An introduction to Númenor
This year, we’ll finally get Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series, which should premiere on Sept. 2, 2022.
Amazon spent more than $750 million purchasing rights for the show from the Tolkien estate and producing the first season. But while the online retail giant spent the GDP of a small country for the source material, this series won’t feature many of the characters and locations made famous in the movie trilogy directed by Peter Jackson.
Instead, the Amazon series will focus on an (almost) entirely new cast of characters who lived hundreds and even thousands of years before Aragorn, Bilbo and Frodo enter the story.
I’ve written a series of articles exploring the story of Númenor and how it connects to and influences the rest of J.R.R. Tolkien’s work. I hope the information is interesting and provides some important context for the upcoming Amazon series. Although I don’t know precisely what the series holds, and even though we know from the series summary that there’s plenty going on beyond what happens in Númenor, a word of caution: these articles will undoubtedly contain some spoilers for the series.
What is Númenor?
The Amazon series will be based on stories in the Second Age of Middle-earth, sandwiched between the demise of J.R.R. Tolkien’s primary antagonist Morgoth and Sauron’s defeat by the Last Alliance of Men and Elves (where Isildur cut the One Ring from Sauron’s hand).
While there’s plenty that happens in this 3,441 year time period (the rings of power are forged, Sauron rises to power), nothing is more relevant and impactful than the story of Númenor, a human island kingdom that represented the remarkable heights (and depths) humans could achieve.
Tolkien references Númenor throughout the main trilogy (often as Westernesse, the Westron version of the word), but the bulk of “finished” material about the kingdom is in the Silmarillion (in a chapter titled Akallabêth) and various appendices. It’s an epic story that reflects one of Tolkien’s most pervasive themes: the meaning and value of both life and death. It also provides both a key foundation to the stories we’re more familiar with as well as important context for characters and actions in the main trilogy.
Tolkien crafted his universe over the bulk of his lifetime, and the incredibly detailed world that he “discovered” went through innumerable revisions and changes until his death in 1973 (and even afterward as his son Christopher continued his father’s work by consolidating and publishing volumes of Tolkien’s notes and stories, including the Silmarillion and the Children of Húrin).
The story of Númenor has its roots in the Greek myth of Atlantis — a connection which Tolkien made clear with the Quenya word for the island after its fall, Atalantë — as well as the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden. Tolkien recounted what he called his “Atlantis Complex” in a BBC interview in the 1960s: a repeating dream of a great wave covering the world.
Whenever I used to doodle and draw, I nearly always [drew] a lone, fatally vast oceanic wave coming in. So of course I had to write… this Atlantis story which I call Númenor…
Númenor began as part of an unfinished science fiction story called The Lost Road that Tolkien was inspired to write following a conversation with his friend C.S. Lewis (Lewis ended up writing Out of the Silent Planet after the discussion). When it became clear that The Lost Road would not be the follow-up to his wildly successful The Hobbit, Tolkien began working on what would become The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The story of Númenor became an important, if unfinished, part of Tolkien’s legendarium and was published in its current form for the first time in 1977.
NEXT: The History of Númenor