Thursday, March 21, 2013

More about Númenor

The Men of Tolkien's Númenor are presented as noble and brave, but also flawed in some central ways. While we will get to more readings about Númenoreans soon, let's start discussion here. How are the Númenoreans different from Tolkien's other Middle-earth races or cultures? In what ways are they flawed? Why do you think Tolkien, a medievalist with interests in classical literature, insisted on creating a culture reminiscent of the fictional one of Atlantis?


sworland said...

To me, the Númenoreans seem to be one of the more flawed races of good guys. Or maybe of Iluvatar's children because then I don't have to complicate this idea with the dwarves. Tolkien portrays the elves as noble, pure, mighty, and overall, good. Obviously, there are exceptions, and the elves definitely mess up at times, but usually they perform some heroic feat to redeem themselves.

The original men of Middle-earth, like Beor and Hador and even Haleth, are portrayed in much the same way as the elves though slightly more impulsive and action-oriented. The overwhelming majority of these early men are valiant and brave.

The Númenoreans diverge from these two categories. Reading through the Line of Elros section of Unfinished Tales, the majority of these kings had evident flaws that affected their ability to rule. They seem overly proud, stubborn, and cold. That lineage made me think of the kings of Israel and Judah in the Bible. Many corrupt rulers, with a few upstanding individuals sprinkled in.

I have no definitive ideas about why Tolkien made the Númenoreans so different. Maybe it's a possible tool to highlight the redemption these upstanding leaders bring like Elendil and eventually Aragorn. Maybe it's an allegory for the Israelites. I don't know. But I like what Tolkien does with them, nonetheless!

Michael Lott said...

Here I think that it is interesting to note that even the descendents of the Numenorians were flawed, and their kingdoms too fell into decay in the same fashion. However they are only one of the major kingdoms of good men, the other being Rhovanan, the descendents of which eventually became Rohan. It is plausible that Tolken actually had the idea of the Numenorians as a representation of unbridled power, or wish for power, and its downside. In this way the Numenorians are unique among both men and the other races with the potential exception of the Valar if they would count as a race.

Aside from power they do have a few other interesting characteristics. Such as they are the only other race beside the elves who will willingly travel the open sea and even enjoy the sea. In other ways they seem to be a compilation of the other races, they like stone cities like the dwarves and yet like trees like the elves. I seem to see them as a combination of the good and ills of the other races, even the other races of men.

Anna Adams said...

I agree with Michael that the Númenoreans possibly represent the wish for power and its downside. It is like that story in the Bible "The Tower of Babel" where the people tried to get too close to God and they were foiled. The Valar were afraid that Númenor was too close to the Undying Lands, and so it was eventually sunk like Atlantis. I think a possible reason why Tolkien created Númenor was to underline the difference between men and elves. Men do not deserve to go to the Undying Lands perhaps because they are too proud. They just aren't on the same level as the elves, and Númenor's downfall emphasizes this difference between them.

Richard Wentworth said...

Atlantis is an interesting source for Tolkien to use. Because some have thought it might have been a real place, it blurs the line between history and legend a bit.

In Tolkien's Notion Club Papers, the character Jeremy says, "Somebody once said, I forget who, that the distinction between history and myth might be meaningless outside the Earth. I think it might at least get a great deal less sharp on the Earth, further back. Perhaps the Atlantis catastrophe was the dividing line?"

In making this culture that obviously parallels Atlantis, Tolkien connects his invented mythology to a genuine mythical/historical place.