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The Cycles and Dreams behind Tolkien's Mythopoeia

“When our real-life stores are touched by the power of archetypal stories we sometimes experience the kind of magic that Jung called synchronicity – a term he coined to describe the alignment of universal forces with the life experiences of an individual, a time when things come together for us because we and they are part of a greater whole. When these moments occur in stories they profoundly affect the destinies of the characters involved. When they happen to us they can change our lives too.” Geoff Mead, Coming Home to Story


Tolkien in his mythology talked about the downfall of a civilisation – the drowning of the island of Númenor which was known after its sinking as Atalantë, (a Quenya word meaning the ‘downfallen.’) This drew parallels to the legend of Atlantis - both were highly advanced civilisations which collapsed under the waves of the sea. Tolkien even described in various letters his own 'Atlantis complex' and 'Atlantis-haunting' since in many dreams he had witnessed a great wave and the drowning of the land. Amazingly, even his son Michael experienced similar dreams without prior knowledge of Tolkien's experiences. It is also interesting to note that Tolkien's book The Lost Road, featured the stories of a pair of a father and son in different eras including the time of the Akallabêth (downfall) of Númenor which featured Elendil and his father, Amandil. As a survivor of the downfall (he left with nine ships) Elendil went on to become the first King of Gondor and Arnor and was the father of Isildur who cut the one ring from the finger of Sauron.

Elendil by Kimberly


"I say this about the 'heart', for I have what some might call an Atlantis complex. Possibly inherited, though my parents died too young for me to know such things about them, and too young to transfer such things by words. Inherited from me (I suppose) by one only of my children, [note: Tolkien's second son Michael] though I did not know that about my son until recently, and he did not know it about me. I mean the terrible recurrent dream (beginning with memory) of the Great Wave, towering up, and coming in ineluctably over the trees and green fields. (I bequeathed it to Faramir.) I don't think I have had it since I wrote the 'Downfall of Númenor' as the last of the legends of the First and Second Age." From Letter 163.


"Of all the mythical or 'archetypal' images this is the one most deeply seated in my imagination, and for many years I had a recurrent Atlantis dream : the stupendous and ineluctable wave advancing from the Sea or over the land, sometimes dark, sometimes green and sunlit." From Letter 276.

The Drowning of Numenor by John Howe


In Númenor, many of the people of long-life had turned away from the One God, Eru Ilúvatar and had rebelled against the angelic powers known as the Valar under the scheming spell of Sauron and in jealously of the immortality of the elves. The Elendili, (also known as Elf-friends) however, were a faction of Númenóreans who continued their relationship with the elves and remained devoted to the Valar. The last king of the Númenóreans was Ar-Pharazôn who was convinced by Sauron to sail into Aman, breaking the ban of the Valar and “going up with war against the Deathless, to wrest from them everlasting life within the Circles of the World.” His fleets arrived on the isle of Tol Eressëa and the seaport of Avallónë which was the city closest to Valinor, the realm of the Valar in the continent of Aman, home of the Valar. Tol Eressëa was the home of the Eldar and was an island located off the eastern coast of Aman. When the ships set sail from Middle-earth to the Undying Lands or Aman, it was said that the tower of Avallónë was the first sight to be beheld in this city, with its harbour of lamplit quays. The name Avallónë draws similarities with Avalon, the mystical Otherworld found in Britain. The island of Aman also drew parallels with many faery legends of a heavenly island in the Western ocean such as Avalon and Annwn of British and Welsh mythology; it also drew similarities with The Elysian Fields, Elysium and the Isles of the Blessed of Greek mythology as well as Hy Brasil. Emain Ablach and Tír na nÓg of Irish mythology.

Sentinel Bay, Númenor by Sarel Theron


By his pride, King Ar-Pharazôn and his fleets kept moving into the coasts of Valinor and standing on the shore he claimed the land for himself and they camped at Túna, a green hill in Aman and all the Eldar fled. Then it was that Eru Ilúvatar stepped in and broke open the seas between Númenor and the Undying Lands and all the fleets of the Númenóreans were swallowed up and King Ar-Pharazôn was buried under falling hills and imprisoned there until the days of the Last Battle. The lands of Aman and Tol Eressëa were then taken away beyond the reach of men and Númenor (also known as Andor or Elenna of the Star of Eärendil) was destroyed; being east of the rift its foundations collapsed and new lands and new seas were made:


“And even the name of that land perished, and Men spoke thereafter not of Elenna, nor of Andor the Gift that was taken away, nor of Númenórë on the confines of the world; but the exiles on the shores of the sea, if they turned towards the West in the desire of their hearts, spoke of Mar-nu-Falmar that was whelmed in the waves, Akallabêth the Downfallen, Atalantë in the Eldarin tongue.”

“Numenor” by Feliche


In a letter to Mrs E. C. Ossen Drijver dated the 5th of January, 1961, Tolkien wrote the following about the legends of Númenor in which he confirmed a deeper nugget concerning his mythology and how it spoke to deep, ancient stories within our collective psyche:


“They are my own use for my own purposes of the Atlantis legend, but not based on special knowledge, but on a special personal concern with this tradition of the culture-bearing men of the Sea, which so profoundly affected the imagination of peoples of Europe with westward-shores.”


He also described, in this letter, how he had been encouraged to keep writing during the second-world war by his friend C.S. Lewis who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia and had heard all of The Lord of the Rings, read aloud to him; the ‘Numinor’ Lewis described in his book, That Hideous Strength, was intended to be a reference to Tolkien’s Númenor. In Tolkien’s mythology Númenor was an island to the West of Middle-earth, to the west of which were found the Undying Lands which the Númenóreans were forbidden to enter since it was prohibited to mortals. In Lewis’s book, Numinor is described as being true West where wisdom was found in a time before Druidism, Great Disasters and the pre-glacial periods. In the preface to his book, Lewis wrote:


“Those who would like to learn further about Numinor and the True West must (alas!) await the publication of much that still exists only in the MSS. of my friend, Professor J.R.R. Tolkien.”


Tolkien’s description of Avallónë and Atalantë as potential parallels of Avalon and Atlantis fascinated me - his writings seemed to be embedded with magic and even though he said himself that he did not like allegory, there seemed to be something deeper working through these tales. It was possible to see the evidence of cycles and ages which mirrored the ages of mankind. To see with this understanding that the universe passes through immense cycles is to glimpse through the eye of the divine feminine. When we see through this lens we are not quick to fall into despair when we witness mass destruction – when we see how whole civilisations such as Atlantis can collapse we can understand it through a broader lens. With every death, there is a rebirth and wisdom can never be lost. In Hindu cosmology, the universe is not understood to have a start or end but is rather cyclical and divided into epochs or Yuga. In Tolkien’s cosmology, he wrote about the end of days and a new world which would emerge from its ‘ashes’ and in the Akallabêth he wrote about the Last Battle and Day of Doom. In The Shaping of Middle-earth, he included a prophesy by Mandos that the forces of the Valar would fight Morgoth who would be finally destroyed by the hand of Túrin at the last battle. The Dagor Dagorath was the Sindarin word for ‘battle of battles,’ representing the end times. In The Book of Lost Tales, it was said that Eönwë would kill Melkor (Morgoth) to avenge the loss of Arien, the guardian of the sun. After which, it was written that the three silmarils would be recovered from the earth, sea and sky and from them the Two Trees would be rekindled – the battle would end, the elves would awaken and Arda would be renewed. After this would arise the Second Music of the Ainur – a song which would sing the new world into existence and this music would be greater than the first. Even the Ainur did not have any knowledge of the second world or the second music. This story gives me great comfort and hope. There is a sense that even from great death and doom, something more beautiful than we could ever imagine can arise.

Parting from Eressea by Billy Mosig - (the isle of Tol Eressëa was also known as the Lonely Island and its major town was the harbour of Avallónë.

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