America as Numenor

Tolkien famously hated direct allegorical interpretations of his work, though that never seems to stop people from drawing parallels.

The story of Numenor is actually one of the only stories in all of Tolkien that draws very directly and in a parallel way on an existing, recognizable myth. Tolkien himself said that basically Numenor = Atlantis.

Of course it’s not that simple.

I was just thinking yesterday, while listening to Cory Olson talk about the Silmarillion, that the Numenorians reminded me of my own people, the Americans.

  • They came from the old world of the east to a new land far out west in the sea.
  • They were granted great powers over the land and the sea.
  • With no near enemies, they could live in peace and utter security.
  • Nevertheless, when they felt it was appropriate, they carried their mighty war machine back east to the old world, to confront the ancient enemies of the West. And the enemies of Numenor proved utterly incapable of withstanding her navies and armies.
  • The gods granted them great material happiness, but placed limits on how far they should go in pursuit of more happiness (i.e. they were forbidden to sail further West in the direction of Valinor, aka earthly paradise).
  • They began to believe that their greatness was not a result of the blessings of the gods, but due to something inherent in their own character. Authors of their own happy fate, where nothing of the sort was true.
  • As a result of this unearned pride, they stopped listening to the warnings of the gods, and of the elves.
  • Filled with pride, they were the perfect prey for the evil lord Sauron to infiltrate and direct through flattery and deception.
  • Outwardly still mighty, beautiful, and shining, they became inwardly hateful, prideful, and resentful.
  • Convinced of their wonderfulness, they made war on the gods themselves.
Numenor ends by being sucked into an abyss at the bottom of the sea, amid a mighty storm. The entire island sinks and the world is bent and transformed for all time (the flat earth becomes a globe). Who knows what will happen to America? It often seems to me to be falling into an abyss. The storm is merely proceeding in slow-motion.
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10 comments on “America as Numenor

  1. bgc says:

    Yes – like all great myths Numenor is widely applicable. I find it ever more resonant.

    Of course, I would map it out differently with Western Europe as the focus, since I believe ‘we’ are further along the path to the abyss than is the USA – not least because the mass of people simply cannot even conceptualize anything of the sort, whereas there is a folk memory of such things still active in the US.

    Or, in other words, the decadent elite (Black Numenoreans) are more dominant in Western Europe than the USA.

    • outofsleep says:

      Yes, I see what you mean.

      Of course as an American (the “young” culture) I always associate Old Europe with the elves. Perhaps the decadent Europeans of today are the remnant of the Noldor kinslayers.

      Obviously there’s not really a neat way to draw these things up. As you say, great myths are widely applicable, and continuously resonant.

  2. Manwe says:

    When I first heard America as Numenor, I shook my head, Numenor was sooo much greater than America. But then after you made your points, it sounded much more applicable. Stil though, Numenor was more Atlantis than it ever was America, but its tragedy is a good reminder for us all not to make the same mistakes it did. America could learn much from the fate of Numenor…

    • outofsleep says:

      Well, I’m inclined to defer to the opinion of Manwe himself! πŸ˜‰

      • Manwe says:

        Yes, even we Valar use the internet from time to time πŸ™‚
        (You wouldn’t believe the speeds we get up here in Valinor)

    • hklaxness@yahoo.com says:

      The big difference between America and Numenor is that Americans are not (much!) superior to the rest of the world in power on a person per person basis (as Numenoreans are superior to other men in intelligence, height, health, strength. longevity etc.); but it does, pretty much – albeit loosely – apply to the culture; and to the idea of the US being on an unassailable Western ‘paradise’ of (apparently) inexhaustible natural resources etc.

      Like Numenor the USA can only destroy-itelf, by over-reach, tyranny, suicidal decandence, by inviting its sworn enemies to dwell among them…

      Blimey! The parallels are frightening!

  3. Kristor says:

    @bgc: Bruce, when it comes to decadence, I doubt anything in Europe today comes anywhere close to what is happening in San Francisco and LA, at the intersection of the nihilist, S & M, gay, lesbian, porn and Hollywood sub-cultures. They make the Hell’s Angels, Crips and Bloods look old-fashioned and wholesome by comparison. Think of the sickest most depraved film you’ve ever seen. That stuff, and worse, happens regularly in both towns.

    100 years ago it was different, I’m sure. Back then there were things in Paris or Vienna that folks in New York or LA – or probably London – had never even thought of. In San Francisco, our daily newspaper a couple years ago had a glowing feature in the lifestyle section about men who hang themselves from meat hooks for sexual gratification. I am not making this up.

  4. Kristor says:

    Numenor is also Babel.

  5. Kristor says:

    Whereas the modern West is these days rather more like Sodom than Babel. In the 60’s, with the Space Program, we were perhaps a bit heroically Babylonian. But, innocently so.

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