Tolkien’s Caves of the Forgotten


Hiya folks!

In a post title that feels somewhat appropriate given my recent absence from this blog, allow me to delve into yet another one of those Middle-earth topics we know very little about …

The Text & Setting the Scene

“Ar-Pharazôn the King and the mortal warriors that had set foot upon the land of Aman were buried under falling hills: there it is said that they lie imprisoned in the Caves of the Forgotten, until the Last Battle and the Day of Doom.”

This is all that Tolkien has to say about this ambiguous location, and it is the only quote or reference available to us.

As the account of the Akallabêth in The Silmarillion reaches its conclusion, the King of Númenor (Ar-Pharazôn) sails with a massive fleet to the Undying Lands of Aman. As he sets foot upon the shore along with his army, Eru Ilúvatar drowns the island of Númenor, makes the world round and, in the process, imprisons the King and his men as the hills falls upon them.

The Caves of the Forgotten come into existence with this cataclysmic event, and will remain an obscurity until the events of the Last Battle.



Copyright: Ted Nasmith

The Last Battle and the Day of Doom

To any readers unaware of this term, the Dagor Dagorath (“the last battle”), is a concept (later on abandoned by Tolkien), that recounts the last days of Arda and the rebuilding of the world.

[You may be interested in a post I wrote a few years back, where I tried to piece together the existing fragments of texts found spread across the collection of The History of Middle-earth, into one coherent account: The Tale of the Dagor Dagorath]

The basic premise is as follows …

Thousands of years after the events in The Lord of the Rings, Morgoth, the Dark Lord, returns from the Void where he has been imprisoned. He leads the forces of evil against the Valar and the Free Peoples, in which battle he is vanquished forever and the world made anew.

The text prophesying this battle, was originally intended to conclude The Silmarillion, but certain discrepancies in the storyline forced Christopher Tolkien to remove it completely.

However, the reference to this event remains untouched in this quote from the Akallabêth, and offers a tantalising glimpse into what Tolkien had in mind of writing about the Last Battle.

The quote itself is also significant because the Caves of the Forgotten serve both as a punishment to the King of Númenor for his rash actions, but also a secure place where to keep his large army until the events of the Dagor Dagorath, in which they will presumably be involved in the conflict.

What remains unclear is the part these Númenóreans will play, and whether they will be siding with the Dark Lord or the Valar.

This is ultimately up to the reader to decide, but I like to think that the centuries spent trapped in the Caves, will serve as a kind of penance to Ar-Pharazôn and his men, who will in the end redeem themselves of their transgressions by fighting for the good of the world.

The Location

The exact location of the Caves of the Forgotten remains unknown.

A few cautious arguments and a closer analysis of the text might help us in attempting an educated guess.

We know that the Númenóreans sailed towards Aman from the East and, presumably, landed upon the shores of the Blessed Land with the intention to pass through the Calacirya and make their way to the city of Valinor itself.

If you’ve read your Silmarillion aright, you will know that the Calacirya is that cleft (or passageway) through the mountains of the Pelóri, which stood in a long line from north to south as a wall of defence against Morgoth in the early days of Arda.

With all other paths being insurmountable, it is through this cleft that Ar-Pharazôn would have purposed to journey into Aman.

But as Eru’s judgement fell upon the world, and the catastrophic events unfolded, the Númenóreans were “buried under falling hills“.

Calacirya map.jpeg

From Karen Wynn Fonstad’s insightful ‘Atlas of Middle-earth’, showing the isle of Númenor in relation to the land of Aman. The red dot (my addition) marks the presumed location of the Caves of the Forgotten

With that vivid description in mind, it can only be assumed that the Caves of the Forgotten were indeed situated close to the shore, underneath the Calacirya itself, until the time came when the Caves would be unearthed and the Númenórean King led his host into the Last Battle one final time.


7 thoughts on “Tolkien’s Caves of the Forgotten

  1. I always liked that the Numenorean’s desired to prolong their lives so much that they sailed again the Valar and in setting foot in Valinor they received the long life they desired just not in the way they intended. Seems like a fitting punishment.

  2. Thanks for your latest thoughts James! I guess that places the caves off Earth as Valinor has been separated from the world of mortal men. It also adds to the picture in which JRRT had not finished his reworking of all the material. I am not sure if I remember correctly, but did JRRT suggest that the Silmarillion texts were a work of Numenor rather than the elves for the elves would have known the truth (e.g. related to the cosmos, etc) because of their contact with the Valar (this may only have applied to his older work but I am unsure)? Although, the published material is as near to the gospel of Middle Earth as we can get, could this latter suggestion open up opportunities for fan fiction where some of the things that are out may be still in (e.g. a last battle, the return of Melkor) because the Silmarillion is a Numenorian text?

    PS: When you want a rest from writing within the world of Sherlock Holmes do you fancy writing a sequel to LOTR? 😉

  3. Maybe the Caves of the Forgotten are on Earth, at the westernmost extremity of the lands neighbouring the region that was hidden ? They may be on Earth, but undiscoverable, as such lands tend to be.

  4. It is not said on which side the Númenorean host will align in Dagor Dagorath. Certainly siding the valar is not an option for Men, but certainly Ar-Pharazôn has an axe to grind with Sauron as well.

    Most likely he will follow the good old Chinese stratagem “Watch the fires burning at the other side of the river”, let each side seriously weaken each other – and then attack them both, winning the day finally for Men.

    1. True, but of Ar-Pharazon I believe it is said that his heart almost failed him just as he’s about to land in Aman. That to me seems to sow the seed of redemption, that will ultimately be fulfilled by the Numenorean host siding with the Valar.

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