming to fruition for ages to come.
Elrond & Elros: The sons of Eärendil, being halfelven, have a choice with respect to their mortality; they may join with the lot of Elves or they may join with the lot of Men. Elrond chooses Elves; Elros chooses Men, and becomes the first king of Númenor.
The Establishment of Númenor: To the Edain – the Men who fought against Morgoth – the Valar give a great island kingdom as close to the Blessed Realm as mortal Man may venture. This becomes known as Númenor.
The Ban: Manwë imposes a ban upon the Númenoreans, that they may not enter the Blessed Realm and so become enamored of it and lust for immortality, which they may not attain.
Death Despised: Though the Númenoreans live much longer than normal Men, they still despise death, and perhaps even more greatly as a result. “For of us is required a blind trust, and a hope with assurance, knowing not what lies before us in a little while. And yet we also love the Earth and would not lose it.” (265)
King’s Men vs. Elf-friends: A divide begins to grow in Númenor between the Elf-friends – a sort of faithful remnant – and the prideful King’s Men, who grow ever further from love for the Valar and the worship of Ilúvatar.
The Plight of Men: and Men dwelt in darkness and were troubled by many evil things that Morgoth had devised in the days of his dominion: demons, and dragons, and misshapen beasts, and the unclean Orcs that are mockeries of the Children of Ilúvatar. And the lot of Men was unhappy.260
The Might of the Dúnedain: For the Dúnedain became mighty in crafts, so that if they had had the mind they could easily have surpassed the evil kings of Middle-earth in the making of war and the forging of weapons; but they were become men of peace. Above all arts they nourished ship-building and sea-craft, and they became mariners whose like shall never be again since the world was diminished; and voyaging upon the wide seas was the chief feat and adventure of their hardy men in the gallant days of their youth.262
Religion on the Decline: But the fear of death grew ever darker upon them, and they delayed it by all means that they could; and they began to build great houses for their dead, while their wise men laboured unceasingly to discover if they might the secret of recalling life, or at the least the prolonging of Men’s days. . . But those that lived turned the more eagerly to pleasure and revelry, desiring ever more goods and more riches; and after the days of Tar-Ancalimon the offering of the first fruits to Eru was neglected, and men went seldom any more to the Hallow upon the heights of Meneltarma in the midst of the land.266