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Tar-Aldarion is a fictional character from J. R. R. Tolkien’s legendarium, appearing in Unfinished Tales: Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife, which is the only story in the legendarium of Númenor before its fall.
He was the sixth King of Númenor, succeeding his father, Tar-Meneldur. He was a great mariner, and during his time Númenor started to invest more in its navy and strengthened its presence overseas in Middle-earth. He wedded Erendis in 870, but their relationship was troubled. He ruled for 192 years and surrendered the Sceptre to his daughter, Ancalimë, in 1075. He died in 1098.
At the time of his birth Númenor was still relatively “isolated”; it was only in relatively recent times that Númenórean seafarers had successfully made the journey back to Middle-earth.
In his early maturity Aldarion sailed with his maternal grandfather Vëantur to Middle-earth, and on this voyage he became enamoured of the Great Sea, in love with seafaring in itself and the thrill of new horizons and new lands over the horizon. During his first journeys to Middle-earth he made the friendship of Gil-galad and Círdan, from whom he learned much about both the making and management of ships. In 750 he founded the Guild of Venturers with like-minded young seafarers.
During this time he also met Erendis, a Númenórean lady of great beauty and intelligence, but who was not descended from the Line of Elros. Encouraged by his mother, Erendis and Aldarion began a long and troubled courtship, each harbouring doubts about the idea of marrying the other, yet drawn to each other in their hearts. Erendis desired the whole loyalty of the man to whom she would be wed and feared that she could never overcome Aldarion’s love of seafaring and travel, and her fears were well-founded. Aldarion was reluctant to marry at all, feeling little pressure of time because of his long life as a member of the Line of Elros. Yet almost against his will he was drawn to Erendis.
In time they did marry, but Aldarion was ever driven to the sea, and Erendis resented both his absences and his inattention to Númenor. They became estranged after the birth of their daughter and only child, Ancalimë.
Threat of Sauron and coronation
When Aldarion returned from a long journey to Middle-earth, he presented a letter from Gil-galad of Lindon to his father, King Tar-Meneldur. In this letter Gil-galad described the new threat of Sauron which was descending upon Middle-earth and asked for help:
A new shadow rises in the East. It is no tyranny of evil Men, …, but a servant of Morgoth is stirring and evil things wake again. Each year it gains in strength, for most Men are ripe for its purpose. … And now I make a bold to seek your help. If you have any strength of Men to spare, lend it to me, I beg.
— Unfinished Tales: Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife
When Tar-Meneldur thus learned of the extent of the danger, he abdicated in favour of his son, who he thought would be better able to deal with this new threat because of Aldarion’s many travels and knowledge of Middle-earth. Aldarion thus became King of Númenor far earlier than would have been the normal case.
King of Númenor
As king, Aldarion gave aid to Gil-galad, established new havens and bases (of which Vinyalondë was most notable) on the coasts of Middle-earth, and laid the groundwork in Númenor for the creation of a great naval power.
Aldarion’s efforts as king only worsened his conflicts with his wife, who had little care or interest for the world beyond Númenor, and who disdained seafaring and feared, and at times almost hated, the Sea. Her love was given directly to the woods and forests of Númenor and indirectly to the isolated and “innocent” realm of her youth, and Aldarion was changing both. Though Aldarion was a careful steward of Númenor’s resources, planting more trees than he cut for his ships and fleets, he did so out of a sense of duty and conservation of resources for the future, not out of love for the trees and forests. Under the reign of Aldarion wild forests were replaced by plantations of trees, and the attention of Númenor turned outward from the Isle, to Erendis’s dismay.
Twisted in her way by the war between her parents, and perhaps having inherited many of the worse traits of each, Aldarion’s daughter, Ancalimë, grew up to be beautiful, but stubborn and wayward. Her father changed the inheritance laws of Númenor so that his daughter could inherit the Sceptre after him, doing this in part out of paternal feeling but probably more as a move in his war with his wife. In so doing he disinherited his nephew Soronto, and set a lasting precedent for the future. In due time Ancalimë did succeed her father, who passed the Sceptre to her, in accordance with Númenórean custom, some years before his death.
Much about Aldarion’s later years and exactly which actions he took as a king to help Gil-galad and counter Sauron’s threat is unclear, as Tolkien never finished the tale of Aldarion and Erendis, although Christopher Tolkien provided some hints about his later history in Unfinished Tales.
There is no mention [in Tolkien’s writings] of any further development of the alliance with Gil-galad, or of the sending of the aid that he requested in his letter to Tar-Meneldur; it is indeed said that “Aldarion was too late, or too early. Too late: for the power that hated Númenor had already waked. Too early: for the time was not yet ripe for Númenor to show its power or to come back into the battle for the world.”— Christopher Tolkien in Unfinished Tales: Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner’s Wife, Section: Further course of the narrative.
Aldarion died in 1098 of the Second Age, having lived 398 years, ruled Númenor for 192 years, and having outlived his wife Erendis by over a century. His successor as ruler of Númenor was his daughter, Ancalimë.