Faramir Remembers “Númenor that was”

“We look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

So says Faramir to Frodo and Sam motioning to them to stand with himself and his men facing westwards into the setting sun at the refuge of Henneth Annûn before they sit to eat. And in this simple action the people of Gondor recollect both their history and their identity day by day.

They remember the peril that Eärendil “ventured for love of the Two Kindreds” at the end of the First Age of the Earth. For when the forces of Morgoth had all but overthrown the kingdoms of the Elves and Men in Beleriand Eärendil had journeyed to Valinor to plea for the mercy of the Valar in their uttermost need, and mercy was granted to them. They remember how Morgoth was overthrown and in punishment was “thrust through the Door of Night beyond the Walls of the World into the Timeless Void”. They remember how Elros and Elrond, the sons of Eärendil, were granted a choice that none had ever been offered either before nor since. The Valar offered to them either to live as one of the deathless that was the destiny of the Elves upon the Earth or to choose mortality that was the destiny of Humankind. And they remember how Elrond chose the destiny of the Elvenkind and so came to live in Rivendell in Middle-earth and how Elros chose mortality and was granted as gift for himself and his people the great isle of Númenor in the Western Seas just within sight of Valinor.

They remember how at first their ancestors lived in contentment with the choice that Elros had made and the land that had been granted as gift; but how, even as their power grew, they grew envious of those that were deathless, coming to see their own mortality as a punishment laid upon them by the Valar who they now regarded as tyrants. This discontent and envy grew and festered over many years even as their might grew. Indeed, we might say, unease and power seemed to grow in equal measure. Eventually so great was that power that they were able to overthrow and make prisoner Sauron even after he had forged the One Ring and had made Barad-dûr in Mordor the heart of his dominions within Middle-earth. But their victory over Sauron was not achieved as a rejection of his darkness but in envy of his power and so, even as a prisoner, Sauron was able to make that envy grow directing it now against the Valar. Eventually with Sauron’s encouragement they assaulted Elvenhome itself believing that if they could conquer it they would achieve the immortality that they desired, that it was the land itself that somehow granted to its people their deathlessness. But a great wave arose that destroyed the fleets and even the Isle of Númenor and so it is that when Faramir and his men stand in silence they remember “Númenor that was”.

But even as the unfaithfulness of the kings of Númenor and those that followed them comes to mind every time the people of Gondor stand before they eat so too does the memory of those who were faithful at great cost to themselves. For among the people of Númenor there were those known as Elf-friends who still loved the Valar and were content with the choice of Elros. When the fleets of Númenor sailed in assault upon Valinor they refused to go with them and the great wave that destroyed Númenor carried Elendil, his sons, Isildur and Anárion and all their peoples, in nine great ships to the shores of Middle-earth where they founded the kingdoms of Gondor and Arnor.

All this is called to mind as the peoples of Gondor remember “Númenor that was”, and it is a memory of gift, of choice, of growing discontent and envy that led to unfaithfulness and also to the faithfulness of Elendil and his people, the Elf-friends. And each time they do this they know that they themselves are the fruit of this story and how they too must live.

In this week’s reflection we have remembered  “Númenor that was” and perhaps it has caused us to think of our own discontents with our lives and what has been given to us and what it might mean for us to be faithful even as were the Elf-friends. Next week we shall think with Faramir and his men of “Elvenhome that is” and all that comes to mind as they gaze towards it.

14 thoughts on “Faramir Remembers “Númenor that was”

  1. Lovely post, Stephen. This is a moment of real transcendence and numinosity. I wonder if this is the closest we get in The Lord of the Rings to a religious celebration? So simple, yet so profound. Echoes of the Trinity too.

    I was also greatly moved in my recent reread the curtain of water in the tower which changes colour according to the differences in the light outside.

    You’re clearly a big fan of Faramir. As am I. It seems a bit of a shame to me that after holding the fort so ably for so long he actually misses out on the big battle, apart from nearly being burnt to death, of course.

    His speech and general demeanour at Aragorn’s coronation “smacks of nobility”, in Shakespeare’s phrase. It’s great that you place so much emphasis on him in your blog.

    Thanks and all the best,

    John.

    • A lovely comment on my post, John! Tolkien shows such reserve when it comes to religious celebration. I think you are right when you say that it is the nearest to one in The Lord of the Rings. The only other, I think, is hinted at in the Hall of Fire in Rivendell but there the songs to Elbereth are so woven into the way of life of the Elves that they do not seem to constitute what we call religious celebration, separate from the rest of our lives.
      Thank you for reminding me of the curtain of water. I will enjoy thinking of that.
      I am a fan of Faramir. I think Tolkien was too. He gives so many of his best lines to him, the ones that encapsulate Tolkien’s own philosophy expressed in The Silmarillion. I am glad he missed the battle. He might have missed out on Eowyn as well!

      • “I am glad he missed the battle. He might have missed out on Eowyn as well!”

        Most likely! I suspect his being “held prisoner” in the Houses of Healing, while others went to war, gave him some insight/sympathy into/with her that he probably wouldn’t have had, otherwise. Aragon seems to be the only other one (apart from Merry) who really gets what Eowyn’s issues are and understands why.

      • I think there is a very real sense in which Faramir lays down his burdens after Aragorn begins his healing (I am really looking forward to thinking more and writing about that later in the blog journey!). He is then open to the possibility of personal happiness, however brief it might be for him. I agree too about the sympathy he gains as a “prisoner”. Thank you too for your mention of Merry. He is on a special journey too and as he says himself, he is so easily ignored!

    • John your mention of the the water splitting light recalls a passage from Humphrey Carpenters book The Inklings. “In making myth, in practising ‘mythopoeia’ and peopling the world with elves and dragons and goblins, a storyteller, or ‘sub-creator’, as Tolkien liked to call such a person, is actually fulfilling God’s purpose, and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light.” Perhaps not directly related to this post, yet maybe Stephen could add his own thoughts in a later article.

      • Thank you so much for drawing my attention to this passage from Carpenter’s book. I cannot help but note the distinction in LOTR between a delight in the seeing the way in which light falls upon a place after passing through a natural prism such as the curtain of water at Henneth Annun and Saruman’s deliberate splitting of light to make his coat of many colours because he is dissatisfied with the gift and calling that he has received from the Valar.
        I feel that Tolkien would see his work as “sub-creator” in terms of reverence for the way the true light falls upon the earth. It calls to mind a medieval icon of The Transfiguration as well.
        Again, thank you for this reflection. I look forward (I hope?) to John’s response to it as well.

  2. Stephen, I stumbled across your blog recently and have really enjoyed your posts! I’m a long-time LOTR fan, but it’s been awhile since I’ve picked up the books. This swept me up in the grand story of Middle-Earth again and reminded me of the rich history Tolkien imbued his work with.

    Faramir is one of my all-time favorite characters. Understanding some of the implications behind his reverence for his people and past paints an even clearer portrait of who he is. The remembrance of Numenor and the lessons there are particularly apt for his character. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Look forward to reading more from you! 🙂

    • Dana, Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts. I am so delighted every time someone tells me that they are reading LOTR again.
      I really like your use of the word, “reverence” that is so appropriate for Faramir’s character. Even though in a moment of doubt he describes his people as an “autumn without a spring” I think it is this reverence that sustains him.
      I look forward very much to reading any future comments you might wish to leave.

  3. I have to admit I’ve only really read TLOTR once as yet… And that last year, and entirely due to this blog, Stephen, thank you.

    It’s probably time I did so again… For there’s so often wonderful thoughts that are set in motion by your posts!

    I love your words here and your thought at the end. It makes me think so much about how we can move forward as a people of faith, and as individuals, in honesty. Not critical or boastful, but honestly acknowledging our collective and personal journeys and turning our faces forward in trust and hope.

    Thank you

    • Thank you for your encouragement, Victoria! Of course, what Faramir leads in this scene is a “looking back”, at least in respect of the story of Numen0r. And, as you say, this “looking back” requires a searing honesty on the part of those who participate in it.I hope that in the next two weeks I can reflect more on a “looking forward”. Of course in the Christian tradition the “looking back” turns our thoughts to the Eucharist and the great proclamation of faith, “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.”

  4. For good or ill:

    “Man, Sub-creator, the refracted light
    through whom is splintered from a single White
    to many hues, and endlessly combined
    in living shapes that move from mind to mind.”

    I only fell in love with the story of the Akallabeth fairly recently, and that makes this scene all the more powerful in my mind.

    https://jubilare.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/akallabeth/

    Actually knowing the history, and why it means so much to Faramir and the people of Gondor, tends to bring tears to my eyes.
    Seven stars and seven stones… and one White Tree.

    • I wanted to reblog this straight away so that others could read it even though I have not had the leisure to respond to what you offered until now. I always find that what you write about Tolkien’s work, whether on your own blog or in your comments on mine enriches and deepens my own understanding in a way that I would not have initially anticipated. I value that very much.
      The quote from the Akallabeth with which you end your own reflections seems to sum up the spiritual lesson that Faramir carries in his heart and which he brings to the moment of recollection in which he leads his men each day.
      “Hope rather that in the end even the least of your desires shall have fruit. The love of Arda was set in your hearts by Ilúvatar, and he does not plant to no purpose.”

      • ^_^ I am glad! I feel the same way about your insights on this blog. This is why reading in community is such a wonderful thing. I am grateful for a world in which minds can meet.

        That is one of my all-time favorite Tolkien quotes, and that’s among stiff competition! I think I love it because I love our world. I used to be troubled by the talk in the Bible about hating the world (though I know the “world” being talked about is not the physical place, but more the inflated value we give to ephemeral things). And I was even more troubled by talk of the world passing away, though I know that, even from a scientific standpoint, it will. I found some hope in the hints we are given of a New Creation, but still there was that ache. And then I found this quote, and it gave me some measure of peace. The love that I have, for green and growing things, rocks, places, animals, is something God has given me. Therefore it must have a purpose. I find great comfort in that.

        Poor Merry! Brave, brave hobbit. What would have become of Eowyn, but for him?

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