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MERP.COM essay: The magical mythical Numenor tour

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  • Michael Martinez
    In 1964, J.R.R. Tolkien answered one of the Inevitable Questions (readers liked to ask him) for Christopher Bretherton in what became Letter 257. The question
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2003
      In 1964, J.R.R. Tolkien answered one of the Inevitable Questions
      (readers liked to ask him) for Christopher Bretherton in what became
      Letter 257. The question is not provided, although it most likely
      began with something like, "How did you begin ...." But, begin
      what? In an early paragraph of the letter, Tolkien wrote, "With
      regard to your question. Not easy to answer, with anything shorter
      than an autobiography. I began the construction of languages in
      early boyhood: I am primarily a scientific philologist...."

      But what Tolkien went on to explain was how he composed his own
      legends and mythologies. After outlining what we now know as THE
      BOOK OF LOST TALES and the first two Silmarillion mythologies, he
      discussed the basic elements of THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS,
      but suddenly shifted course. "Another ingredient [of these legends],
      not before mentioned, also came into operation in my need to provide
      a great function for Strider-Aragorn," he said. "What I might call
      my Atlantis-haunting. This legend or myth or dim memory of some
      ancient history has always troubled me. In sleep I had the dreadful
      dream of the ineluctable Wave, either coming out of the quiet sea, or
      coming in towering over the green inlands. It still occurs
      occasionally, though now exorcised by writing about it. It always
      ends by surrender, and I awake gasping out of deep water. I used to
      draw it or write bad poems about it. When C.S. Lewis and I tossed
      up, and he was to write on space-travel and I on time-travel, I began
      an abortive book of time-travel of which the end was to be the
      presence of my hero in the drowning of Atlantis. This was to be
      called NUMENOR, the Land in the West...."

      The time-travel story was called "The Fall of Numenor", and
      Christopher Tolkien published the earliest version of the tale in THE
      MIDDLE-EARTH. The story is rich with a curious blend of names and
      events from both earlier Tolkienic legends (from THE BOOK OF LOST
      TALES) and the as-yet unrealized Middle-earth mythology of THE LORD
      OF THE RINGS. The name of a great Eldarin king, for example, is
      given as "Amroth", and he with Elrond and descendants of Earendel
      (sic) passes inland from Beleriand and storms the citadel of Thu, who
      had been instrumental and seducing the Numenoreans (Atlanteans) to
      fall into evil.

      Incorporating the Atlantis legend itself into his evolving
      mythological traditions allowed Tolkien to draw upon the rich Greek
      literary and mythological traditions which had fascinated him in his
      youth. Although Tolkien's goal by this period (the mid- to late
      1920s) had shifted from creating a mythology for England (that is, a
      mythological history to explain Old English words and names) to
      creating a self-contained mythology, he never fully abandoned the
      idea of incorporating ENGLISH mythological NEEDS into his work.
      Those NEEDS included the inexplicable, or the controversial, words of
      lost or forgotten meaning which intrigued Tolkien.

      Read the full essay here
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