Dystopian fiction can offer a curious consolation in dark times. There is comfort of a sort in the knowledge that our current troubles were foreseen by others: this shows, if nothing else, the evils of our age are not as chaotic as they sometimes seem. On the contrary, they conform to a pattern that can be predicted and perhaps even evaded. Indeed, I imagine many of my readers habitually compare 21st century America to a favored dystopian world: A Brave New World or 1984 or The Lord of the World. Today, I write to propose another: J.R.R. Tolkien’s Akallabêth, the tale of the fall of Númenor.
Suggesting the Silmarillion as an analogue to contemporary politics is admittedly counterintuitive. As Tolkien repeatedly insisted, he did not write allegory at all—much less overtly political allegory on the model of Animal Farm. But this does not mean that his works have no relevance for the world we live in. Tolkien’s native intellect, his learning, and (above all) his practical faith gave him a keen insight into human nature—man’s glory and frailty, and his distressingly predictable patterns of sin. It is therefore reasonable to suspect that Tolkien’s tale of the fall of Númenor—the greatest and most glorious kingdom of men in his imagined world—might tell us something about the decline of America—the greatest power the world has yet seen.
With this in mind, let us consider Tolkien’s tale of decadence, corruption, and eventual catastrophe. In Tolkien’s myth, the island kingdom of Númenor was created as an earthly paradise for men who faithfully resisted the evil of Morgoth—Tolkien’s Satan—in the First Age of the Middle Earth. But nothing in the world can last forever, and centuries of happiness and faithful religion eventually gave way in Númenor to decadence and corruption.