The Rise and Fall of Númenor, Explained

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power is almost here. We know that J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth, a land in the world of Arda, is still the setting. But the show won’t chronicle the same events depicted in Peter Jackson’s original film trilogy. Those movies—which followed Frodo and the Fellowship on their quest to destroy the One Ring—take place during the Third Age of Middle-earth. The Prime Video show, on the other hand, takes place in the Second Age and will explore something major. The Rings of Power will show the rise and fall of Númenor.

Here’s everything you need to know about this major Middle-earth event, and how it might play out in The Rings of Power.

A map of the island Númenor from Amazon's upcoming Lord of the Rings TV series.
Prime Video

What Is Númenor?

First of all, let’s take a look at the official synopsis for The Rings of Power:

This epic drama is set thousands of years before the events of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and will take viewers back to an era in which great powers were forged, kingdoms rose to glory and fell to ruin, unlikely heroes were tested, hope hung by the finest of threads, and the greatest villain that ever flowed from Tolkien’s pen threatened to cover all the world in darkness. Beginning in a time of relative peace, the series follows an ensemble cast of characters, both familiar and new, as they confront the long-feared re-emergence of evil to Middle-earth. From the darkest depths of the Misty Mountains, to the majestic forests of the elf-capital of Lindon, to the breathtaking island kingdom of Númenor, to the furthest reaches of the map, these kingdoms and characters will carve out legacies that live on long after they are gone.

As you can see, the synopsis actually name-checks Númenor, which was a kingdom of Men that rose to prominence in the Second Age of Middle-earth. After a great war with the evil Dark Lord Morgoth—who is essentially Middle-earth’s Satan figure—the Valar (godlike beings who shaped and ruled Arda) took pity on Men. They gifted them an island, which they rose out of the Great Sea. They called the island Númenor, and its first king was Elros son of Eärendil. Under his rule, the Men of Númenor—also known as the Dúnedain—thrived, with lifespans that outpaced other Men in Middle-earth by several years.

The Númenóreans sailed to Middle-earth’s mainland and served as teachers there. But the Valar forbid them to sail too far west, so as not to come across the Undying Lands, where mortals were not welcome. They obeyed this for a time, and excelled in their own space. But before long, the Númenóreans came to believe they deserved the same immortal life as the Valar. They grew power-hungry, and started colonizing eastern portions of Middle-earth.

Sauron dressed in armor looks out at a group of soldiers in a scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
New Line Cinema

Sauron’s Influence in The Lord of the Rings

Meanwhile, the Dark Lord Sauron—a former servant of Morgoth—deceived the Elves and forged a master ring, later known as the One Ring. The Elves and Sauron went to war, and the Númenóreans came to their defense, helping to drive Sauron back to Mordor. Númenóreans continued to settle in Middle-earth, but as Sauron’s shadow grew, it eventually cast itself over their island kingdom.

The 25th king of Númenor, Ar-Pharazôn, sailed to Middle-earth to once again aid in taking down Sauron, who surrendered to him. This proved a fatal mistake for the king, who soon fell under the Dark Lord’s influence. Sauron corrupted Ar-Pharazôn and the Númenóreans, promising them the eternal life they desperately craved if they chose to worship Morgoth. They agree,d and Ar-Pharazôn erected a 500-foot-tall temple to Morgoth on Númenor, where he offered human sacrifices.

Under Sauron’s influence, Ar-Pharazôn led a march against the Valar in an attempt to seize the Undying Lands. They made it ashore, but their mission was squashed when Eru Ilúvatar, the supreme deity of Arda and leader of the Valar, trapped Ar-Pharazôn. Ilúvatar then changed the shape of Arda from flat to round (so mortals could not reach the Undying Lands), and sunk the island of Númenor, killing all of its people. This included Sauron, who had transformed his physical shape to resemble a man during his time in the kingdom. The destruction of Númenor robbed him on his physical body and his ability to change forms.

The Rise and Fall of Númenor, Explained_1
New Line Cinema

The Legacy of Númenor in The Lord of the Rings

Before the island sank, a Númenórean man named Elendil foresaw the incoming tragedy. Elendil was known as a Faithful, or one of the few men who remained in service to the Valar and refused to worship Morgoth. He was also close with the Elves. Because of this, the Valar spared him and his sons and followers. They sailed nine ships from Númenor to Middle-earth, where they established the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor.

Elendil’s two sons, Isildur and Anárion, joined him. If you’re familiar with Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, you’ll recognize that first name. Isildur, who eventually became High King of Arnor and Gondor along with his brother, later fought in the War of the Last Alliance. During battle, he sliced the One Ring from Sauron’s hand and came into possession of it. Isildur wouldn’t destroy the ring, and Orcs killed him. This event marked the end of the Second Age.

The Dúnedain continued to populate Middle-earth, and retained their people’s extended lifespan, wisdom, and nobility. But their presence in Middle-earth waned during the Third Age. After the disappearance of Eärnur son of Eärnil, the last Dúnedain king of Gondor, the kingdom once ruled by the survivors of Númenor was then looked after by a series of Stewards. But that changed during the War of the Ring, when Aragorn—a descendant of Isildur and Anárion—reclaimed the throne and restored the monarchy. That takes us up to the events widely known by movie-only fans.

Sauron's fiery eye as seen in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy by Peter Jackson.
New Line Cinema

How Númenor Could Factor into The Rings of Power

Tolkien describes the rise and fall of Númenor in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings. And, we know that Sauron will appear as “the long-feared re-emergence of evil” described in the synopsis. I’m guessing he’ll also be handsome, so that we really feel his sway over the Númenóreans.

The Second Age spanned more than 3,400 years, so there’s a lot of potential ground to cover. We may start around the time the Númenóreans join up with the Elves to fight Sauron, so that the main thrust of the series concerns his slow grip on their people. (Hopefully, we’ll get an intro akin to Jackson’s prologue that explains the formation of the island.) I also expect we’ll see the colonization of Middle-earth by the Númenóreans, and the uprise of those Faithful to the Valar. That’ll give the series a direct connection to Aragorn, which seems like a clever way of hooking in movie-only fans.

Let’s prepare ourselves for The Rings of Power and its depiction—and destruction—of Númenor.

Originally published on March 17, 2021.

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