Akallabêth ("The Downfallen" in Adûnaic; Quenya is Atalantë) is the story of the destruction of the Kingdom of Númenor. At the end of the First Age (described in detail in the Quenta Silmarillion), those of Men who had been helping Elves in their fight against Melkor were given a new small continent of their own, free from the evil and sadness of Middle-earth. It was located in the middle of the Great Sea, between the western shores of Middle-earth, and the eastern shores of Aman, where the Valar dwelt.
As they entered Númenor, the Men were forbidden to sail westward such that they were beyond the sight of Númenor--"the Ban" as it became known. As a result, the majority of their voyaging was eastward and in time they returned to the shores of Middle-Earth. For two and a half thousand years Númenor grew in bliss. Númenórean ships sailed the seas and established remote colonies in Middle-earth. During that time, the Elves of Middle-earth were engaged in a bitter fight with Morgoth's former servant Sauron, who had turned into a Dark Lord himself. Gil Galad asked for the help of the Númenóreans, and they agreed. King Minastir sent an army to the aid of the Elves and its timely arrival ensured victory over Sauron. But having tasted the power of conquest and victory in arms it was only a matter of time before the Númenoreans made settlements of their own in Middle-Earth. Many began to speak openly of their envy of the Eldar's immortality and defiance of the Ban. It appeared to the Valar that the shadow of Morgoth had returned to plague their hearts. Emissaries of the Valar came to Númenor, seeking to remind them that death was not given as a punishment. But the people of Númenor became split between the King's men--those loyal to the king and prone to oppose the restraints upon Númenor, and the Faithful--those who remained true to their friendship with the Eldar and loyalty to the Valar. As time went on, Númenor continued to grow in wealth and might and yet somehow their bliss was diminished.
After the defeat of Sauron half-way through the second Age he retreated to the security of Bárad Dur as his hatred of Númenor grew. As the Númenoreans established colonies along the shores of Middle-Earth Sauron eventually assailed them. By the time of the last king of Númenor Sauron had staked his claim on the title of king of all Men. Ar-Phârazôn, last king of Númenor claimed this title for himself. He came, with a great host, to the shore of Middle-Earth at Umbar and bade Sauron come before him and bow to the might of the king. Sauron, to the surprise of some, did. But the king was not content with this, and brought Sauron back to Númenor as hostage. Sauron agreed to this giving the impression it was against his will. But in truth it was exactly what he wanted. Sauron exploited his power to corrupt the Númenórean king to his will. Soon he became his advisor, and much of Númenor obeyed his will and worshiped Morgoth. Sauron convinced the king to try and assail Aman for immortality, desiring to destroy Númenor with the wrath of the Valar. However as this was done, the Valar appealed to Eru Ilúvatar. Eru destroyed the Númenórean host, by crushing it under stones; however he also caused the whole of Númenor to sink under the Great Sea. Just a few men of Númenórean royal blood, uncorrupted by Sauron who came from a long line called the Faithful, had fled Númenor by ships earlier with some gifts that Men received from the Valar and the Elves in times of peace. They were led by Elendil the Tall, and his two sons: Isildur and Anárion.
They set sail to Middle-earth, where the followers of Elendil established two kingdoms which were managed as Númenórean provinces: Gondor in the south, and Arnor in the North. Some of the King's Men, enemies of Elendil, established other realms in exile to the south; of these the Haven of Umbar was the chief. The culture of Númenor became the dominant culture of Middle-earth (thus, Westron, a descendant of the Adûnaic language of Númenor became the Common Speech). The sadness and the shock from the loss of a whole continent lived ever in the hearts of kings of Númenórean descent. Arda was made spherical, and Aman was put beyond it, out of the reach of mortal men. Sauron, although greatly diminished and bereft of shape, escaped Númenor and return to Middle-earth once more.
The story originated with The Lost Road, an abandoned time-travel novel. The story also forms a major element in The Notion Club Papers, likewise an abandoned time-travel novel. Other versions of the story include various texts called The Fall of Númenor and the version in the "Mannish Tradition," The Drowning of Anadûnê. These texts can be found in HoME Volume IX, Sauron Defeated. A highly abbreviated version of the story is found in Appendix A of The Lord of the Rings.
As the Quenya name makes obvious, this is a retelling of the story of Atlantis in the Middle-earth cadre. Though as Tolkien himself noted, the Root TALAT 'Slope, sliding' occured in the Elvish languages back to C. 1918, well before the Numenor Legend was invented.
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