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Tal-Elmar is the title of an incomplete narrative written during the early 1950s in two manuscripts with the second manuscript being written in January of 1955. In the story, the character Tal-Elmar is the main protagonist. The story offers a glimpse of the Númenórean colonization of Middle-earth from the perspective of its indigenous inhabitants and was published in the volume The Peoples of Middle-earth.
The story begins with a description of Tal-Elmar's father, Hazad Longbeard, a "harsh-tongued, heavy-handed, and quick to violence" man who lived in the town of Agar and had seventeen sons, but found even more joy in his five feet long beard. The people of Agar did not respect the elder, grudged them the food they had and didn't take care of them well but left their parents and cared for their own things alone. This was also the case with Hazad's sons except his youngest son who treated his father kindly and was named Tal-Elmar. He was unlike his brothers and all the people of Agar in mood and view, being tall, slender and fair skinned. He mostly stood aside those of his own kind and when angered he had a fierce look in his eyes, for which the people called him "Flint-eye". Hazad loved Tal-Elmar dearly, for he reminded him of his late mother Elmar and it was because of this reason he named him so. She was not from the same kind as Hazad's father. She was of the "Fell Folk" that came out of the East, moving ever west-wards and towards the shore of the sea, driving away the inhabitants. Fair and tall and flint-eyed they were and their weapons, so was said among the people of Agar, were made by demons in fiery hills. In a battle in the Valley of Ishmalog which a whole people of the Fell Folk, being on the move with wains, cattle and women, was ambushed, Hazad's mother was taken prisoner and later wedded by Buldar, Hazad's father, mostly against her wish. And Elmar said to Buldar that, though she was bound to live with him, she'll have her vengeance and that "in thy kin one shall arise who is mine alone. And with his arising shall come the end of thy people and the downfall of your king".
The story then turns back to Tal-Elmar and his father. Tal-Elmar's land was a region of green hills situated "three leagues away" from the shores of the Great Sea. From the top of a hill, in one Spring morning, Tal-Elmar and Hazad spotted four Númenórean ships, of which one had black sails, heading towards their lands. The two rushed towards their town to alert the rest of the people. In the time of the tale the "Go-hilleg" or "High Men of the Sea", as Númenóreans were called, were greatly feared, because they attacked and plundered those who dwelt on the shores of the sea and it was told among the people of Agar that they brought the captives onto the ship with the black sails, where they were kept until either slaughtered and eaten or sacrificed to the Dark.
Most of the town's inhabitants were out on the field and thus the only one who listened to the warning was the town-master Mogru, who feared and hated Tal-Elmar, because Tal-Elmar was unafraid of Mogru's power. He mocked them and the ill news, for the Númenóreans hadn't arrived in those lands during his lifetime. However, at their request he walked towards the hill and saw with his own eyes the threat. Wishing to endanger Tal-Elmar, he sent him towards the shore as a scout. After crossing the dark forest which all his people dreaded, he came closer to the shore and observed the ships from the top of a hill.
After gaining courage, he raised and walked towards the Númenóreans who had camped there already. From the distance, he resembled the Eldar and thus they restrained from attacking him, but once he spoke not in their tongue he was taken prisoner and the captain interrogated him.
The story of Tal-Elmar was not finished during the author's life and ends with some notes in which the author writes down ideas how to continue the story. Thus the hero's fate remained unknown. Yet it becomes clear that the Númenóreans recognize Tal-Elmar as somehow related to themselves and treat him kindly. One note states that Tal-Elmar surprisingly finds himself able to understand the language of the Númenóreans as it the "language of his dreams". The Númenóreans intend to occupy the lands and in alliances with the "Cruels" of the North to drive out the Dark Men and make a settlement to threaten "the King" (a following note indicates that the King is Sauron).
Mysteries of the Story
Various issues come up in the story of Tal-Elmar. It remains unclear where the town of Agar is situated. Christopher Tolkien assumes that it is placed in the Mouths of Anduin or Langstrand area. The author himself mentiones in a short note the estuary of Isen or Morthond. Isen is more or less ruled out, due to following assumptions on the Fell Folk's origin.
Also the time is not specified. Christopher Tolkien believes that it takes place before the Downfall of Númenor. The author himself doesn't seem certain about the timeframe, either. According to a short note it either takes place right at them time when Sauron is in Númenor or before, but it is not clear how long before.
The origin and identity of the "Fell Folk of the East" remains cryptical as well. Regarding where the story possibly takes place, the Fell Folk presumably belongs to the fraction of the Faithful. The haven of Pelargir, which lies east of the possible places, was founded in S.A. 2350. At the time the story might take place, many of the Faithful were perhaps already fleeing from the supression on Númenor to Pelargir and from there would colonize the lands that later became a part of Gondor and thus ran into conflict with the natives.
It is unknown too, which language the Númenóreans are actually using. They assuredly greeted Tal-Elmar in Sindarin, perceiving him at first as being one of the Eldar. If they belonged to the Faithful (according to one of the mariners they still have contact with the Elves) they might have continued interrogating him in Sindarin (supported by a short note), but also Adûnaic, so it is uncertain which language Tal-Elmar is able to understand. In any case he either knows Sindarin or Adûnaic, possibly a language his grandmother Elmar spoke though this also remains vague. If this is indeed the case, Tal-Elmar's grandmother has to be of Númenórean descend. But why then do the people of Agar not recognize that the Fell Folk and the "Go-hilleg" are the same people?
The "Cruels of the North" which are mentioned only once and with whom the Númenóreans are allied are possibly the Elves. Also the Drúedain might be mentioned as the "wild men of the woods" who inhabited the lands before the people of Agar drove them away.
Tolkien’s 1968 Return To Tal-Elmar
- "Beginnings of a tale that sees the Númenóreans from the point of view of the Wild Men. It was begun without much consideration of geography (or the situation as envisaged in The Lord of the Rings). But either it must remain as a separate tale only vaguely linked with the developed Lord of the Rings history, or — and I think so — it must recount the coming of the Númenóreans (Elf-friends) before the Downfall, and represent their choice of permanent havens. So the geography must be made to fit that of the mouths of Anduin and the Langstrand."
- ― Tolkien’s 1968 note on the geography of Tal-Elmar.The Peoples of Middle-earth, Tal-Elmar