Appendix A (Part One)
The first Appendix is useful for anyone who could use some clarification on the history of Men, in particular the story of the Numenoreans. Who were they? Where did they come from? What made them more special than other races of men? Appendix A reads like a real history and Tolkien's narrative style is that of an historian who is summarizing information that he derived from primary documents. Before writing The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien had sketched out a lot of material concerning the history of Middle-Earth. Most of it concerned the Elves in the Elder Days and would end up being published in The Silmarillion. But the history of Numenor and the two realms in exile, Arnor and Gondor, are very relevant to how things led up to the War of the Ring.
I'm not going to go through all of it. It occurs to me that summarizing a story that Tolkien himself is already summarizing is a waste of time. Besides, if I discussed it all it would take away any incentive for you to actually read the Appendices yourself. I will, however, mention a number of interesting things that you can learn from experiencing them first hand.
In Tolkien's universe, a lot of stuff happened before Middle-Earth was even created. But in Appendix A, Tolkien picks up at the end of the First Age when Elrond and his twin brother Elros were born to Earendil, a man of mixed lineage. Like their father, Elrond and Elros were both half-elven and were given the choice of which race they wished to be by the Valar. Elrond, of course, chose to be of Elf-kind. Elros, on the other hand, chose to be mortal although he and his people were granted lifespans many times those of lesser men.
Elros was the first High King of Numenor and the men of this race were granted their own island, far west of the lands of Middle-Earth. Numenor is Tolkien's Atlantis legend, adapted to his own created history. Here he sketches out the events that led to the island's destruction and how Elendil, a descendent of Elros, led a group of Numenoreans to Middle-Earth aboard nine ships and escaped the catastrophe. They brought with them seven palantiri, gifts of the Elves, and a seedling of the White Tree Nimloth which comes to symbolize their race. This story is given further development in the chapter of The Silmarillion titled "Akallabeth".
Elendil established the Numenorean realms of Arnor - located in the North in Eriador - and Gondor - in the south, within sight of Mordor. Elendil ruled as High King over both territories and his two sons, Isildur and Anarion, ruled Gondor jointly in his name. How the Last Alliance of Men and Elves was formed to defeat Sauron is described. After the death of Elendil, Isildur becomes the next High King, but he never makes it to Arnor because of the disaster at the Gladden Fields. I would note that an entire account of the attack on Isildur's army and the loss of the Ring is included in the book Unfinished Tales Of Numenor And Middle-Earth. Isildur's one surviving son succeeds him and Anarion's son rules Gondor. Over time the High King would follow in this line, ruling from Annuminas, even though Gondor exists fairly autonomously in the south.
Tolkien then traces the fates of both Arnor and Gondor separately. He describes how Arnor diminished and was divided into three smaller kingdoms. The Witch-King of Angmar - who was the Lord of the Nazgul - made war on the people of Eriador to the point where the kingdom was broken and the line of kings had to be continued in secret through the chieftains of the Dunedain, who became a wandering people. Then he describes the history of Gondor, which found its own struggles against the Men of Harad. In both of these accounts, we learn how three of the palantiri are lost. We also see how the city of Minas Ithil falls into the hands of the enemy and becomes Minas Morgul.
There is also an entire section devoted to the Stewards. I always knew that King Earnur was the last King of Gondor but I had forgotten that the reason the Stewards wait for a return of the King is because, when he goes off to meet the challenge of the Witch-King, there are no witnesses to his death. Therefore, it became tradition for the Stewards to rule Gondor without actually taking the thrones themselves. And the line of Stewards, also related to the Numenorean blood of the Kings, passed down the office to the eldest son.
One of the most interesting passages in the section on the Stewards tells of Ecthelion II, father of Denethor. He was a wise and just Steward who took the counsel of a man who was called Thorongil by the people of Gondor. He had come to Ecthelion after having been in the service of King Thengel, Theoden's father, but he was not a man of Rohan. Thorongil served the Steward by leading a battle against the men of Umbar who threatened Gondor from the south. He also counseled Ecthelion to be wary of Saruman the White and to trust in Gandalf the Grey. But Thorongil departed a few years before Ecthelion's death. Before he even succeeded his father, Denethor was suspicious of Thorongil's background and saw him as a potential rival for the rule of Gondor.
He was correct because Thorongil was actually Aragorn. It was said that Denethor was able to discover the truth about Thorongil's identity as the Chieftain of the Northern Dunedain and was ever after wary that he would return and try to supplant him with the aid of Mithrandir (Gandalf). This fear played a part in motivating Denethor's secretiveness, driving him to look into the palantir of Minas Tirith. During the siege of Gondor, Denethor believed that "this Ranger from the North" was returning to the White City to make his claim to the throne. I don't recall if it is mentioned in the text of The Lord of the Rings, but at the time of the War of the Ring Aragorn is eighty-seven years old. As one of pure Numenorean blood, he aged slowly as one who would eventually live three times the average lifespan of other men.
Tolkien also tells much of the story between Aragorn and Arwen. Peter Jackson saw fit to include this story in his film trilogy. Here we find out about Aragorn's lineage and how he came to live with Elrond in Rivendell after his father's death. Elrond gave him the name Estel (which means "hope") to protect his identity. It was there that he first saw Arwen, who was visiting from her mother's land of Lothlorien. He fell in love with her. When Aragorn turned twenty years old, Elrond told Aragorn of his true heritage. He also guessed Aragorn's love for his daughter. Aragorn left Rivendell and endured many trials, exploring the lands of Middle-Earth. The burden of expectation lay heavy upon him. At one point, he encountered Arwen again in Lothlorien. It was then that they betrothed themselves to each other on the fair hill of Ceren Amroth.
It was Arwen's choice to forsake the ship that would bear her to the Uttermost West with her people, but though Elrond loved Aragorn like a son he insisted that his daughter should not "diminish her life's grace for less cause" than Aragorn's fulfillment of his destiny and the restoration of the line of the High King. Aragorn knew this would only be possible if Sauron were destroyed and he dedicated himself to this cause until it came to being through the War of the Ring. And as we know they were married and Elrond sailed to the Undying Lands without his daughter.
The tale of their marriage over the one hundred and twenty years that followed is bittersweet. At last Aragorn died and their son Eldarion became the new King. Arwen succumbed to her grief:
"But Arwen went forth from the House, and the light of her eyes was quenched, and it seemed to her people that she had become cold and grey as nightfall in winter that comes without a star. Then she said farewell to Eldarion, and to her daughters, and to all whom she had loved; and she went out from the city of Minas Tirith and passed away to the land of Lorien, and dwelt there alone under the fading trees until winter came. Galadriel had passed away and Celeborn also was gone, and the land was silent."At last, Arwen laid herself down on the hill of Cerin Amroth where she first declared her love and commitment to Aragorn and died. It's a sad ending to their story, but one that makes you appreciate all the more the choice that she had to make. It's perhaps fitting that we should think about this love story on Valentine's Day.
Next up, we'll finish Appendix A with the history of the people of Rohan and of the Dwarves.