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Amazon’s The Lord of the Rings: What happened during The Second Age and what is the island of Númenor?

Map of Númenor
Númenor was a star-shaped island situated between Middle-earth and the elven Undying Lands and existed for over 3300 years in Tolkien’s mythology. It was formed some 6000 odd years before the events in The Lord of the Rings. Pic Credit: Amazon/J.R.R. Tolkien

Recent social media postings by Amazon about their forthcoming series The Lord of the Rings have revealed that the show will be likely be set during The Second Age, a time period thousands of years before the events in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and will probably feature the Atlantean island of Númenor.

The keen anticipation over the forthcoming series based on Tolkien’s works has been driving huge amounts of speculation amongst fans as to what exactly it might encompass.

In a recent tweet, Amazon published a map showing western Middle-earth as it was in the Second Age of Tolkien’s tale.

The map also includes the island of Númenor and shows the cities of Minas Anor (Tower of the Setting Sun) and Minas Ithil (Tower of the Rising Moon). Those are the original names of Minas Tirith (Tower of the Guard) and Minas Morgul (Tower of Dark Sorcery).

They also tweeted “Welcome to the Second Age,” a heavy hint that the hotly anticipated new series will be set thousands of years before The Lord of the Rings.

Tolkien’s tales were his attempt to create a sort of mythical history for England and he was heavily influenced by early Old English tales like Beowulf and the oral traditions of the Norse, including the likes of the Icelandic sagas.

He split the histories into four ages of time, each marked by a big change and often cataclysmic event in the world. As time passed in these ages, the world became less like one of legend and myth and headed closer to our own written histories.

Tolkien’s creation myth

Tolkien’s mythological universe began with Eru (also known as Illuvatar) creating the Ainur (the Valar) from his thoughts. They then went on, with his help, to create the world (Arda) and everything in it.

It probably helps if you think of similarities between Eru and Valar and the likes of Zeus and the other Greek gods, though Tolkien’s ones were mostly less capricious. Another example might be the Christian god and the angels, with there being angels of varying powers and having different interests.

Anyway, after the initial creation, all seemed good.

However, the mightiest of the Valar, Melkor, had his own ideas and he sowed discontent. He was later cast out and became known as Morgoth, a bit like the Devil being cast out of Heaven in Christianity.

He corrupted various other lesser Valar known as Maiar, including Sauron, and did everything he could to basically spoil the party. Later there was a huge struggle that resulted in the War of Wrath and the destruction of a large part of the world.

The Ages of the world

The First Age

The First Age spanned eons of uncounted time as the firstborn, the Elves, woke up into a sunless world lit only by stars. The Sun and Moon were later created and later the other speaking races like dwarves and men woke up or were created as well.

This age ended with the War of Wrath, where Morgoth was defeated by the combined forces of the Elves and the more enlightened men. They were eventually aided by the Valar, but only after much angst and tragedy.

However, the victory had a steep price and a huge part of Middle-earth was broken and fell into the sea. Many Elves also departed Middle-earth forever and sailed to the Undying Lands.

Morgoth was defeated and banished but his malign influence and many of the servants, Sauron amongst them, survived.

The fate of men was split with those who aided in the fight against Morgoth and those who did not.

If you’re interested in these events then Tolkien’s The Silmarillion and The Book of Lost Tales are the books to read. They are written in a heavier style than The Lord of the Rings, but feature great tales and even some that are later mirrored by Aragorn and Arwen. Sort of like the Old Testament in Tolkien’s mythology.

The Second Age

The Second Age saw the formation of the island of Númenor, the founding of The Grey Havens in Middle-earth and the building of Barad-dûr by Sauron in Mordor.

During this period the men of Númenor rose higher than any other men in wisdom and power.

The rings of power were also created and Ringwraiths first appeared after being corrupted by rings gifted to them by Sauron.

Sauron was defeated multiple times during the age but managed to engineer the destruction of Númenor and destroy many of Middle-earth’s people and even countries.

The end of the age saw Sauron’s One Ring taken forcibly from him, in an alliance between the survivors from Númenor and the Elves.

The Third Age

The Third Age saw Sauron rise again and it was left mainly to men and the remnants of the Elves who stayed on Middle-earth to help defeat him. There was some indirect aid from the Valar in the shape of the wizards, including Tolkien’s Odinic wanderer Gandalf.

The Third Age ended with Hobbits helping to save the day and with the defeat of Sauron and destruction of his One Ring.

These are the events depicted in Peter Jackson’s movie adaptations of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

The Fourth Age

The Fourth Age is the beginning of our age, the age of men. A time when the other speaking races dwindled and faded away into legend or, in the case of the Elves, left Middle-earth forever to go where mortals cannot.

Tolkien’s ancient mythology, as recounted in the appendices of The Lord of the Rings and his book The Silmarillion, is complicated and there are literally hundreds of characters and dozens of tales that could be part of the series.

What happened in the Second Age?

Arda in the Second Age Map
This is part of a map taken from Karen Wynn Fonstad’s amazing book Atlas of Middle-earth. The red line we’ve added surrounds the area of land that fell beneath the sea after the War of Wrath. It also shows Númenor’s proximity to Aman and the Undying Lands and just how far south it lay. Pic credit: Atlas of Middle-earth/Karen Wynn Fonstad

As mentioned earlier, The Second Age started with the defeat of Morgoth and the destruction of nearly all the elven lands on Middle-earth. The north-western region known as Beleriand disappeared beneath the sea and the only part left was the region near the mountains, where later The Grey Havens were established.

The High Elves, known as the Noldor, mainly departed to the West and the Undying Lands, with just a few staying in Middle-earth. Some of the Sindarin Elves did remain and Legolas and his kin are part of that group.

The men who fought against Morgoth were gifted an almost magical island, known as Numenor. There they grew in wisdom, longevity, and power in their Atlantean paradise.

Sauron also grew in power and tried his best to dominate those remaining in Middle-earth. Some of the Morgoth’s other servants, such as the Balrog in Moria, also survived his defeat.

As the Númenóreans’ strength grew, Sauron became worried and he set himself up in Mordor and later built his great citadel of Barad-dûr.

Some of the Noldor moved to the region of Eregion, near the dwarves’ underground city of Khazad-dûm (later known as Moria).  Here they struck up a close friendship as they shared their love and knowledge for crafting.

It was here that the first rings of power were created and eventually Sauron (who could still take a fair looking form at this time) befriended many of the smiths. He shared with them many secrets vital to forging the rings but he also betrayed them by creating a one master ring to rule them all.

This resulted in a great war that saw Eregion destroyed and the gates of Moria shut. Sauron was eventually defeated by the Numenoreans and instead moved his ambitions eastward.

The Second Age also saw the rise of the Ringwraiths or Nazgûl, nine lords of men who were given rings of power that corrupted their hearts and saw them forever enslaved to Sauron.

Meantime the Númenóreans created various outposts on Middle-earth. Their power grew, and eventually they captured Sauron and took him back in chains to Numenor.

However, this proved ill and eventually the island was destroyed. The shape of the world was also changed from flat to that of a globe. The Undying Lands were removed forever from the circles of the world and so from the temptation of men. Only elven ships could still sail the straight path to them and the Valar also reduced their involvement with Middle-earth.

Only a few of the Dunedain (Men of the West) made it out of the cataclysm alive and they landed back on Middle-earth on the back of the huge storm that had claimed their home.

It was Elendil and his sons who founded the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor and later built what would become Minas Tirith and the other cities mentioned in The Lord of the Rings. When he arrived he uttered the words: “Out of the Great Sea to Middle-earth I am come. In this place will I abide, and my heirs, unto the ending of the world.”

The age ended when Elendil allied with the Elves and defeated Sauron in battle, cutting the One Ring from his finger. If you’ve seen Peter Jackson’s movies then you might remember these events being depicted in the prologue.

What and where is the Atlantean island of Numenor?

Amazon's map of Middle-earth and Numenor
Númenor lay to the south and between Middle-earth and the Undying Lands to the far west. You can see in the map above the areas to the northeast of it where the events in The Lord of the Rings take place. Pic credit: Amazon/J.R.R. Tolkien

Númenor was a large Island that lay between Middle-earth and the elven Undying Lands, also known as Aman.

The island was quite far south and lay far closer to the Girdle or Arda (like the equator) than say Hobbiton or even Gondor.

Númenor had an unusual star shape and was raised up out of the ocean on the orders of Eru, Tolkien’s god or creator. It was a reward for the first men who’d helped the Elves and Valar in their battle with Morgoth.

Although Men had come into creation under the shadow of Morgoth (sometimes known as Melkor), not all of them succumbed to his dark ways. Some looked to the West and saw that there was light there and they soon became friends with the Elves they met. They were called the Edain by the Elves and soon became valuable allies in the war between Morgoth and the Elves and later the Valar.

Once he was overthrown at the end of The First Age, much of the land was broken, with huge swathes of the continent where many Elves and men had lived lost beneath the sea.

These high men were thus given Númenor, which was within sight of the Undying Lands and kept them close to the Elves who they’d given up so much to aid. However, they were not allowed to set foot on the Elven lands.

These men were the ancestors of Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. As well as the island they were also granted a longer life than any of the other mortal races and some were given the gift of far sight. They were also bestowed vast knowledge and wisdom, to go along with their new home.

Númenor itself was raised up out of the deeps by the Ossë, a sort of spirit of the sea in the service of the Valor Ulmo. The new island was then enriched by other Valor including Aulë the smith and his wife Yavanna, whose domain included all the plants and animals. Many plants and other gifts were brought from the Undying Lands to help it flourish.

The Edain took to their ships and followed a star that led them to the island, which itself was star-shaped. They called it Elenna, which means Starwards and in the high elven language is Númenórë.

Elrond and his brother Elros were descendants of the first men and indeed Elros chose a mortal life and ruled over the Numenoreans for over 400 years before he died. Elrond chose the Eldar life and lived on through the ages.

As the centuries passed Numenor flourished and became just as you’d imagine the mystical Atlantis to be. They mastered the seas and rose higher than any other men before them, becoming the closest to the Elves in both mind and body.

However, although they were given a long life, the Valar were not permitted to take away Eru’s ‘gift’ of death. This proved to be the source of their eventual downfall

Akallabeth – The Downfall of Númenor

The Downfall of Númenor is one of the tales in Tolkien’s Silmarillion. The Akallabeth tells how the Men of the West (Dunedain) as they became known in Middle Earth, rose up to become the wisest and most advanced human culture in the world.

However, after several thousand years some of the Númenóreans became restless. They wondered why they had not been granted immortality like the Elves and resented having to leave behind all that they had built during their lives and die.

Over the years some of them became proud and, rather than teach or help the men left in Middle-earth, they sought to conquer them. At this time Sauron also began to grow in power back on Middle-earth. His rise in power eventually attracted the attention of the Numenorean kings and one of them set sail to conquer.

Such was the splendor of the navy and armed might of the Númenóreans that Sauron surrendered to them. In a fatal error, the king took Sauron back to Númenor as a captive, to be paraded as a prisoner.

He ended up corrupting many of the inhabitants and stoked the fires of discontent over the privileges the Elves seemed to enjoy. This led to political battles as various factions vied for power. The biggest divide was over those who remained friendly and loyal to the Elves and those who coveted immortality.

The latter eventually won out and a huge army and navy were assembled to assail the Undying Lands. When they landed the Valor called upon Eru for help and the world was changed forever, the seas being bent and the world turning into a globe.

Like Atlantis, Númenor was swallowed by the waves and nearly all the people perished. Only a few of those who were loyal escaped the destruction and made it back to Middle-earth on the wings of a great storm.

It is worth noting that the similarities with Atlantis are not a coincidence. Tolkien was very keen to include a tale like that of Atlantis in his mythology, feeling that every great mythos should feature one.

As you can see, there are plenty of interesting characters and dramatic tales to make for a really great series. It seems likely, given the title of the show, that it might track the rise of Sauron as he becomes The Lord of the Rings and also include the rise and fall of Númenor.

Watch out for our primer on the many possible characters and events that could feature in the series!


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