|Tolkien's legendarium character|
|Aliases||High King of Arnor and Gondor|
|Book(s)||The Lord of the Rings
In The Lord of the Rings, he was first mentioned in The Fellowship of the Ring as a Dúnadan of Númenor, elder son of Elendil. A more complete history appears in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. He was the second king of Gondor (jointly with his brother Anárion until the latter's death) and the second king of Arnor. He cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand, and was its bearer until he was killed by orcs. His name means "devoted to the moon". In a note written well after the initial publication of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien gave Isildur's height as seven feet tall.
As detailed in the appendices of The Return of the King, Isildur was born in the year 3209 of the Second Age in Númenor, the first son of Elendil son of Amandil, the last Lord of Andúnië. Isildur had four sons: Elendur, Aratan, Ciryon, and Valandil.
In Isildur's youth, Númenor's King Ar-Pharazôn was corrupted by Sauron, who urged that Nimloth the White Tree be cut down. Isildur went to the court of the king in disguise and stole a fruit of the tree. He was severely wounded in his escape, but his sacrifice was not in vain: Nimloth was cut down and burned shortly afterward, but the line of the White Tree continued. When Númenor was destroyed by Ilúvatar, Elendil's family escaped in seven ships.
Isildur in Middle-earth
The refugees from Númenor fled east to the continent of Middle-earth. Isildur's father Elendil landed in the north, founding the realm of Arnor, while Isildur and his brother Anárion landed in the south and established the realm of Gondor, which they ruled jointly until Anárion was killed in Mordor.
Isildur settled on the east bank of the Anduin and established the city of Minas Ithil (which would later be named Minas Morgul), as well as the province of Ithilien. His throne and his brother Anárion's stood side by side in the city of Osgiliath. However, in S.A. 3429 Sauron captured Minas Ithil and destroyed the White Tree. Isildur and his family escaped down the Anduin by boat, bearing with them a seedling of the tree. They sailed to Lindon, seeking the Elven High King Gil-galad and Elendil in Arnor. Anárion bought time for Gondor by defending Osgiliath and driving the Dark Lord back to the mountains, while Elendil and Gil-galad marshalled their forces.
As told in The Fellowship of the Ring, Isildur returned with Elendil and Gil-galad in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men in 3434. After the Alliance was victorious over Sauron's host at the Battle of Dagorlad, they advanced into Mordor and laid siege to Barad-dûr. When Minas Ithil was recaptured, Isildur sent his younger sons Aratan and Ciryon to man that fortress, which would prevent Sauron and his forces from escaping that way. Isildur was accompanied throughout the war by his eldest son Elendur. The campaign in Mordor was long and bitter, and Anárion was slain by a stone from the Dark Tower.
Besieged in the Dark Tower for seven years, the enemy was all but defeated, and Sauron appeared to challenge the king. During the final battle on the slopes of Mount Doom, Elendil and Gil-galad were both slain in combat with the Dark Lord, but Sauron's mortal form was slain as well. The Second Age ended, and Isildur became High King of Arnor and Gondor.
Isildur immediately took the hilt-shard of his sword which had broken and cut the One Ring from the hand of Sauron's mortal form. Despite the urging of Elrond and Círdan, Gil-galad's lieutenants, Isildur did not throw the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom. Isildur made a scroll with a description of the Ring and a copy of its fading inscription. This scroll was archived in Minas Anor and discovered by Gandalf nearly an Age later.
After the fall of Sauron, the greater part of the army of Arnor returned home while Isildur stayed in Gondor for a year, restoring order and defining its boundaries. He planted the seedling of the White Tree in Minas Anor in memory of Anárion. As his brother's helm had been crushed during his death at Barad-dûr, Isildur left his own helm as Gondor's crown. He installed Anárion's son Meneldil as King of Gondor, and returned north en route to Arnor with his three sons. He made first for Rivendell, where his wife and fourth son Valandil had stayed behind throughout the War of the Last Alliance.
Tolkien wrote two differing accounts of the battle leading to Isildur's end:
The Silmarillion, which is told from the point of the view of the Eldar, states that Isildur had set no guard in his camp at night, deeming that all his foes had been overthrown, and orcs attacked him there.
In Unfinished Tales, Tolkien gives a fuller account, writing that Isildur was ambushed on the march by orcs. Isildur had left Minas Anor with a party of some 200 soldiers. His men had to march; their horses were mainly beasts of burden, not for riding. They had two dozen archers, armed with the deadly Númenórean steel bows, but their numbers were too few to be effective.
Isildur chose the route along the Anduin rather than the safer but longer North-South road. Sauron, however, had deployed an army of orcs east of the Misty Mountains to attack stragglers of the Last Alliance. The orcs did not show themselves when the armies of the Elves and Men passed by, but they were easily more than a match for Isildur's small company.
Isildur was assailed at sunset. Though the first orc sortie were beaten off, they regrouped and surrounded Isildur's party to prevent his escape. When nightfall came, the orcs assaulted him from all sides.
The Dúnedain were surrounded and outnumbered. Ciryon was slain and Aratan mortally wounded in a failed attempt to rescue Elendur, who urged his father to flee. Isildur put on the Ring, hoping to escape under the cover of invisibility. Fleeing to the Anduin, he cast off his armour and tried to swim to the other side of the river, but the Ring slipped (of its own volition) from his finger. Isildur felt that the Ring was missing and was momentarily dismayed; but with the burden of the Ring removed he rallied and made for the opposite bank. Despite the darkness, the Elendilmir that he was wearing betrayed his position to orcs on the far bank, who were seeking survivors from the attack, and they killed him with their poisoned arrows. Isildur's squire, Ohtar, saved his sword from the enemy, fleeing into the valley before the orcs encircled Isildur's company. Estelmo, Elendur's squire, was found alive under his master's body, stunned by a club.
The Elves from Thranduil's kingdom quickly got word of the attack, although they were too late to save any of the Dúnedain. They organized a counter-attack, destroying the orcs before they could mutilate the bodies of Isildur's company.
During the War of the Ring (as chronicled in the Lord of the Rings), Sauron's servants searched the Gladden Fields but failed to find any traces of Isildur's remains. Their efforts were hampered by Saruman, who had deceived Sauron's servants — indeed, the White Wizard had gotten there first before the Dark Lord. After the overthrow of Saruman and the opening of Orthanc (both portrayed in The Two Towers), Gimli found a hidden closet which contained the original Elendilmir, which was presumed lost when Isildur died.
In a short work called The Fall of Númenor, written before 1937, Tolkien wrote of two brothers named Elendil and Valandil who escaped the destruction of Númenor and founded two kingdoms in Middle-Earth, Elendil in the north and Valandil in the south. Valandil was thus a precursor to the later Isildur, although in this work he was not Elendil's son but his brother.
Shortly after this, Tolkien started what he called a "time travel" story called The Lost Road in which a father-son pair would reappear time and again in human families throughout history. Only two chapters were written, one set in or near the present day with the father named Oswin and the son Alboin, and one set in Númenor just before its fall, with the father named Elendil and the son Herendil. Here, Valandil was now the name of Elendil's father. (There are also some notes for a third chapter set in Anglo-Saxon times with the father named Ælfwine and the son Ealdwine.) It seems that Herendil (later Isildur) and his father were going to escape the destruction of Númenor as in The Fall of Númenor, but the story did not progress that far before it was abandoned.
In one of the earliest manuscripts of The Lord of the Rings, written in 1938, in the chapter which would later be called The Shadow of the Past, Gandalf tells Frodo (then called Bingo) that his ring "fell from the hand of an elf as he swam across a river".:78 Although Isildur was not an elf, this was the earliest germ of the story of Isildur's death.:85 In the next version of this part of the story, Isildur himself appeared, first named Ithildor, then changed to Isildor. As in the final story, he was described as a man who cut the One Ring from the finger of Sauron after his father (here named Orendil) defeated Sauron in single combat, then lost it while swimming across a river to escape Orcs.:261
Portrayals in adaptations
In Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film, Isildur (called Prince Isildur of the mighty Kings from across the Sea) appears as the events of the Last Alliance are portrayed in silhouette. He is called "the heroic shadow who slipped in" to chop off the One Ring from Sauron's finger. Later, he is sitting at the base of a tree by the River Anduin examining the One Ring. Sensing a disturbance, he draws his sword, but is shot by Orc arrows a moment later.
In Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy Isildur is portrayed by Harry Sinclair. He briefly appears in the first scenes of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and in an extended flashback scene later on. In the theatrical versions, Anárion and heirs do not appear nor are mentioned at all, and Arnor does not figure at all. In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Legolas refers to Isildur as "the last king of Gondor". However, in the extended edition, both Arnor and the House of Anárion are mentioned, and at times it is clear that Isildur was not the last King. In the first film, Isildur and Elrond go to the Crack of Doom where he refuses to destroy the Ring; however, Tolkien never wrote that he went to the Crack himself, only that he was advised to. In all versions, Isildur does not speak save for one word -"No"- when he refuses to throw the ring into the Crack of Doom. This line was not spoken by Sinclair, but by Hugo Weaving, who played Elrond. The Disaster of the Gladden Fields is also depicted in Jackson's first film, with Isildur's column of mounted troops being ambushed on a dark forest road.
Cadet branch of the House of AndúniëBorn: 3209 Second Age Died: 2 Third Age
||2nd King of Gondor
S.A. 3434–T.A. 2
with Anárion (???–S.A. 3440)
|2nd King of Arnor
S.A. 3440–T.A. 2
|2nd High-King of the
S.A. 3440–T.A. 2
Title next held byAragorn II
House of Elendil
|Elendil family tree|
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1977), Christopher Tolkien, ed., The Silmarillion, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-25730-1
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1955), The Return of the King, The Lord of the Rings, Boston: Houghton Mifflin (published 1987), Appendix, ISBN 0-395-08256-0
- Tolkien, J. R. R. (1980), Christopher Tolkien, ed., Unfinished Tales, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, ISBN 0-395-29917-9