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Nerdist Book Club: THE SILMARILLION, Part 12

Beleriand was left a mess by Morgoth, but even with the Valar stepping in to capture him, evil remains in the world. In the latest section of The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien, we see Sauron is still present and plotting, and he guides the Númenóreans into their doom. They had a glorious time in the sun but ruined it all and fell into darkness. They even managed to make Ilúvatar angry enough to come in like Wreck-It Ralph and try to fix things.

What happened

The Valar recently cleaned house and brought peace (more or less) to Beleriand by taking care of Morgoth. Sadly, even with a fresh start, evil creeps back into the corners in no time and brings the world to the footsteps of a big change. The theme Tolkien seems to regularly explore is that evil can’t be conquered. Not permanently. It makes me wonder what happened to Middle-earth after the Lord of the Rings. I expect evil marches right back in.

Anyway, I’m ahead of myself. Akallabêth reviews the rise and fall of Númenor. The Men who fought against Morgoth with the Valar were given a shiny new place to live and the gift of extended life. They became known as the Dúnedain. They prospered for a time and became talented in the art of ship-building and loved the water. They were banned from sailing too far West though as the Lords of Valinor didn’t want them to seek the Blessed Realm.

When I read this, I thought it was unfair. Why would the Valar give the Dúnedain so little credit? I shouldn’t have questioned them though because they were right. The Dúnedain eventually became greedy for more.

The fact that they couldn’t go too far west led the Númenóreans to the east and Middle-earth. They were benevolent and kind towards the humans who lived there under darkness. Later, as the happiness of the Númenóreans waned, they came to Middle-earth as conquerors instead of helpers. They longed ever for immortality and didn’t understand that Ilúvatar meant mortality as a gift.

Meanwhile, Sauron’s power was rising in Middle-earth and hating the Númenóreans, he started plotting. I picture him twirling a mustache. His plans coincided with the black hearted Ar-Pharazôn taking the throne of Númenor; Ar-Pharazôn was power hungry and resentful of the Valar and Sauron. But upon his defeat, Sauron turned things around and swore fealty to Ar-Pharazôn and became his closest adviser. What.


Isildur and the fruit of Nimloth by Eva Z.

Ar-Pharazôn and the Númenóreans turn their backs on the Valar and Eldar except for a group called the Faithful. One of them, Amandil, goes to the Valar for help like Eärendil did. He seemed to know it was a fool’s errand though and bid his son Elendil to hide the numbers of the Faithful on ships and to prepare for the end of the world. There are some definite Biblical overtones in this part of the story.

Amandil’s counsel was wise because as Ar-Pharazôn sent an army into the West, Manwë called upon Ilúvatar for assistance. The creator decided he was over it and he reshaped the world. The fleets of the Númenóreans were swallowed by the sea, and Númenor was destroyed. The survivors, Elendil and the Faithful, landed in Middle-earth and started new cities there.

Sauron survived the wrath of Ilúvatar, and his spirit took residence in Mordor again. The Eye of Sauron was born. (Read those two sentences again in Galadriel’s voice from the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring).

Relevance to The Hobbit and/or Lord of the Rings
We’re moving closer to the Third Age, and Akallabêth is packed with references to familiar names and places. We watch Númenor rise and fall and learn the name Dúnedain. Aragorn is one of the Dúnedain, and we meet his ancestors one of whom is key to The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings: Isildur. We’ll discuss him more in the next chapter, but I want to point out that he stole a fruit from the White Tree of Númenor, Nimloth, and that later became the first White Tree of Gondor.

We see Sauron make his home in Mordor and build the Tower of Barad-dûr. He influences the King of Númenor much like Grima Wormtongue poisons King Théoden of Rohan in the Third Age. No wonder Sauron sent Wormtongue forth to Rohan since he knew it would work from experience.

Favorite quotes
“… they were like an archipelago of a thousand isles: their masts were as a forest upon the mountains, and their sails like a brooding cloud; and their banners were golden and black.”

“…and a third time, even as he laughed at his own thought, thinking what he would do now in the world, being rid of the Edain for ever, he was taken in the midst of his mirth, and his seat and his temple fell into the abyss.”

“But when the devouring wave rolled over the land and Númenor toppled to its fall, then he would have been overwhelmed and would have deemed it the lesser grief to perish, for no wrench of death could be more bitter than the loss and agony of that day; but the great wind took him, wilder than any wind that Men had known, roaring from the west, and it swept his ships far away; and it rent their sails and snapped their masts, hunting the unhappy men like straws upon the water.”

Discussion questions
– It’s noted that Ilúvatar allowed the Valinor to remain in the visible world because it’s a memorial of that which might have been. Why doesn’t Ilúvatar start over and make a world free of evil by eradicating the likes of Melkor and Sauron? Or does Ilúvatar think there will always be evil?
РDo you think Il̼vatar should have ensured Sauron was destroyed when the lands were remade?
– Why were the Númenóreans unable to give up the pursuit of immortality? Do you see any of their traits in us?


Sauron by Maureval

Bonus material
An illuminated version of The Silmarillion by Benjamin Harff
3D interpretation of Beleriand by Airyyn

Ilúvatar has spoken, but evil still has a hold on the world in the form of Sauron. Peace will come again one day, and we’ll see it unfold with Frodo’s quest. It’s been a hard road though. Journey to the comments and share your thoughts about the rise and fall of Númenor. If you discuss the book on social media, use the heck out of the #NerdistBookClub hashtag so we see everything – just like the Eye of Sauron! But in a much less threatening way.

Come back for Part 13 – the final discussion – next Tuesday, September 30th, at 10:30am PST. We’ll be going over Of the Rings of Power and the Third Age.

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  1. Mitulinski says:

    I’m-a go ahead and play the ‘our-conflict-against-evil-defines-us-as-much-as-our-good’ card for your first question…Also the ‘we-must-have-evil-to-justify-the-good’ card, just in case…!

    For some reason, I was getting a mix of vibes here; to me, Ar-Pharazon sounds Egyptian, the destruction of the city sounded very Atlantean as it was overcome by a biblically apocalyptic water feature…! Jesting aside, I was rather moved by the paragraph dedicated to describing the finer details of the city that made up all walks of life (art, architecture, treasures, posessions, scholarly works, etc.) to really get the point that it was people’s livelihoods that disappeared in a near-instant. It struck me, like a well-done Doctor Who episode…

    Still, good to see Illuvatar finally make a move, however devastating it was!

    – AM

  2. XagzanOTM says:

    This was Iluvatar going full on, Old Testament wrath of God Yahweh business, all out. The merging of Hebrew myths with the legend of Atlantis. And Elendil and his people, escaping to Middle Earth, are a salt-pillarless Lot and his family, a less beast-accumulating Noah aboard the ark borne away from their sinful home as it’s swallowed by the deep, taking even those who might not have transgressed (in this case, the Numenorean queen Miriel, who was described as one of the Faithful, but was forced to marry her cousin Ar-Pharazon against her will). 

    (An aside: This chapter is really the first time I as a reader get angry at Iluvatar for allowing such people as her to get caught in the wide net of his ruin. I mean, if it’s a valid line of criticism against worship of a God (Yahweh) who would indiscriminately kill like that, the same must hold for my opinion of Tolkien’s creator.) 

    The Elendili soon reach the dark calm of Middle Earth again, with more biblical imagery again in the next chapter, where they’re described as descending upon the land like “birds of the storm.” 

    The end of the chapter contains that short mournful section, a small epitaph upon the tombstone of Valinor, which is probably one of the saddest passages in the book yet. Because now heaven and the gods that had resided on Arda from the beginning have departed, and are hidden. And all that the wistful mortals who are left behind in the new world can do is come up with tales and rumors of the rare sailor who, lost at sea, finds the way to Aman. The sight of it as they land on the sacred shores the last one they ever see. (Aman as a place where mortals arrive just before death. Avallone as Avalon) 

  3. Robert says:

    – It’s noted that Ilúvatar allowed the Valinor to remain in the visible world because it’s a memorial of that which might have been. Why doesn’t Ilúvatar start over and make a world free of evil by eradicating the likes of Melkor and Sauron? Or does Ilúvatar think there will always be evil?

       “Some things, once you do them can’t be undone.” – Bill, Kill Bill Vol. 2
       Once the Great Music has been sung I’m not sure that there is a way to un-sing it. The themes of pride and betrayal are evidently the dissonant part of the Music of the Ainur. The promise of Iluvatar is that even these dissonant notes play a part in Iluvatar’s plan. This is a repeated theme in Tolkien: Yavanna cannot recreate the Two Trees, Feanor cannot recreate the Silmarils, and Sauron cannot reforge the One Ring. On a more philosophical note we decipher the world around us through differentiation. We know what a thing is in contrast to what it is not. With out the temptation of evil there is only innocence. Goodness requires a choice.
    – Do you think Ilúvatar should have ensured Sauron was destroyed when the lands were remade?

       See Above. Like Sauruman, Sauron was originally a Maia of Aule. When confronted by the full power of the Valar in the War of Wrath the last shreds of the servant of Aule pull at Sauron but fear and pride win out and he heads east. By the time he’s burning Dunedain in Numenor Sauron had convinced himself that the Valar were no longer paying attention. Iluvatar has left the Valar in charge of this part of creation and it is their responsibility to deal with Sauron. Learning the Lessons of the War of Wrath and the sinking of Numenor/Reshaping of Arda, the Valar respond to the threat level in kind. They sent five Maiar after Sauron. They only needed one. The one who didn’t want to go.

    – Why were the Númenóreans unable to give up the pursuit of immortality? Do you see any of their traits in us?
      No other humans had to deal with the in-you-face- immortality of the Eldar than their friends and allies the Numenoreans. How disheartening it must be when a master craftsman of 100 years sees the no quite hidden smile of his elven counterpart who has millennia of experience at the same craft. And not only is his knowledge of his craft vast his knowledge is also broad. Having forever means time to follow any curiosity for as long as you like. Andor was as close to Aman as any mortal land has ever been in both kind and proximity. Echoes of immortality were everywhere. So close and yet so far.
       When we mapped the Aging genes do you think the first question was, “I wonder why we have this process encoded in our DNA?”, or “How do we turn these genes off?” If Arnim Zola immortality is more your thing we are evidently trying to figure out how to transfer consciousness to hard drives because nothing could ever go wrong with that.  On a positive ending note, Aragorn goes out like a champ. He refuses to take the ring he accepts death as the mystery box gift as Iluvatar intended.

  4. Diamond Dog says:

    Unless I’m mistaken, Ar-Pharazon became what was later known as the Witch-King of Angmar.
    Can anyone confirm this?

    • Ender Wiggen says:

      While a great fan theory, this has no basis. Ar-Pharazon sailed west to Valinor and was buried under the mountains in the west ONLY to rise at the end of the world. The Rings of Power (not just the One) were made at the forges of Eregion by the elves and were gifted to mortal men and dwarves. There is no cannonical reference to any of the rings ever leaving middle earth. In fact it is strongly probable that all the rings of men were given to evil numenorians living in Umbar and other cities. (Numenor had an off again on again controll of the coastal regions of middle earth) Essentially this is the most complete story of the rings of power paraphrased. (it can be found in some of the unfinished works)

      Post fall of morgoth, some elves stayed in middle earth (Galadriel, Celeborn, Elrond, Gil-Galad, Cirdan, etc.) Cirdan settled in what came to be known as the grey havens with Gil-Galad while Gil-Galad made Elrond his “under-high-elf” to live in imladris (rivendell) at this time galadriel did NOT live in lorien. Years pass (elves live forever so time breezes by right here) and celebrimbor and some elvish smiths befriend some dwarves and set up shop in Hollin/Eregion (where the fellowship enters moria) they become fairly chummy for dwarves and elves and a elven country develops in Hollin. It can be assumed that this city/country was comparable to the later Rivendell in size, but was much more wealthy due to trade with the dwarves. At some point galadriel moves to Hollin.

      Along comes Annatar (Sauron’s beautiful disguise) some time later and he offers to help the elven smiths learn secret techniques to improve their craft and most believe his intentions. (however Galadriel distrusts him and strives to remove him from Hollin) eventually Galadriel leaves and moves to lorien for a time where a “lower” branch of the elves live. She leads them but not as a ruler but as a guide in fact it strongly states that she did not seek to rule them but to help them. The elves love her but eventually she moves back to Hollin. Now im fuzzy on teh dates but it is around this time that Annatar convinces Celbrimbor to forge the rings of power and He himself forges the One. However Galadriel had warned celebrimbor of Annatar and he had had no part in the making of the elven rings. The moment Annatar put on the One ring, the elves that wore The Three realized his heart and hid The Three. Annatar released his facade and stormed with an army to invade Hollin. Galadriel leaves some time before this again fuzzy on dates. And Hollin asks Gil-galad and Elrond for aid, as well as reaching out to the dwarves. The dwarves and other elves cannot reach Hollin in time and it is completely destroyed so much in fact that by LOTR takes place only the stones remember any of the elves. All traces of Hollin is wiped out.

      Then badum da da! the dwarves arrive and in brilliant narative whoop Sauron’s armies and cause devestation and then promptly go back to moria as there aren’t really any elves to support them yet. Then Sauron attacks rivendell and lindon (grey havens) and is finally driven back to mordor. Consider this. By the time Sauron invaded Hollin he had conquered the entire area where Gondor and Rohan later would be thus those people were under his rule. Areas controlled by elves and dwarves were erebor, the iron hills, khazad dum, The grey havens, Imladris, Mirkwood (all of it), and Lorien. After the destruction of Hollin he takes The Nine and gives them to men. While Galadriel takes up residence in Lorien for good and sets up a mini girdle around it.

      At this point there are a few remnants of the 3 good houses of men in Middle Earth but in reality most of the men in Middle Earth at this time are the “swarthy” men who are neutral at best. The areas of rohan, gondor, anor, rhun, umbar, and harad are all populated by these men. (granted none of those locations are yet those locations) Sauron takes these nine rings and gives them to men. Now while it is possible that he might have given one to a numenorian, All wicked numenorians, living in numenor, drowned or were buried under the mountains never to return until the end of the world. Thus the chance that an important survivor of numenor having one of those rings is minimal at best.

      Ar-Pharazon is not the witch king

      *on a side note i just double checked my dates and the rings of power were created (in second age years) circa 1500, while the war of the elves and Sauron was 1693, the war ends circa 1700. The Ringwraiths first appear in 2221. While Ar-Pharazon was not born until 3118 by which time the ringwraiths have already existed for almost 1000 years. (probably more as they only first “appeared” in 2221 In addition the Numenorians only settle Middle Earth in 1800 which is 300 years after the forging of the rings of power.

  5. Sorry I’m so late today, but it is my birthday so I went straight to dinner after work! I would seem that Valinor was left visible to provide the Númenóreans a connection to the past and to the Valar, but in doing so, they left a huge temptation for the Númenóreans. In keeping with things Tolkien, I interpreted this as the one rule they had to obey which in breaking would symbolize their fall/flaw, but that this result was the fate or doom of the Númenóreans from the start. This weeding out of the King’s Men from the Faithful sets up the placement of Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion to connect the The Silmarillion to The Lord of the Rings. Just an aside, but I was imagining Ar-Pharazôn and his followers saying “the Faithful” with the same disdain that Feyd-Rautha (Sting) in Dune said “the righteous!”

    I think the Valar should have sought Sauron out when he hid after receiving the summons from Eönwë to appear in Aman for judgment after Morgoth was overthrown, but the Valar seem to lack a certain attention to detail. Taking only the case of when the world was remade by Ilúvatar after the destruction of Númenor, again it would make sense to cleanse the instigator of the uprising. However, perhaps Ilúvatar wanted Sauron to continue to play his part in the unfolding story of Middle-earth and perhaps there is an unspoken recognition that Sauron only assisted and accelerated the concerns that the Númenóreans already had concerning death. Even before Sauron’s arrival the desire to escape death was present, as our narrator hypothesizes, “maybe the will of Morgoth was at work that still moved in the world.” Fear of the “undiscovered country,” to borrow from the Bard, and of course pride, “why should we not go even to Aman […] have we not become mighty among the people of Arda?” were all at work before Sauron infiltrated Númenor.


    The obsession with death is the final frontier when a mortal society is technologically advanced, be it Númenor or the United States. How similar are we? If we consider the percentage of health care dollars spend of end-of-life care (depending on which study 10-30%), the cost of our “great houses” for our dead, a youth-obsessed culture, fad diets promoting longevity and weight loss, cryogenic preservation of heads and bodies, and a long-standing prohibition against euthanasia, we may not be so different than the Númenóreans. Considering I just celebrated my birthday today, it is particularly apropos. 🙂 

  6. btlnsdolfin says:

    Evil is like a disease, you may eradicate outbreaks and invent vaccines, but once the sickness enters the population, it is nearly impossible to get rid of it completely. The only way to truly get rid of it is to quarantine the sick and let them die out. The Valar separate themselves and only allow certain people to cross to them while the rest die out. Once evil came into Arda, if you kill off the big baddies eventually there will be more to take their place.
    Immortality is seen as a curse to those that possess it and mortality is a curse to those that possess it. Each race sees life through a different outlook and therefore finds it difficult to understand the others’ outlook. Humans thought they were missing out on something because they died and Elves saw all the suffering and death of the world around them and grew weary of it.

  7. – Do you think Ilúvatar should have ensured Sauron was destroyed when the lands were remade?

    I definitely think he should have made sure Sauron was gone. That’s the thing that irks me about this book. It takes the Valar forever, it seems, to finally get rid of Morgoth. But before doing so, people are suffering and dying because of him. Then Iluvatar shows up again and doesn’t even do a thorough job. People are more than capable of committing acts of evil without the help of anyone else, so I’m not with the idea that he let Sauron live because there needs to be a good/evil balance.


    – Why were the Númenóreans unable to give up the pursuit of immortality? Do you see any of their traits in us?

    I think they became fixated on not dying and thought it unfair that elves live forever and they don’t. The more advanced they became, the larger their ego became. And yes, those traits are seen in people today.

  8. elnofey says:

    There’s always going to be evil in the world, you just can’t oversee that not happening. A lot of people are greedy, they want things. Reminds me of Ariel form The Little Mermaid when she goes “I want mooorreee” that can just be summed up by that. They want more. Sometimes it’s good, other times it can lead to a persons demise. That’s exactly what happened to the Numenorians.

  9. Aleketh says:

    – It’s noted that Ilúvatar allowed the Valinor to remain in the visible world because it’s a memorial of that which might have been. Why doesn’t Ilúvatar start over and make a world free of evil by eradicating the likes of Melkor and Sauron? Or does Ilúvatar think there will always be evil?
    I think Ilúvatar knows there will always be good and evil, Good cannot exist without evil, and vise versa. I feel like he felt that changes needed to be made, so he made them.
     – Do you think Ilúvatar should have ensured Sauron was destroyed when the lands were remade?
    I guess you can’t make sure that every little bit is in order. It might have been a small mistake at the time. But it grew out of hand, but in the long run it was taken care of. 
    – Why were the Númenóreans unable to give up the pursuit of immortality? Do you see any of their traits in us?
    As people we always want more. You got a new shirt, and you really like it, but you see another one and you’re like “I want that one!” even though you already bought a shirt. 

  10. amysrevenge says:

    As a teen, so much of my imagination was captured by what the Numenoreans were doing to the south of what becomes Gondor.  Like, were there any of them left when Ar-Pharazon set sail?  I know there is some mention of Black Numenoreans, but never really any gauge of how many or how mighty they were, or what they were up to.

  11. 1) Ilúvatar
    *knows* there will always be Evil and that it must exist for there to be Good 
    2) None of the great deeds of Men would’ve ever come to pass had Sauron been removed
    3) Greed, the fruit of the Curse of Fëanor, marked the hearts of Men as well, by the Fate of Ilúvatar
    . The creations of the world were so great, so beautiful that the Númenoreans wished to look upon them forever. Immortality is a curious thing. Who wouldn’t want to live forever in bliss? But things have been degrading ever since the beginning of time. I wouldn’t want to live forever.