Who is responsible for the fall of Numenor? The Numenoreans for being tempted, or Sauron for tempting them?
"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 worshiped the Darkness and yet feared it" (Silmarillion, 267).
Perhaps neither party is to blame, but rather fear is. Fear of death, mortality, and the unknown prompt the Numenoreans to become rebellious. Furthermore, it makes them obsessed with death and discovering the secret to enternal life. In this way, they do not value the LIFE they have been given, but rather focus on the absence of life. Since they have stopped properly living, it could be said that the Numenoreans are already dead; dreading the end of days is no life at all.
"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 least the prolonging of Men's days. Yet they achieved only the art of preserving incorrupt the dead flesh of Men, and they filleed all the land with silent tombs in which the thought of death was enshrined in the darkness" (Silmarillion, 275).
The Numenoreans' tombs are a morbid and grotesque violation of the natural way of things, as created by Eru Iluvatar. Men are meant to die, to fulfill their years and leave this world. The tombs signify an inability to accept the life the Numenoreans DO have, and instead act as a coveting of the immortal lives of the Eldar. While the Numenoreans are indeed jealous and covetous, they act so without understanding the WHY behind these desires. They are much like children, asking for something without truly knowing what it means.
Should the Numenoreans be punished for their lack of understanding of their own mortality, or should Iluvatar be blamed for not explaining their purpose to them? As an offshoot, should the Numenorans even question Iluvatar's will in the first place? It is presumptuous of them to assume they deserve some kind of explanation for their existence, or that they deserve some sort of extension of life. Have they earned it? Is it even about EARNING more years? As the Valar explain, some beings are meant to have “immortal” life (as long as the world exists) and some are meant to leave this world. Indeed, who should envy the other? To know your purpose in the world and to never change or grow old? Or to constantly wonder why God has put you here and to live your days finitely?
The Numenorans' initial confusion and jealousy turns quickly to greed and a lust for power, as the kings drape themselves in gold and silver, with more and more goods and riches. Ambition is their catalyst for destruction, reaching ever further for what is not theirs to have. The Numenoreans start acting as if they were invincible, almost crying out for someone to oppose them. In this way, the Numenoreans act like rebellious teenagers, testing the limits of their parents (re: Iluvatar). And like any rebellious child, parents are quick to punish them for forgetting their place.
Even once Ar- Pharazon begins his war and tyranny, he is no closer to his goal of immortal life. “The years passed, and the King felt the shadow of death approach, as his days lengthened; and he was filled with fear and wrath” (Silmarillion, 282). Giving in to Sauron’s persuasion has brought Ar-Pharazon only misery, leading him further and further astray.
While the Numenoreans had the desire to sin, Sauron preyed upon their weak hearts to lead them astray. There must be first a shred of faithlessness that develops into sin. Sauron took advantage of an opportunity, to carry out his own will. It is possible that even if Sauron hadn’t aided Ar-Pharazon, that the Numenoreans still would have fallen due to their own desires. As we have discussed in class, Sauron (re: Morgoth) is not an inherently evil being, but rather a corrupted one. The Numenoreans act much in this same fashion, letting their greed cloud their faith.
At some point though, you have to realize that the Numenoreans aren’t children, they’re Men. Men with morals and rules they are meant to adhere to. They are fully aware that they are sinning and disobeying the rules set by Iluvatar. They’ve been told not to sail West, but they do it anyway- defiantly and with a certain amount of satisfaction. At this point, they have fallen forever.
Luckily, Elendil (and Isildur) represents the hope and remains of Numenor- those who were still faithful and did not follow Ar-Pharazon into darkness. While Numenor itself and all it stood for has fallen, a few brave souls can preserve the memory of their culture, while moving on to found new lands. It makes me view Aragorn in a different light, understanding what his history and lineage comes from, and what he has to overcome emotionally to accept his rightful crown. He bears the weight of one of the most tragic falls in the history of Tolkien’s legendarium; to overcome that kind of guilt and grief is no small task.