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Legendarium, Tolkien 101

Tolkien 101: The Men of the West

12.16.10 | Kunochan | 4 Comments

Tolkien 101 is a series of short articles designed to introduce new Tolkien fans to important characters, concepts, and vocabulary from the published works of JRR Tolkien.

If you were introduced to Tolkien’s works through Peter Jackson’s film trilogy, or if you are just curious about the background of Tolkien’s invented world (his “Legendarium”), then these articles are meant for you.

Casual viewers of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy will hear a lot of references to Aragorn’s people: The Men of the West, the Dúnedain, the Númenóreans, the Rangers of the North, the Arnorians and Gondorians. It all seems pretty confusing, but in fact it’s quite simple.

Aragorn is descended from those of the race of Men who made friends with the Elves back in ancient days. The history of those Men can be divided into three periods, each with its own triumphs and downfalls. (And in case you were wondering, yes, those three periods correspond exactly to the three “ages” of Middle-earth. Imagine that!)

Here is a super-brief synopsis of the history of the Men of the West. Some of this was already touched on in other articles in the Tolkien 101 series, such as the posts on Aragorn and Cosmology.

THE FIRST AGE: THE EDAIN

The first year of the First Age was marked by the first rising of the newly created Moon and Sun – and that is the same year that Men awoke in the East. Unfortunately they ran into creatures of Melkor, Sauron’s boss, before they met any Elves; and so Men have always feared darkness and death.

A few centuries later, some Men wandered into Beleriand, the western sub-continent of Middle-earth, and encountered Elves. These Elves called the Men the Edain (EH-dine), which is “second people” in Sindarin; the Elves themselves being the first people created. (Some Dwarves would argue this point. You may ignore them.)

Some amongst the Edain, such as Bëor, became servants and students to the kings of the Elves, in his instance King Finrod Felagund of Nargothrond. Thus Bëor and his descendents became great lords and heroes.

Rather than go into all the divisions and dynasties of the Edain (which is done adequately here), suffice it to say that many of the Edain fought and died alongside the Noldoran and Sindarin Elves in the great battles of the War of the Jewels and the War of Wrath. And when it was all over, and Melkor was utterly defeated, and Sauron had fled, and Beleriand was destroyed, the Edain were richly rewarded.

THE SECOND AGE: THE NÚMENÓREANS

Those Edain who fought against the Great Evil took Elros Tar-Minyatur, twin brother of Elrond Halfelven, as their king; and in the 32nd year of the Second Age they settled on the island of Númenor (NEW-men-nor), Quenya for “Westernesse.”

The Númenóreans were granted exceptionally long life, and developed the most advanced civilization in the history of Arda (the world in which Middle-earth exists – Númenor was not part of Middle-earth, but lay in the sea to the west.)

The Númenóreans learned much from the Elves of Valinor, the land of the gods, who would sail east to Númenor. But the gods or Valar had laid a Ban upon the Númenóreans – they could sail anywhere they wanted in all of Arda, except west to Valinor.

Things were great for the Númenóreans for a very long time, but there are always people who have to screw things up for everyone. The Númenóreans, despite their long lives, still feared death, and they became jealous of the long-lived Elves and the immortal Valar.

Again, it’s a complex tale. It ended when Ar-Pharazôn, the last king of Númenor, took on a fella named Sauron as his personal advisor. You can guess how that went – Sauron convinced Ar-Pharazôn and the Númenóreans to make human sacrifices to Melkor and to build a massive armada of ships to invade Valinor.

So the Númenóreans declared war on the Valar, and that went how you might expect as well. The armada was destroyed and the entire island of Númenor sank beneath the waves, taking with it every man, woman and child…

…except a few “Faithful” who had been planning an escape; amongst them, Aragorn’s ancestor Elendil and his sons Anárion and Isildur, who would cut the One Ring from the hand of Sauron.

THE THIRD AGE: THE DÚNEDAIN

The survivors called themselves the Dúnedain (DEW-nuh-dine), which is simply “Men of the West” in Sindarin. They washed up on the shores of Middle-earth, and founded the great kingdoms of Gondor in the south and Arnor in the north. But they still had enemies – the Black Numenoreans, those evil Men of the West who had established kingdoms in Middle-earth; and of course, Sauron and the armies of Mordor.

We know how this all fell out – Sauron’s fall, the betrayal of Isildur by the Ring, and the disappearance of the One Ring for long millennia. In Gondor, the blood of the Dúnedain was lessened by intermarriage with other strains of Men. In the north, Arnor was destroyed by the Witch King of Angmar, and the Dúnedain of the north were reduced to wandering rangers in the wild.

And that’s the situation in Middle-earth when Gandalf shows up on Bilbo’s doorstep, 6,662 years after the Edain first wandered into Beleriand.

There are other races of Men in Tolkien’s Legendarium, of course. The Dunlendings of Eriador (for instance, the Men of Bree) and the Northmen (such as the Men of Dale, and the Beornings) were descended from those Edain who did not go to Númenor. Likewise the Rohirrim were distantly related to the Edain. The Woses of Drúadan Forest were unrelated to the Edain, but counted amongst them by the Elves nonetheless. Then there are the Easterlings and Southrons, the Men of Middle-earth who never encountered the Elves, and were eventually ensnared and enslaved by Sauron.

Also, Hobbits are an offshoot of Men, and not a separate race. However, Tolkien did not leave us with any clue as to from whom they were descended, or how they came to be.

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