clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Three ships sailing out of a harbor in Rings of Power Image: Prime Video

Filed under:

Why Lord of the Rings never went to Númenor before The Rings of Power

At least, on screen and in the main Tolkien books

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

After confining itself to largely familiar Middle-earth locales in its first two episodes, The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power has finally shown us a place never depicted on screen before: Númenor. Indeed, much of the run time of the Prime Video series’ third episode, “Adar,” is spent on the island kingdom, which — despite its legendary status — never actually appears in either J.R.R. Tolkien’s original trilogy or the Peter Jackson movies it inspired.

That’s right: The history, culture, and geography of Númenor are all covered in The Lord of the Rings’ appendices, as well as not-so-accessible tomes published after Tolkien’s death, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. Because of this, Númenor’s introduction in The Rings of Power almost certainly left more casual fans scratching their heads over how the island kingdom fits within wider Middle-earth lore.

If that’s you, this handy roundup will bring you up to speed on all things Númenórean in no time — including the kingdom’s location, origins, current ruler, and connection to The Lord of the Rings.

[Ed. note: The following covers events not yet depicted in The Rings of Power.]

Where is Númenor?

A map of the island of Númenor from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. It’s a star-shaped, mountainous region with a tall peak at the center. Image: Prime Video

The star-shaped island of Númenor (also known by other names, including Westernesse) is, as Galadriel notes in “Adar,” the westernmost point of Middle-earth. Tolkien describes its position in the Sundering Seas as closer to Valinor, the continent on which the godlike Valar live, than to Middle-earth.

It’s the logical place for Galadriel to wind up after being so close to Valinor. And it also tracks with Númenor’s seafaring culture, as their civilization was renowned for the skill of both its shipbuilders and sailors. The Númenóreans’ nautical prowess also allowed them to make numerous trips to Middle-earth prior to The Rings of Power’s setting, despite their relative distance from the continent (more on that later).

Who founded Númenor?

The queen regent of Numenor standing in front of people in the throne room; there are people standing in rows facing her, as well as flanking her on the deis Photo: Matt Grace/Prime Video

Like with so many aspects of Tolkien’s legendarium, talking about Númenor’s early days gets complicated fast. For starters, there’s the origin of the island itself, which was custom-made by the Valar for the ancient race of men who joined forces with the elves in war against Morgoth. Then, there was the mass migration of men from Middle-earth to the newly minted Númenor, which took half a century and relied heavily on assistance from the elves. So, when Galadriel gives the elves the credit for the kingdom even existing in The Rings of Power episode 3, there’s a kernel of truth to what she’s saying.

That’s not where the elves’ role in Númenor’s origin story ends, either. As touched on in “Adar,” the founding king of Númenor was an elf — albeit one with a few mortals in his family tree. Like his brother Elrond (of Rivendell fame), Númenor’s inaugural ruler, Elros, came from a mixed bloodline. But whereas Elrond ultimately chose to live among the elves, Elros opted to embrace his mannish roots. This meant giving up his immortality, although he still possessed a ridiculously long lifespan and was as intellectually and physically formidable as a non-elf can get.

Elros’ descendants likewise benefited from their supercharged half-elven DNA, which explains why his descendent, Aragorn, is such an impressive specimen. But even better from an egalitarian standpoint, Númenóreans not directly related to Elros also got an overall XP boost, scoring quite a few more birthdays than their mainland counterparts. So, all in all, Elros’ decision to stick with Team Men worked out pretty well for everyone.

Who rules Númenor now?

Miriel, the queen regent of Numenor, holding a baby and looking at the camera as petals fall around her Image: Prime Video

Elros’ reign lasted just over 400 years, which is why he’s no longer on the scene in The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power. Twenty-four monarchs sat on the throne of Númenor between Elros’ death and the events of the show, although this is one area where the adaptation begins to take major liberties with the canon established by Tolkien.

In “Adar,” the rightful king of Númenor — unnamed in the episode, but presumably Tar-Palantir based on the books — currently lives in exile atop a tower, having been deposed by his own people. Meanwhile, his daughter Míriel (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) rules in his stead as queen regent, aided by her influential advisor Pharazôn (Trystan Gravelle). All of this is material invented by The Rings of Power showrunners J.D. Payne and Patrick McKay and their team of writers.

According to Tolkien, Tar-Palantir died of old age and was never forced from the throne by anyone, much less his own subjects. There’s also very little in Tolkien’s writings to suggest that Tar-Míriel (to use her regnal name) was in cahoots with the treacherous Pharazôn (her cousin in the books), especially considering he forced her to marry him to usurp the throne. Of course, there’s a chance that Míriel is only pretending to cozy up to Pharazôn in the show, but for now, that whole subplot is veering very off-book.

That isn’t to say The Rings of Power has completely abandoned its source material where Númenórean royalty is concerned. If nothing else, episode 3’s characterization of Tar-Palantir as someone still faithful to the Valar and sympathetic to the elves is bang on the money. It’s also quite clear that Payne and McKay are laying the groundwork for Pharazôn to make a play for the throne just like he does in the books at some point in the show’s planned five-season run.

And in a broader sense, the way “Adar” portrays Númenórean society (including those among its upper echelons) as growing increasingly resentful toward the elves and the Valar broadly tracks with Tolkien’s own history. Similarly, Elendil’s depiction as a high-born lord who bucks this trend is also true to Tolkien.

Where is Númenor in the Lord of the Rings series?

A shot of a bustling dock and port in Rings of Power Image: Prime Video

So, how come we don’t visit Númenor in The Lord of the Rings? To put it bluntly: because it sank. Tolkien saw the island kingdom as the Middle-earth analog of Atlantis, which is why — as recounted in The Silmarillion section entitled Akallabêth — it winds up on the ocean floor. What’s more, as in the original Atlantis legend, the cause of Númenor’s downfall ultimately boils down to two words: divine retribution.

After Pharazôn (now going by “Ar-Pharazôn”) defeats Sauron’s army and takes him hostage, the dark lord wastes no time converting him and most of the kingdom into wicked Morgoth worshippers. Eventually, Sauron manages to convince Ar-Pharazôn and his followers that they too could become immortal if they went to war with the Valar and conquered Valinor. Unsurprisingly, this turns out to be bad advice, and after the Valar call on Eru Ilúvatar (the supreme being of Tolkien’s cosmology) things really escalate. Eru Ilúvatar wipes out the Númenórean fleet along with the entire kingdom, in a cataclysmic event of literally world-changing proportions (we’re talking moving from flat earth to round earth here).

The few Númenóreans who survived Eru Ilúvatar’s judgment were largely those who stayed true to the old ways. Led by Elendil and his sons Isildur and Anárion (unlike in The Rings of Power, he doesn’t have a daughter too) they made their way to Middle-earth’s shores and founded the kingdoms of Arnor and Gondor — the latter of which plays a major role in The Lord of the Rings.

The Rings of Power

The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power’s Adar is a master of orcs

The Rings of Power

The Rings of Power’s two trees are a major invention for the Lord of the Rings canon

The Rings of Power

What if Rings of Power’s Sauron is just the most obvious person?

View all stories in Lord of the Rings

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon