Monday, October 12, 2015

J.R.R. Tolkien on Númenor’s Meneltarma, the Pillar of Heaven

I appreciate Professor Tolkien’s wisdom in treating the subject of religion with restraint. He understood that many people, like me, grow up with an irreligious background that automatically makes them uncomfortable or suspicious of religious content. Nevertheless, Tolkien had a strong, lively religious faith himself that guided him as he thought and wrote. If, like me, you come to a similar faith, you can recognize and delight in strands of it in Tolkien’s writings.

(Illustration by Feliche)
The Return of the King’s Appendix A on the early days of Númenor says, “There was a tall mountain in the midst of the land, the Meneltarma, and from its summit the farsighted could descry the white tower of the Haven of the Eldar [the Elves] in Eressëa.” Akallabêth, the part of The Silmarillion that tells about the tragic downfall of Númenor, gives us important details about the Meneltarma. It was “tall and steep”; its name means “the Pillar of Heaven, and upon it was a high place that was hallowed to Eru Ilúvatar” (the One true God according to Ainulindalë, the Creation story that begins The Silmarillion).

Professor Tolkien’s Unfinished Tales, in its description of Númenor, gives us details about the tall mountain “sacred to the worship of Eru Ilúvatar.” Three times each year the King of Númenor ascended the Meneltarma, “offering prayer for the coming of the year at the Erukyermë in the first days of spring, praise of Eru Ilúvatar at the Erulaitalë in midsummer, and thanksgiving to him at the Eruhantalë at the end of autumn.”

Always Dire When Tolkien Sends in the Eagles!
(Illustration by Weta Workshop)
Going back to The Silmarillion, when “the bliss of Westerness” (another name for Númenor) “became diminished… those that lived turned… to pleasure and revelry, desiring ever more goods and more riches; and after the days of Tar-Ancalimon the offering of the first fruits to Eru was neglected, and men went seldom any more to the Hallow upon the heights of Meneltarma in the midst of the land. During the reign of Ar-Pharazôn, the last king before the Downfall, “the Meneltarma was utterly deserted in those days; and though not even Sauron dared to defile the high place, yet the King would let no man, upon pain of death ascend to it, not even those of the Faithful who kept Ilúvatar in their hearts.” On the dread last day “smoke issued from the peak of the Meneltarma….Then the Eagles of the Lords of the West came up from out of the dayfall, and they were arrayed as for battle….Suddenly fire burst from the Meneltarma, and there came a mighty wind and a tumult of the earth, and the sky reeled, and the hills slid, and Númenor went down into the sea.”

Last Queen of Númenor
(Illustration by Ted Naismith)
Ships of Elendil and Isildur, the Faithful
(Illustration by Ted Naismith, 
whose talent adorns the cover of The Silmarillion)
The final words from The Silmarillion about the Meneltarma are these: “Last of all the mounting wave, green and cold and plumed with foam, climbing over the land, took to its bosom Tar-Míriel, the Queen, fairer than silver or ivory or pearls. Too late she strove to ascend the steep ways of the Meneltarma to the holy place; for the waters overtook her, and she was lost in the roaring of the wind….Nine ships there were [of the Faithful]: four for Elendil, and for Isildur three, and for Anárion two; and they fled before the black gale out of the twilight of doom into the darkness of the world. And the deeps rose beneath them in towering anger, and…cast them away upon the shores of Middle-earth….Among the Exiles many believed that the summit of the Meneltarma, the Pillar of Heaven, was not drowned forever, but rose again above the waves, a lonely island lost in the great waters; for it had been a hallowed place, and even in the days of Sauron none had defiled it….But they found it not. And those that sailed far came only to the new lands, and found them like to the old lands, and subject to death. And those that sailed furthest…returned weary at last to the place of their beginning; and they said: ‘All roads are now bent.’…Yet the Eldar [Elves] were permitted still to depart and to come to the Ancient West…if they would. Therefore the loremasters of Men said that a Straight Road must still be, for those who were permitted to find it.”

Good Will (another name for Gandalf?) 
Shows the Straight Road
(Illustration by F. Wentworth)
I wonder if, when Professor Tolkien in his fertile imagination began contemplating that Straight Road, he thought of the road in another work of fertile imaginationone of the few to outsell his, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Good Will tells the pilgrim, “I will teach you about the way you must go. Look before you: do you see this narrow way? That is the way you must go. It was made by the patriarchs, prophets, the Christ, and his apostles, and it is as straight as a rule can make it.” That word picture comes from the Bible, the greatest bestseller of all, where Christ concludes his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7 by saying,  “Enter through the narrow or straight gate, for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
Professor Tolkien's Map of Númenor

(Illustration by Jeff Murray)
The Hallows of the Meneltarma
(Illustration by matejcadil)
 That quote comes from a Tolkien interview described in this article.
(In another interview, Tolkien remarked, "Of course God is in The Lord of the Rings!")
The Bliss of Westerness Diminishes
(Illustration by Ted Naismith)
The Eagles Visit Figuratively, Then Literally
(Illustration by Ted Naismith)
The Faithful Await the Doom
(Illustration by Jeff Murray)

The Destruction of Númenor
(Illustration by mattleese87)
"The Drowning of Anadûnȇ" (Númenor) by John Howe
What Remains of the Meneltarma
(Illustration from Karen Wynn Fonstad's helpful Atlas of Middle-earth)
Remember the Straight Road and the Narrow Way!
(Illustration by Ka-Faraq-Gatri )

For more things Tolkien
  1.   Tolkienian Hope: A Christmas and Easter Gift from the Professors Tolkien
  2. An Enduring Friendship from Tolkien’s Legendarium 
  3.  J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings Reviewed by C.S. Lewis and Illustrated
  4. J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit Reviewed by C.S. Lewis and Illustrated 
  5. Illustrated Quotes from The Lord of the Rings—Part 1: The Fellowship 
  6. Illustrated Quotes from The Lord of the Rings—Part 3: The Return
  7. J.R.R. Tolkien on Foul Language—Orc Speech! 
  8. Are you interested in learning more about J.R.R. Tolkien and how he came to write The Lord of the Rings? See A Tale of Two Lieutenants: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien


  1. Crediting artists would be proper. I recognise several each by John Howe, Ted Nasmith and Jef Murray, and a map by Karen Wynn Fonstad, but others I can’t identify.

  2. Thank you, Mithrennaith, for bringing this to my attention! I was so entranced by what I was reading about the Meneltarma, as soon as I was done I poured over all the images I could find on Google to adorn Tolkien's blessed text. Since I gave credit to the different texts, I should have thought to give credit to the skilled artists who created such worthy illustrations! Rectifying that mistake is my next job. Again, thanks!