The concept of Numenor entered Tolkien's Legendarium in 1936 (according to the introduction to The Lost Road, by Christopher Tolkien) - a couple of decades after the world was first conceived in the Lost Tales - during Tolkien's military years of World War One.
This entailed inserting a Second Age into the chronology of Tolkien's world - which was a lot of work and added many complications including a 'Second Fall' of Man - as he called it. The First Fall of Man was a fall into worshipping Morgoth as if he was The One God, and that came before the Elves met Men, and thus before the recorded history of the Simarillion).
So I think it is reasonable to assume that Numenor served some very important function (or functions) for Tolkien - brought something or some-things he had come to regard as vitally important.
So, the question is what was the function of Numenor in Tolkien's world - why did he feel a need to insert a 'Second Age' into his chronology?
My answer is that in essence Numenor served as a bridge between Elves and Men (the relationship of which is the main underlying theme of Tolkien's stories - taken as a whole).
In the first place, Numenor is physically situated between Elfland and England (or The British Isles) - much closer to Elfland (Tol Erresea) but a 'half-way-house' nonetheless.
2. Racial characteristics
Numenorean-Men are mid-way between Elves and Men, share characteristics of both; in a sense Numenoreans are 'mortal Elves' since they combine (almost) High Elven artistic and scientific skills and 'magic' (healing, intuition, far-sight, fore-sight etc) with Man's mortality; regarded as the Gift to Men from Eru - that gift being the privilege to leave the confines of the world after death (therefore with the hope of true immortality, rather than the Elvish prospect of life in this world serially continued, but until the end of the world only).
Indeed, it seems that the Valar may have been hoping that the Numenoreans would have been better than either Elves or Men - the best of both worlds, in effect!
And perhaps in a sense Numenoreans were the best-of-both, at first; although they ended-up being the worst of both worlds (High Elvish power with Mannish greed and impatience...) - since neither Elves nor ordinary Men ever did anything of such appalling blasphemy as to make war upon the Valar in their own domain.
3. Ennoblement of Men
The Numenoreans were the basis for the ennoblement of Men by Elves - both by blood and by blessing.
By blood because of the infusions from those rare marriages between Men and High Elves - Beren and Luthien (half High Elf, half Maia - minor god), Tuor and Idril, and much later Aragorn and Arwen.
(Perhaps of relevance is the union of a Numenorean Prince of Dol Amroth with a Silvan Elf - but from the rather casual and indifferent way this is mentioned and its vaguely legendary status, it seems that marraiges between Men and Silvan Elves may have been bother commoner and less much significant than when High Elves were involved - http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Princes_of_Dol_Amroth ).
But also by blessing.
I have commented that High Elves seem able to make a Man (or Hobbit) into an Elf-Friend by simply pronouncing it:
To be an Elf-Friend is to be a partly Elven in terms of certain 'magical' enhancements, and to have a partially Elven nature implanted.
Similarly, but much more powerfully, the Numenoreans seem to have been given a blessing by the Valar - to make them into a race of (as it were) permanent Elf-Friends.
This seems to be a necessary explanation because it seems very unlikely, almost inconceivable, that all the Numenoreans get their Elvish enhancements by genetic descent from Elros - the brother of Elrond and original Half-Elven Founding Father King of Numenor.
Also, Tolkien once said (I think in one of his Letters) that the union of Aragorn and Arwen and the residual Numenorean lineage of Arnor and Gondor was (fictively) how later, modern man had been ennobled (somewhat) with an Elvish strain.
My feeling is that this was not meant to be a direct genetic kind of inheritance, but a more diffuse and spiritual kind of blood relationship; which also involved some kind of 'blessing' conferred by the greater on the lesser - analogous to Gildor and Frodo.
But that notion is very speculative indeed!
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