[After Allen &
Unwin, under pressure from Tolkien to make up their minds, had reluctantly
declined to publish The Lord of the Rings together with The Silmarillion,
Tolkien was confident that Milton Waldman of Collins would shortly issue both
books under his firm's imprint. In the spring of 1950, Waldman told Tolkien
that he hoped to begin typesetting the following autumn. But there were delays,
largely caused by Waldman's frequent absences in
Thus, as the Second Age draws on, we have a great Kingdom and evil theocracy (for Sauron is also the god of his slaves) growing up in Middle-earth. In the West - actually the North-West is the only part clearly envisaged in these tales - lie the precarious refuges of the Elves, while Men in those parts remain more or less uncorrupted if ignorant. The better and nobler sort of Men are in fact the kin of those that had departed to Numenor, but remain in a simple ‘Homeric’ state of patriarchal and tribal life.
Meanwhile Numenor has grown in wealth, wisdom, and glory, under its line of great kings of long life, directly descended from Elros, Earendil's son, brother of Elrond. ‘Me Downfall of Númenor, the Second Fall of Man (or Man rehabilitated but still mortal), brings on the catastrophic end, not only of the Second Age, but of the Old World, the primeval world of legend (envisaged as flat and bounded). After which the Third Age began, a Twilight Age, a Medium Aevum, the first of the broken and changed world; the last of the lingering dominion of visible fully incarnate Elves, and the last also in which Evil assumes a single dominant incarnate shape.
The Downfall is
partly the result of an inner weakness in Men - consequent, if you will, upon
the first Fall (unrecorded in these tales), repented but not finally healed.
Reward on earth is more dangerous for men than punishment! The Fall is achieved
by the cunning of Sauron in exploiting this weakness. Its central theme is
(inevitably, I think, in a story of Men) a Ban, or Prohibition. The Numenoreans
dwell within far sight of the easternmost ‘immortal’ land, Eressea; and as the
only men to speak an Elvish tongue (learned in the days of their
There are three phases in their fall from grace. First acquiescence, obedience that is free and willing, though without complete understanding. Then for long they obey unwillingly, murmuring more and more openly. Finally they rebel - and a rift appears between the King’s men and rebels, and the small minority of persecuted Faithful.
In the first stage, being men of peace, their courage is devoted to sea-voyages. As descendants of Earendil, they became the supreme mariners, and being barred from the West, they sail to the uttermost north, and south, and east. Mostly they come to the west-shores of Middle-earth, where they aid the Elves and Men against Sauron, and incur his undying hatred. In those days they would come amongst Wild Men as almost divine benefactors, bringing gifts of arts and knowledge, and passing away again - leaving many legends behind of kings and gods out of the sunset.
In the second stage, the days of Pride and Glory and grudging of the Ban, they begin to seek wealth rather than bliss. The desire to escape death produced a cult of the dead, and they lavished wealth and art on tombs and memorials. They now made settlements on the west-shores, but these became rather strongholds and ‘factories’ of lords seeking wealth, and the Numenoreans became tax-gatherers carrying off over the sea ever more and more goods in their great ships. The Numenoreans began the forging of arms and engines.
This phase ended and the last began with the ascent of the throne by the thirteenth4 king of the line of Elros, Tar-Calion the Golden, the most powerful and proud of all kings. When he learned that Sauron had taken the title of King of Kings and Lord of the World, he resolved to put down the ‘pretender’. He goes in strength and majesty to Middle- earth, and so vast is his armament, and so terrible are the N6men6reans in the day of their glory that Sauron’s servants will not face them. Sauron humbles himself, does homage to Tar-Calion, and is carried off to Numenor as hostage and prisoner. But there he swiftly rises by his cunning and knowledge from servant to chief counsellor of the king, and seduces the king and most of the lords and people with his lies. He denies the existence of God, saying that the One is a mere invention of the jealous Valar of the West, the oracle of their own wishes. The chief of the gods is he that dwells in the Void, who will conquer in the end, and in the void make endless realms for his servants. The Ban is only a lying device of fear to restrain the Kings of Men from seizing everlasting life and rivalling the Valar.
A new religion,
and worship of the Dark, with its temple under Sauron arises. The Faithful are
persecuted and sacrificed. The Numenoreans carry their evil also to
Middle-earth and there become cruel and wicked lords of necromancy, slaying and
tormenting men; and the old legends are overlaid with dark tales of horror.
This does not happen, however, in the
But at last
Sauron’s plot comes to fulfilment. Tar-Calion feels old age and death
approaching, and he listens to the last prompting of Sauron, and building the
greatest of all armadas, he sets sail into the West, breaking the Ban, and
going up with war to wrest from the gods ‘everlasting life within the circles
of the world’. Faced by this rebellion, of appalling folly and blasphemy, and
also real peril (since the Numenoreans directed by Sauron could have wrought
ruin in Valinor itself) the Valar lay down their delegated power and appeal to
God, and receive the power and permission to deal with the situation; the old
world is broken and changed. A chasm is opened in the sea and Tar-Calion and
his armada is engulfed. Númenor itself on the edge of the rift topples and
vanishes for ever with all its glory in the abyss. Thereafter there is no
visible dwelling of the divine or immortal on earth. Valinor (or
So the end of the Second Age draws on in a major catastrophe; but it is not yet quite concluded. From the cataclysm there are survivors: Elendil the Fair, chief of the Faithful (his name means Elf-friend), and his sons Isildur and Anarion. Elendil, a Noachian figure, who has held off from the rebellion, and kept ships manned and furnished off the east coast of Númenor, flees before the overwhelming storm of the wrath of the West, and is home high upon the towering waves that bring ruin to the west of the Middle-earth. He and his folk are cast away as exiles upon the shores. There they establish the Númenórean kingdoms of Arnor in the north close to the realm of Gilgalad, and Gondor about the mouths of Anduin further south. Sauron, being an immortal, hardly escapes the ruin of Nilmenor and returns to Mordor, where after a while he is strong enough to challenge the exiles of Numenor.
The Second Age
ends with the Last Alliance (of Elves and Men), and the great siege of Mordor.
It ends with the overthrow of Sauron and destruction of the second visible
incarnation of evil. But at a cost, and with one disastrous mistake. Gilgalad
and Elendil are slain in the act of slaying Sauron. Isildur, Elendil’s son,
cuts the ring from Sauron’s hand, and his power departs, and his spirit flees
into the shadows. But the evil begins to work. Isildur claims the Ring as his
own, as ‘the Weregild of his father’, and refuses to cast it into the Fire
nearby. He marches away, but is drowned in the
[*] The view is taken (as clearly reappears later in the case of the Hobbits that have the Ring for a while) that each ‘Kind’ has a natural span, integral to its biological and spiritual nature. This cannot really be increased qualitatively or quantitatively; so that prolongation in time is like stretching a wire out ever tauter, or ‘spreading butter ever thinner’ - it becomes an intolerable torment.