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 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“.
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.