I know, I know, ridiculous. That's why they go in a separate chapter....
If you read The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales, Númenor’s imperialist ambitions are cast as a morality play: the greedy kings who couldn’t accept their own mortality are always blamed for the transition from a totally non-economic, apolitical kind of contact with Middle-earth to a rapacious, imperialist, and (in Ar-Pharazôn’s day) enslaving power play.
Treating the Silm and UT as historical documents produced by the Elendili or as records of an older chronicler that they kept, however, we can see certain tensions within them. One important tension is the ideological oscillation in how the effects of colonialism are portrayed. The peoples of Middle-earth sustain different literary treatments on different occasions: on the one hand, whoever worships Morgoth and Sauron is wicked, unfree, etc., and sometimes, if a group opposes Númenor, then they are said – and we have no real evidence given except Númenorean records – to be worshipping Sauron or Morgoth or somehow under Sauron’s influence. Tacitly, allegiance to Sauron or Melkor justifies Númenorean violence against that society, in the name of self-defense. But while the King’s Men are in power, at times, the in-frame authors of the texts acknowledge that the motives of those who resist Númenor in Middle-earth is self-preservation: that the policies of the King’s Men oppress the peoples of Middle-earth – including, presumably, those who worshiped Melkor – much more effectively than the policies of their own native leadership do.
What explains the oscillation? I think there’s a correlation that maps onto the emergence of the Elendili as a political force: documents written before the Elendili emerge as a group, during periods of time that both the King’s Men and the Elendili feel comfortable claiming (i.e., “The Mariner’s Wife,” written in Aldarion’s time period), show the resistance to Númenor in one of two ways: (1) as faceless, without raising the question of motive. Why did “someone” sack the harbor at Vinyalondë? They were “hostile” – as if sacking the harbor were inherent in the social character of this unnamed people or as if they were instruments of a divine wrath (UT 189). Or (2) the authors describe the lands they seek to colonize as filled with people who have fallen under a malign, Númenor-hating force (UT 196). In the case of (1), “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn” shows otherwise, but we can postulate a totally different author for that fragment – one not as invested in the Númenorean narrative. In the case of (2), once the Elendili start writing history (The Silm’s “Akallabêth”), there is a greater tendency to portray the colonized peoples of Middle-earth, who had been tarred in Aldarion’s day by the pro-Sauron brush, as victimized by the moral depravity and injustice of the King’s Men (Silm 329, 339). The Elendili can then portray Middle-earth’s opposition forces as opposed to the enslaving power of the bad aristocrats, whom the Elendili also oppose. Thus, as the narrative goes, the good Elf-friends maintained tradition and reverence for the Valar, sympathized with the oppressed peoples of Middle-earth, and were thus saved in the end. Of course, once the Elendili take power, and have to deal with the fact that their leadership, right up to the bitter end, refused to break with the King, valuing the perception of their loyalty to Elros’s line over principled action to question the system they lived in, or even its worst representatives (Silm 328, 340-342) then everyone who opposes them is once again a Melkor/Sauron-worshipping foreign devil. Thus Sauron, whatever his reality, plays a key role in allowing the Elendili narrative to maintain a certain continuity that passes for consistency in the realm of foreign policy decisions.
To get underneath this very realistic, inconsistent, and self-serving narrative, without eliding or downplaying the horrors endured by the average member of the Faithful under the King’s Men or the horrors endured by the colonized peoples of Middle-earth, we have to get beyond the given morality play. Various authors have tried to do this by employing what I’ll call (because it’s the terminology of the discipline I’m most familiar with) a deconstructive technique: give priority to the devalued part of the Elendili/Good Númenorean – Other binary: to the Haradrim, to the King’s Men, to the secularists. The results can be brilliant (and they’re so much fun to write!). However, these interpretations tend not to shed much light on what’s driving Númenor’s ruling element over time to do heinous things to the peoples of Middle-earth or to institute a terrorizing police force that operates on religious ideology, or they tend to use a reading that makes technology and science heroic, secularizing forces that are independent of class politics in particular, just as religion is correlatively treated without consideration of class politics.
Hence this story, in which I try to read the saga of the Downfall through a political economic lens. When this lens is installed, the story of Númenor’s destruction isn’t one of religion and irreligion, pride and downfall, and it’s not the story of conflicting moral values produced by a single social system (the conservative reading, by the feudal ruling-class Elendili). It isn’t even the story of religious intolerance of secularization versus progressivism, or of Númenorean racism (the left-wing face of modern ruling class ideology). It’s a story of how a feudal class society – with all of its existing pre-industrial prejudices and inequalities – transitions to an industrial class society, i.e., nascent capitalism, and transforms those pre-capitalist prejudices and inequalities so that they support the emerging new class structure.
And I have to say, I’m fairly impressed by how much Tolkien managed to build into his script that makes it incredibly easy to read Númenor’s downfall as the result of intra- and international class conflict – and obviously, here, I don’t mean the island was destroyed because the Powers hate class. (Yeah, right – the Elves they love best are all monarchical!) I mean that what hollowed out those “traditional values” and turned Númenor into a conquering international power, in contrast to its founding as a self-isolated haven for the survivors of a devastating war, what made its moralism hypocritical to both an older society and even to certain elements of a newer one, where freedom is claimed as a cardinal value (Sauron knew his stuff: he sold worship of Melkor to Númenor as freedom from religious enslavement and backwardness – hello, French Revolution…), is the change in its class structure, product of the ability of the ruling class to appropriate new technology to its own advantage and adapt to the conditions of maintaining and then extending that advantage in new material conditions. In that sense, the romantic pre-industrial Númenor of legend fell long before the island was actually destroyed.
De te fabula narratur – on a personal note, this is my first attempt to foreground class dynamics explicitly, and I hope it didn’t just fail completely to be credible. Class in fanfic is something that I’m fascinated by, the more so in recent years than earlier in my life. Class so rarely comes up in fanfic, and it’s not surprising. All our main characters in Arda are thoroughly embedded in, and draw their values from, a class structure that is both foreign and repugnant to us today, and only the idealizing brush of fantasy allows us to tolerate actually functional monarchies and slave societies, while Tolkien’s nature romanticism doesn’t cut it, as class critique, because nature romanticism contains a lot of unconscious, super-elitist class ideology much of the time. (William Cronin on this point is just fabulous – read his stuff if you haven’t, it’s BRILLIANT!) Moreover, Tolkien’s world is fantasy, fanfic of all fandoms is fantasy, of course, so really – who cares, in the end? It’s not real.
But we do care about race in fantasy land. We care about sexism in fantasy land. We care about heterosexism in fantasyland. So if we’re going to write fanfic that tries to undo or counteract the implicit and/or explicit racism, sexism, monoculturalism, and heterosexism of our society, as all of that is reflected in the creative output of our society, shouldn’t we – at least once in a while? – write stories that call into question class society and its values – particularly our own class society? Shouldn’t we look at class with the concern we give to race, culture, sex and gender, and sexuality? How do you write stories about class oppression and emancipation in Middle-earth without being totally ahistorical about it all, and in fact just reiterating modern values for protagonists as if to hold modern class values is the measure of liberation, when we know – or should – that the language and practice of our modern values routinely serves class oppression? That’s a fascinating challenge to me, and I feel as though I don’t necessarily have it in me to do justice to meeting that challenge in-frame. That may be what a novel is good for, but I am not feeling novelistically inspired these days, as I’m sure folks have noticed.
Notes for The Tree-guard law: Revised to fit the text better – which actually better suits my purposes than pre-marital sparring between Erendis and Aldarion. Meneldur had actually made laws slowing the rate at which trees could be felled in Númenor (UT 185), well before Aldarion and Erendis had their little spat. Meneldur just screams “traditionalist,” a man explicitly of the older order, and interpolating a little political economy, his characterization, when contrasted with his son’s, beautifully sets up dispute between representatives of the older, aristocratic, agrarian and land-based political economy and those of the newer industrial one that’s growing in fits and starts. See UT 181-187.
On needing metals: “A description of Númenor” makes clear that Númenor is not metal-rich. It has “some” metals, but apparently a large number of craftspeople (UT 178). In the beginning, those craftspeople probably had enough to do just setting up mines, etc., but if they maintained their traditions and were able, too, to build a better plough (one of the major innovations that an agrarian society would appreciate is better farming technology), then that translates out to more efficient and productive farming. More food means more people surviving childhood, which means over time – and given the longevity of at least Elros’s line, within a few generations – they’d reach the point where, under a feudal class system practicing primogeniture, younger sons would be crowded out of arable land, especially given the artificial strictures on bringing Númenor’s arable land under farm production (see below, notes for Sails of Silver). Traditionally, that pushes more people into crafts or vagrancy. If they went into crafts, and if shipbuilding was one craft (as Tolkien has it), then Númenor would have had a leg up in developing water-mill-powered factories and commercial shipping, which would absorb some of those landless kids, but would also probably prompt many to clamor for land.
Hence, I don’t buy that Vëantur was just out there looking around Middle-earth for curiosity’s sake. Long-distance seafaring is a major investment of resources for any pre-industrial society: you’d have to have a really good reason to divert those resources. So I think he was part of that new rising class of people who saw the writing on the wall and got Tar-Elendil’s permission to begin looking for places suitable for settlement.
Notes for Haven
Revised to accommodate the stuff I’d missed in “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn,” which actually makes things much more fun and interesting, I think. In “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn,” we learn that the people who burned down Vinyalondë at least twice were the people of the Enedwaith, who were pushed off their land by the relentless felling of trees for Númenor (UT 274-276). For a time, Númenor was using Vinyalondë almost exclusively for timber to supply not just the new settlement there but Númenor’s timber needs as well, primarily for the Guild (thanks to Meneldur’s laws against tree-felling). Because of this, the Enedrim, whose society is just barely described (and, in-frame, probably became effectively extinct before anyone associated with Númenor could make extensive report of it), became absolutely opposed to Númenorean settlement and waged a bloody, fruitless war, which they ultimately lost, to try to save their land from the invaders. They were pushed back into areas around Dunland, but did not move farther south, because of their fear of the native population of Druédain. See UT 400.
We also know that a small number of Druédain went with the Haladin to Númenor, and then, after arguing with Aldarion about his voyages, began to leave Númenor when it became clear that Aldarion would not be swayed even by his wife (UT 402). I’ve compressed that timeline here, since there’s about a century between the Drúedain expressing their first alarm, and then finally leaving. But in terms of connecting them to the people of the Enedwaith, these Drúedain have been “under the hill,” or as close to it as mortal people can come in Arda – I imagine that this would mean their culture and social organization has diverged from the mainland Druédain clans, which might make it hard for them to assimilate with their sundered kin. Why not, then, an alliance and settlement with the Enedrim, who were also a forest-dwelling people, and who might find these Drúedain sufficiently changed to be non-threatening (because they have had no contact with them)? They both fear Númenor, and the Drúedain would be able at this point to explain a lot of what’s going on in Númenor to the Enedrim, and make clear the need to resist.
Notes for Sails of Silver
Thank you, Steeleye Span, for the title. As noted above, Númenor is not a metal-rich land. The Silmarillion claims that it was during the reign of the 14th king that Númenor began a policy of conquest to extract tribute by force, and it specifically mentions (as part of the description of Númenorean moral bankruptcy) that the Númenoreans dress in gold and silver (Silm 329). So they’re likely extracting significantly more precious metal wealth than Númenor possesses and absorbing part of it in conspicuous private consumption.
However, as early as Meneldur’s reign, Meneldur rebukes Aldarion for bringing home gold and silver, suggesting that early on, the long-distance sailors were reliably bringing in quantities of precious metals that noticeably augment what Númenor already has (UT 186). Maybe it wasn’t just gold and silver, either – those would’ve been the most notably extravagant type of metal, but why not other kinds of metal ore? Those steel bows and swords have to come from somewhere, and if Númenor doesn’t have a great native source of metals, then they have to be getting the bulk of it eventually from the mainland. Aldarion doesn’t strike me as someone who would overlook the benefit of befriending kings whose countries had mines: that is likely the source of his gold and silver at first – gifts from Gil-galad. But once the idea of establishing settlements for resource extraction comes into being, it’s unlikely he and the Guild didn’t start looking at mining resources, laying the foundations to exact forced tribute from whatever native population had control of them initially, as the need of an imperial power for more weaponry and money to support its money-economy arose.
On the economy of Mittelmar, the inland province: That Mittelmar is a major pastureland for horses is in the “Description of Númenor,” and that Númenor made extensive use of horses is also given there (UT 174, 176-177). Erendis’s home, Emerië, is a major shepherd’s region of Mittelmar. Pasturing animals traditionally needs fewer people than farming, which is much more labor-intensive and requires more people. So long as Númenor’s population remained small, that might not be a problem, but as it grew, and if the ruling groups still insisted on horses and sheep in large numbers, then the amount of land turned over to grazing animals would be a problem at some point, as noted above. Sheep, however, have historically proven to be a relatively lucrative business – relatively lucrative monetarily, compared to agriculture, which is harder to submit to an industrial form of production. Granted, Númenor is Atlantis, and Atlantis is a technologically advanced civilization, but it is advanced compared to a feudal agrarian society – and one of the first major industries with factory-based production was textiles. Hence the cloth-mill, and terrible working conditions that peasants would not like to endure if they had another option…
… And along comes the Guild to provide another option for a percentage of displaced peasants, who can further the Guild’s own ends. Plenty of America’s early settlers were indentured servants, paying their way to the New World with their labor, and the promise of freedom and land after some number of years. This gives desperate people a stake in supporting the very ruling class that is responsible for their oppression, and makes it easier to use them against other peasants and native agrarian or hunter-gatherer societies, with whom they might have a more natural sympathy and sense of allegiance otherwise.
Tolkien most often portrays the Haradrim and others living in the eastern and southern regions of Middle-earth as opposed to Númenor for religious reasons: they are said to worship Sauron and Morgoth.
The Haradrim and others may very well worship Sauron and Morgoth, but, in keeping with my fanonical tendencies, that need not be an obstacle to allegiance and friendly political relationships. After all, it doesn’t stop anyone today from making allegiances. And after centuries of isolation from Middle-earth, the Númenoreans don’t likely bear much resemblance to the battered survivors of the War of Wrath, who were usually overshadowed by the Elves, and who departed to live on an island. Their culture would effectively be new to the peoples of Middle-earth, and if they really did come with new knowledge about farming technology and other things of this sort, there’s no reason to believe that the peoples of Middle-earth wouldn’t welcome them at first, whether they worshipped Sauron/Morgoth or not.
Those of the ruling class, who have the same general interest as the Númenorean ruling class (maintain control over the rest of the population), might especially have reasons to want to court Númenorean nobility/representatives thereof. If they’re working on a slave-based agrarian system, then Númenor’s more advanced farming techniques would seem promising if they could figure out how to institute them without losing control of the slave population. On the other hand, if Sauron has already been helping them to develop agriculturally or industrially, then at least at first, technological interchange would probably be welcome, and some alliances might be forged before the range of “the market” had been established, allowing competition to become ugly. At that point, it would make sense to me that the powers that be on both sides could call on religious differences to mobilize different elements of the population who had less insight into the power structure. (And I know there was a really brilliant short fic that suggested just this awhile ago… I need to see if I can find it again.)
Given that chain of speculation, the Númenorean claim, that, “They hate us because they love Sauron/Morgoth,” smacks of, “They hate us because they are backward and so hate our freedom”: propaganda that any imperial power gives to its subjects, and which reinforces and becomes a quasi-independent factor in deciding whom the lower class will support.
Morgoth had one, according to PoME, so why not Aldarion, but in a more political-economic “let’s build inroads and colonize lands to isolate our trade enemies and occupy lands we both desire” sense, as opposed to a magical “invest the land with my essence” sense?
UT holds that: “It is said that Aldarion himself wrote records of all his long journeys to Middle-earth, and they were long preserved in Rómenna, though all were afterwards lost” (UT 183). Why keep such things in Rómenna, the harbor that Aldarion modernized (UT 190)? What was in those records? What does a sea-captain of this caliber keep record of? Maps, yes; star-charts, yes; but also, quite likely, political information: who’s friendly, who’s not, what are the terms of allegiance. And since “The Mariner’s Wife” makes Aldarion the representative of forward-thinking foreign policy (see the episode in which Meneldur abdicates his throne, realizing he is an isolationist relic in the new, internationalist context), I find it hard to believe that the heir to the throne of Númenor, who also happens to be a major force in the development of long-distance shipping and colonization, didn’t also keep a strategy book that would help him and his delegates in the Guild move in an organized fashion to take over and hold the lands and resources they thought Númenor needed and would need in the future.
And the rest is history: Vinyalondë was repeatedly sacked, and a bitter, protracted war fought between Númenorean settlers and the people of the Enedwaith. The Enedrim lost, and incalculable environmental and social damage was done to the entire region around Vinyalondë, according to “The History of Galadriel and Celeborn.” Númenor dominated in Middle-earth for centuries and ruled it at the, um, fletch of a steel bow (?), until Sauron entered Eriador and took advantage of the natives’ hatred of the Númenoreans in the war that sacked Eregion.
In keeping with Tolkien’s habit of eliding the Haradrim from history, except insofar as they are worshippers of Sauron and Melkor, and a slave society that practices human sacrifice because of that malign influence, we don’t hear anything about uprisings to the South, but we know that Gondor would later have a tempestuous relationship with the southern colonies it inherited from Númenor. While some of that would surely be due to elite infighting between the new Elendili ruling element and the King’s Men, the story is incomplete without considering the native population and its traditional power structures – how do they fit into this? Given that Haradrim are usually described as fierce and warlike, and allowing for jingoistic Númenorean propaganda, I imagine that they also have a history of revolt against Númenorean colonization – one that was more successful in the end than the efforts of the Enedrim, especially once the southern kingdom’s power structure started fighting amongst itself in earnest. Perhaps because they were Sauron’s people, and he had already begun teaching them how to industrialize their economy, or because their rulers learned Númenor’s lessons well, they ultimately had a better resource-base by which to resist Númenorean power than the Enedrim and Druédain did.
My guess is that early on, however, their less urbanized societies would have been the prime motors of resistance and would have reacted, top to bottom, to the Númenoreans when the latter began exploiting timber and other resources heavily at the expense of the native population. This is, after all, the pattern Tolkien gives us at UT 275-276, and it’s historically supported in the primary world.