Friday, April 29, 2011

Akallabeth- Who is to Blame for the Fall of Numenor?

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.

-Ashley Demma


  1. Excellent point about Aragorn! And very nice description of what was the root of the Numenoreans' fall: fear, or as we suggested in class, lack of trust or faith. What, then, do you think (Tolkien would say) the Numenoreans should have done? Or, if you are Iluvatar, how do you explain to the rebellious teenagers that you really do have their best interests at heart, even if at the moment they can't understand how?


  2. One thing that I can’t help but realize is how much this story says about the nature of man, both within Tolkien’s legendarium and in our primary reality. Throughout several of his works, Tolkien is constantly reminding us of our own nature. We are a curious species, always seeking more knowledge; we can hardly quench our desire to know more, to know everything, or why everything happens. As a Christian, I have often seen other believers wonder about their purpose in life, to question why bad things happened and demand answers. And I think people get it wrong when they demand explanations or answers from God. Similarly, the Numenoreans also wanted reasons as to why they had to lead finite lives. And ultimately they were punished not for their lack of understanding their mortality, but for their refusal to accept it, the denial of their very nature. We also have a tendency to refuse or deny our destiny, whether we believe in a higher transcendent reality or not; and neither the Numenoreans nor we have the right to demand anything from a higher Being. Seems like the Numenoreans learned their lesson the hard way…
    -Selene M.

  3. The question you raise is quite interesting, although bound to be fraught with difficulties – assigning moral culpability is rarely an easy task. I am wary of the dichotomy you use to frame the issue, asking whether the blame goes to the Numenoreans or to Sauron. Setting this up as though only one party is responsible for the fall seems to me to be an oversimplification of this complex issues. For starters, it should be immediately clear that Sauron is morally culpable for the Fall; the question becomes to what extent the Numenoreans are also morally culpable.

    Certainly Sauron coming to Numenor pushed the Dunedan over the moral cliff and into open rebellion against God. As you point out, however, it is eminently possible that the Numenoreans would have broken the Ban eventually even without Sauron’s intervention. They were already fixated on death, muttering openly against the Ban, and hostile towards the Eldar and Valar. Perhaps Sauron was only the catalyst that jumpstarted the Numenorean’s inevitable moral failure? In this case, it might seem that the Numenoreans have as much if not more culpability than Sauron. The Numenorean’s lack of faith was the necessary and ultimate cause for the breaking of the Ban; arguably Sauron played a secondary role.

    Fear certainly played a crucial role in Numenor’s downfall; it was the ultimate driver for the Numenoreans rebellion. However, assigning “blame” for a moral failure to an abstract concept like “fear” is problematic. Fear is not a moral agent, but a part of human existence that all must wrestle with. All men in Middle Earth deal with fear; only the Numenoreans were goaded by it into rebellion against God.

    Circumstance played a crucial role in the Akallabeth, and the Numenoreans are not responsible for the circumstance and culture they are born into. If you follow this line of reasoning to its extreme, perhaps you could argue that the Numenoreans are not to blame at all, and that the Akallabeth is really an “accident” of unfortunate circumstance and misperception rather than a moral failure. If you do consider it a moral failure, though, then the blame must fall on the agents involved. In which case, I agree with your ultimate judgement – that the Numenoreans are to blame (and Sauron too, of course).


  4. In one of his letters, Tolkien states that LOTR is about death, which, he says, “is to say that it was written by a Man.” It is thus very important, I think, to see how the characters view death, and what this view causes them to do. The Numenoreans are a prime example, for their view of death ultimately yielded their downfall.

    The Elves live concurrent with the Earth. The Men live and then die. The Numenoreans live as long as they please, until finally they must die, after living much longer than the natural lives of normal Men. The Men think that they wish to be immortal. The Elves think that they wish to die - or at least coyly suggest that Men should view their mortality as a gift.

    The Numenoreans originally lived until they decided to die, gracefully; they felt that it was their end, and they ended. But soon they feared death, and resisted it. Their fear of death led them to follow Sauron. Their fear of death led them to their fall. And their fear of death brought death more quickly for all of Numenor.

    It seems that death is here something which should be eased into, yet human nature does not allow us to ease into something so unknown as death, even insofar as it is inherently natural to all things (except Elves). The Numenoreans botched the best of the best, a little bit of Elves and little bit of Men. And that is why their fall is so tragic, their legacy so sad.

    I think you are right: it came down to fear. But for Tolkien, I think it's a cautionary tale, and also an explanation of "Why we can't have nice things."