Tuesday 20 September 2011

The lesson of Numenor


(Of course there is no single lesson to derive from the Numenor myth; a true myth is not an allegory but a sub-creation with a life of its own.)


The Numenoreans were given peace and plenty, they were freed from bodily suffering and illness, they were given a beautiful and safe place to dwell, their intelligence and skill were enhanced, they had the friendship and help of the high elves.

Their life span was extended about threefold, so they would have enough time to bring their schemes to fruition.

But they remained Men: mortal men. And for all their enhancements they had the faults of men.


What did they do - what did they make of their opportunities?

For a while they were satisfied to live well - enjoying the simple things of human life enriched by disinterested learning, art, and religion - and faithfully accepted death when it was due...

Then they became scientists and technologists, almost matching the high elves in their ingenious devices, the greatest mariners the world had seen, the greatest military power...

for a while.


But soon they got bored, felt constrained, wanted a change, wanted power and to dominate, wanted the worship and subservience of lesser men - wanted all this and nothing less than than this; here, now and forever.

Wanted perfect satisfaction of all their desires: Good and evil. Wanted permanent worldly gratification.


They rejected beauty for power, rejected truth and freedom for propaganda and totalitarian coercion, disbelieved in the virtue of the one God and his Valar - eventually, in a final rapid spiral down into the pit, embraced the worship of 'the dark lord' Morgoth because they believed he could grant them their desires.

Sensing their own degeneration and decline, ignoring argument, refusing repentance,the Numenoreans built a massive armament and assaulted the gods by force, to take what they wanted - to be gods on earth - and were destroyed in a cataclysmic remaking of the world.

In grasping at gratification of all their desires, they embraced destruction: nihilism.


Numenor is modern man, conceptualized as being enhanced in both individual and social capability but failing to use these gifts for spiritual purposes; and instead pursuing more and ever more personal and material goals, never satisfied yet insatiable - grasping at more life, more power, more pleasure; at first with energy and zeal, then with fear and exhaustion, finally with despair and insane self-hatred...


Repentance and renewal was possible for Numenor at any moment up till the last - the gods and the One held back their justice until they had no choice but to act - but repentance was blocked by pride.

The Numenoreans were insane, having embraced insanity by incremental steps, until - I guess, perhaps - the clearing of illusion at the very end. At the very end when utter failure was obvious and imminent, it is likely death and destruction, annihilation, was chosen.

Chosen on the same basis that Denethor (one of the last true Numenoreans) described in his despair:

"...if doom denies this to me, then I will have naught: neither life diminished, nor love halved, nor honour abated. (...) But in this at least though shalt not defy my will: to rule my own end."

Thus is pride the strongest of sins, thus is damnation chosen at the last.




George Goerlich said...

I still have trouble with understanding pride as the greatest sin, but it appears that here we have an excellent example. Thank you!

Bruce Charlton said...

@GG - Finally understanding how pride is the greatest sin was - I recall - one of the final steps in becoming Christian (lack of understanding had been a 'stumbling block'): I got the understanding from CS Lewis's Mere Christianity, I think.