“The Locked Door stands as an eternal Temptation.” says Tolkien in On Fairy Stories. Although the Numenoreans were indeed desirous of immortality as well as all the beauty and comfort in the Blessed Realm for their own sake, their decision to sail west is significantly influenced by the very Ban that prohibited doing so. It is both unfair and over-simplistic to attribute their reluctance of death entirely to fear and greed, because the fact that Valar denied them immortality, something alien to them and therefore mysterious, unexplained and therefore provocative, is one of the reasons, if not the only reason, that they desire immortality. To overlook this would be to miss Tolkien’s most crucial theme in the Fall of Numenor--for Akallabeth is not only a metaphor about mortal fear but a discussion about the nature and inevitability of the Fall of Man.
Death and immortality for the Numenoreans are not the same as they are for us human beings in the primary world. For Numenoreans, death is passing into the next stage of Illuvatar’s grand design that is concealed from all, including the Valar. Therefore to interpret death literally as the termination of consciousness, which it is for us (at least according to secular beliefs), and to simulate their feelings towards death with our humanly mortal fear is misleading. Mortal fear is also meant to be taken metaphorically, not only as the fear of dying but as a source of Temptation.
Living a life of perfect bliss and being able to escape worldly-weariness when and how they please, the Numenoreans originally had no reason to complain. The only possible source of dissatisfaction in their paradise is perhaps the asymmetry of information: Although the design of Illuvatar, such as death, and the intentions of the Valars, such as the Ban, are eminently relevant to the Numenoreans' existence, they remain unexplained. But ignorance, possible reason for theological contemplation, would have remained healthy if only the asymmetry of information were not so explicitly manifested in practical aspects of life (dying and seafaring) and highlighted by the visible contrast of Tol Eressea, from where elves visited the Numenoreans often. The contrast intensified, if not ignited, curiosity which later turned into frustration, skeptical doubt and eventually downright discard of faith. Indeed, thus far in the analysis one marvels at the Valar’s deficient understanding of human psychology, for a door locked without a convincing reason arouses much speculation. And when the speculation, or non-faith, is aided by creative powers such as deception (for deception actively generates opposition), it becomes anti-faith with destructive consequences.
Therefore we ask “Is Eru, or the Valar, to be blamed for the Fall of Numenor?”. Though irreverent, the question seems exceedingly relevant and legitimate. If we dig a little deeper the concepts of Fall and of Evil, however, we will see that Illuvatar is beyond blame. The tendency to be tempted by the forbidden boils down to the nature of Man, with various shades of Light and Dark rather than a perfect image of God Himself. For man is a mixture of Good and Evil and a compromise the Creator Himself made with Satan.Therefore to ask whether Illuvatar is to blamed for the Fall of Numenor is to ask whether God is to be blamed for the imperfections of human nature and the existence of Evil. He is responsible for both, but guilty of neither, for by generating Good He necessarily caused the being of Evil and is therefore responsible. But guilt would entail choice, whereas in the case of Evil God has none. Evil exists by necessity. When God created Good He necessarily conjured into existence the category of non-good, which, when endowed with a creative will, becomes anti-good or Evil. His relevant strength over Evil is irrelevant, and cannot help with the existence of generation of Evil. A place blessed to be beyond the reach of Evil is neither a conceptual possibility nor a logical one. Even in Aman treacheries and deceit existed, which led the wise and immortal Noldor to their Fall.
The question, then, is how the non-Good which exists by necessity turns into the anti-Good, which causes damage despite the supposed omnipotence of Good. Both Sayers and Flieger point to free will, or the creative will, which is a prelude to hubris and is closely associated with both Man and Devil. In Creation, Man retains a level of independence from the Music of Creation, and they fulfill their “task” through the exercise of free will and the purpose of creation (or sub-creation, as Men are creatures themselves). The free will is a creative will, and its creativity, despite Tolkien’s romanticization of the process of sub-creation from literary instincts, is profoundly dangerous, because it contains the risk of subverting Creation. As shown in the case of Feanor, whose pride grew when he forged the Silmarils that captured the light of the Two Trees, and in the case of the Numenors, whose pride grew proportionally to their power and culture (the two are powers of creation, of material and spiritual goods respectively), creativity could potentially mislead the creature into the illusion of acting as God. This mentality of usurpation, though it must eventually prove futile because God is omnipotent, is the ultimate offense. A highly literal manifestation of “the desire to be God” is found in Akallabeth, where the Numenors desired to live in Aman as the Valars do. In spite of the awe and defiance God inspires in Men, free will seems to always entail something disharmonious. And it is disharmonious in the literal sense, too, if one recalls Melkor’s music. Since free will is an a priori existence, and the necessity of evil an a priori truth, the inevitability of the Fall in so many religious and literary traditions perhaps points to not only cultural interrelation (or philological descent of literary motifs) but to a metaphysical truth that the struggle against the Temptation of Evil, despite the omnipotence of Good, exists by necessity and will exist through all eternity.