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Rómenna Meeting Report - February 11, 1984
February 11, 1984
Rómenna's largest meeting yet (which David promptly dubbed "The Nine Talkers") gathered in a spirit of revelry. The festivities began with a pot-luck feast, which started off very correctly with bread, salad, and appetizers (stuffed mushrooms), continued with the fish course (salmon loaf), and then went on to the main courses (chicken with vegetables, baked ziti), the whole being accompanied by mulled cider and two kinds of wine. The company ate and drank heartily, and amused themselves with talk and playing with Carol's 18-month-old son, Beren, until around half-past eight, when Beren was put to bed and the discussion started.
The subject was "Akallabêth," the Downfall of Númenor, and the obvious opening comment was made that it was a sad story. Lissanne objected that the Númenóreans hadn't really done too badly: after all, it took 2000 years for the corrupt politicians to take over, which was better than any country we know of. Even if you take the Númenóreans' longer lives into account, and reckon by generations, 25 generations is 500 years in normal human terms (although problems were evident as far back as the "unlucky" 13th king, Ar- Adunakhôr).
The boundaries of the Second Age were discussed. It was noted that the story of Eärendil is not told in any great detail. His star, however, led the Edain to Númenor at the beginning of the Second Age. The Age ended with the fall of Sauron, not the fall of Númenor, though the former came not too long after the latter (within one Númenórean lifetime, in fact: i.e., Elendil's). Attention was also drawn to the "active" geology of Middle-earth, with lands constantly being created and destroyed, and after the fall of Númenor the earth going from flat to round. There was a brief digression on life after death in Middle-earth, and the question arose as to what happens to dead orcs. Margaret pointed out that this is one of the Great Unsolved Questions of Tolkien scholarship. Do ores have souls? Hard to say, since Tolkien never uses the word "soul" (though "spirits" are referred to).
The Númenóreans were characterized both as Hebraic (Per noted that the offering of the first fruits to Eru has biblical parallels) and Egyptian. Tolkien himself mentions the latter, and it can be seen in their preoccupations with tombs and immortality. Tory pointed out that (Ar-)Pharazôn sounds like "Pharaoh." The Edenic and Atlantean aspects of Númenor were also noted.
What went wrong in Númenor? This question, plus the question of who was to blame for it, formed the backbone of the discussion. Sauron precipitated the disaster, of course, but he only took advantage of a situation that already existed. Even he didn't expect what eventually happened (and thus was caught in the wreck of Númenor). Human beings' characteristic of always wanting what they can't have was mentioned. It didn't help that the Númenóreans were close enough to Valinor to be able to see it (or see Eressëa, anyway), nor that the example of Elrond was constantly available. Can the blame be laid on the Valar for uncalled-for meDdling? The situation seems similar to the First-Age summoning of the Elves to Valinor, which also seemed like a good idea at the time, but had unpleasant consequences. To counter this suggestion, it was pointed out that Middle-earth at the time wasn't a very nice place (rather like Europe in the 9th century), so that the Dúnedain probably wouldn't have done very well there, either. Númenor was isolated, like 9th-century Ireland, and was able to develop a More enlightened and advanced culture than would otherwise have been possible. It was decided that boredom, the enduring evil of Morgoth, the machinations of Sauron, and the Valar's misjudgements all had something to do with the downfall of Númenor.
Scriptural echoes were seen in the message sent by Manwë to the discontented Númenóreans. Randy commented that the blind faith and unthinking belief required of Men by Ilúvatar were very Catholic. This led off into a digression on religious doctrines, which was dragged back to the main topic by Margaret's question on what Sauron's beliefs and motives were.
Tory advanced the opinion that Sauron was not entirely sane. Per countered that politically he was perfectly sane. He was trying to take over Middle-earth, and the Númenóreans were a very serious obstacle in his path. He wanted to get rid of them so that Middle-earth would be his. The question then arose as to whether Sauron believed what he told the Númenóreans, about Morgoth/Melkor being the "Giver of Freedom" and all that rot. This produced a digression on faith and belief, and the question as to whether Sauron is capable of either. It was pointed out that he was capable of bad faith. Figures of evil in general were discussed, including the earlier Jewish picture of Satan (or "the Satan") as a sort of prosecuting attorney whose task it was to test men.
The decline of Númenor was traced. Tar-Atanamir (to whom Manwë's message came) was the first king to hang onto the Scepter until senility set in, whereas before it had been customary for the king to pass on the Scepter while he still had all his faculties, after which he would retire and devote himself to whatever activities pleased him best (Meneldur presumably went back to stargazing; Vardamir Nólimon was so devoted to his books that he passed on the Scepter as soon as he received it, though he was held to have reigned for one year). It was during the reign of Tar-Atanamir's son, Tar-Ancalimon, that the political division developed between the King's Men and the Elendili, also called the Faithful. Both parties feared death, but the Elendili preserved their friendship with the Elves, while the King's Men repudiated it. It was also at this time that researches were made into elixirs of life and possible means of resurrection (which failed) and better embalming techniques (which succeeded--another Egyptian parallel). It was noted that this preoccupation with death lingered in Gondor.
The long lifespan of the Númenóreans paradoxically made them more afraid of death than they had been when their lives were shorter (in the First Age). It was suggested that when death is common, you get inured to it; a longer lifetime gives you more time to worry about it. Those Númenóreans who did not go in for alchemy and tomb-building turned to pleasure-seeking and the raiding of Middle-earth. It was also about this time that the Nine Rings were given to Men, some of them Númenóreans who had founded realms in Middle-earth. Margaret suggested that the immortality (of sorts) given by the Rings might have been part of the lure. It was pointed out that power was probably the main attraction. This evoked the picture of Sauron (figuratively) dangling the Rings before their prospective owners, saying, "Power! Riches! Glory! And oh, by the way, it'll also make you immortal." ("Wear this and You'll live forever--you'll be a wraith, but you'll live forever!")
In the reign of Ar-Gimilzôr the opposition of the King's Men to the Faithful took the form of outright persecution. The repentance of his son, Tar- Palantír the Farsighted, was too little and too late; during his reign, his brother Gimilkhâd took the leadership of the King's Men. After their deaths, Gimilkhâd's son Pharazôn forced marriage on Tar-Palantír's daughter Míriel and proclaimed himself king. We speculated on how Míriel was forced into marriage. Rape was suggested, but Margaret expressed doubts as to whether Pharazôn was that much of a bastard. After all, he couldn't have started out as an evil man: he and Amandil, Lord of Andunië, had been very close at one time. Per objected that Amandil had to be close to the king by custom, the Lord of Andunië being one of the chief counsellors of the Scepter. However, the text says that Amandil had been "dear to" Pharazôn in earlier days, which implies actual friendship. Be that as it may, and however it was done, the marriage was wrong, since marriage of first cousins was considered incestuous by the Númenóreans. It was noted that the Egyptians practiced brother-sister marriage, in the royal line at any rate, as an accepted custom.
Things rapidly went from bad to worse ween Ar-Pharazôn made his biggest mistake and brought Sauron to Númenor as a "prisoner." It was not long before Sauron had the king's ear and virtual control of his policies. It was noticed at this point that Tolkien says that Sauron lied to the king when he fed him the line about "Melkor the Giver of Freedom," which would seem to imply that Sauron did not himself believe what he told the king. Under Sauron's tutelage the Númenóreans took up what was essentially devil-worship and human sacrifice. We wondered if the victims were eviscerated alive, like those of the Aztecs.
Amandil attempted to emulate his forebear Eärendil, by sailing into the West to plead for the help of the Valar. The results of his embassage are never made clear, though it certainly did not save Númenor (it might have won salvation for the Faithful). Ar-Pharazôn at last was prompted by Sauron to build a great armada and attack the Undying Lands, which he persisted in despite blatant warnings and portents of doom (eagle-shaped thunderstorms, etc.). Yet on the very shores of Aman he had one last chance to repent, and came to the btink of doing so, but made the wrong decision. He set foot on the Undying Lands and (figuratively) all hell broke loose. He and his men were buried in the "Caves of the Forgotten," from whence they will not emerge until the Last Battle. Ironically, Ar-Pharazôn's desire for deathlessness seems to have been fulfilled. "Beware of asking things of the gods--you might get them!"
The world is changed, and made round, Númenor is swallowed in the sea, and the Undying Lands are removed from the circles of the world, although the old Straight Road remains for the Elves and other specially favored persons. Sauron is caught in the ruin of Númenor, which he did not expect: presumably he expected the fleet to be destroyed, after which he would be able to take control of Númenor and Middle-earth both. His body perishes, but he is able to survive as a spirit. Númenor has fallen, but Sauron's final downfall is yet to come.