Before reading this introduction, you were probably told any number of rumors about this strange book, and perhaps even more tales concerning its author. Neither joke nor swindle, I know what it is, and how it was written. I am a scribe, not its author. And if perhaps failing generally as a human, all the more is this tale evidence of a good Father, trusting; and witness to devoted friends in body and spirit. The story is for reading, to open our hearing with a gift before this disenchanted twilight; labels, genres, gossip, and origin stories should not talk over its presence.
The following stories bring forth some “words of the Faithful” as promised by the Lord in the Book of Mormon. I do not claim the text before you is unique in that regard, either; for previous books likewise have brought forth other words of the Faithful. Some I will mention in this introduction. The writing, let me be clear, was not taken from any discovered “plates,” nor was it depicted on a biblical Urim & Thummim or conjured in a seer stone. Neither are these the “sealed books” so often pretended to. And this text is not derived from an already composed and written narrative. Rather, it was grown out of a skeleton of ancient words roughly translated (and altogether provided as an end piece to the tales here told). First received in 2010, the bulk of those words came in 2016. Guided by my rough translations, this received tale was composed between February and May of 2017. A long, strange adventure preceded this tale’s reception, but in the end, I simply wrote what I heard. If there was magic, it was in hearing, then listening, and in trusting.
It may somewhat surprise readers to learn that the Book of Mormon and the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien complement one another, as cosmologies and histories. From many sources, including the tale told here, Mormon readers perhaps may unlearn many inheritances since proven false, nonetheless institutionalized by a powerful church. Similarly, Tolkienists may be encouraged in their hopes to discover historical realities behind that author’s work, when interlocked with the writings of Joseph Smith (surprise!). Who would have imagined, right? The headline? “Fantasy Fiction Made True by Mormon Scripture!” I’ve laughed many times at how absurd this all sounds, but nonetheless, it is true. Really. Just keep reading.
These words of the Faithful bring into dialogue the voices of Elendil and Isildur, with those of Jared and his sea-barge faring family and friends. Two worlds brought together, in an admittedly strange act of our drama unfolding. The son of Elendil, Isildur is known in Tolkien’s works as the exiled Numenorean prince who cut the “one ring” from Sauron’s hand. Spelled Zhera’ here, but pronounced like his familiar name, Jared is known to readers of the Book of Mormon as the leader of a remnant fleeing from a tower before its destruction, hence sailing to a land of promise. That land is called by Joseph Smith, Ahman, and it was here that he located the gods upon Adam-ondi-Ahman. Likewise, Tolkien names this land Aman, after King Aman, called by the Elves, Manwë: High King of the Powers in the West.
I won’t here take on the burden of answering the doubts of geologists, oceanographers, archaeologists, and so on. Perhaps in the future I will find the energy, time, mind and means to put forth that effort. Here all I ask is: Can you make room in your world for a new history born from true myth, where gods merciful and wicked, elves, men, and much else long ago mingled, fought, conversed and loved? Seriously? For that is what I see following from the Tales of Zhera’ and Izilba: altogether form an articulating joint between the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien and those of Joseph Smith composed a century earlier. I realize I am asking Mormons to take up Tolkien’s world, and see in it an enchantment and expansion of Joseph Smith’s strange cosmology. And that Tolkien’s readers are being invited to make room for the writings of Joseph Smith. And that these are both historically accurate portrayals of the cosmos and the world we presently inhabit. Ahem. I get it: absurd. I’m laughing as I read this. But it is true, nonetheless. And nobody is being told to join some church or fan club. Though the truth – believed or ignored – is not without consequence, it is beautiful.
Leaving aside for now questions concerning history as we understand it, say, in archaeology; and the shape of the world, and the reality of gods, and so on; and neglecting a summary of lengthy and complex books elsewhere published and readily available; let me state: these tales developed from the words of the Faithful, reporting the movements of Izilba and Zhera’ near the end of an epoch Tolkien calls the “Second Age.”
In this age, the blessed island of Numenor had endured for twenty-five centuries, being given by the Powers (roughly, “gods”) to Men who aided in their war against Melkor (approximating, say, the Christian’s Devil). During that civilization’s moral waning and simultaneous waxing of power, stretching into a third millennium, the long-lived “mighty men” of Numenor divided: Kingsmen against their rebels, the Faithful. So-called for they still listened to the Elves as angelic messengers of the Powers in the West, the Faithful were exiled from that island and scattered on lands eastward. “Kingmen” was also a title given to allies of wicked kings in the Book of Mormon, descendants of “mighty men” anciently possessing great power.
Numenor’s history is mostly found in The Silmarillion – as published by Tolkien’s son Christopher.1Tolkien’s posthumous publications informing the stories told here include the Silmarillion, the twelve volume History of Middle-Earth; the Unfinished Tales; various dictionaries and etymologies; and his published letters. All published works were edited by his son Christopher Tolkien and published by Houghton-Mifflin or Ballantine Books. Words of the Faithful and its author have no affiliation or relationship with the Tolkien Estate, whose properties are here mentioned. This book is a history, not fan fiction. That book edits, abridges, and amends writings composed over his father’s lifetime. The island he also calls Azoyan (i.e., Zion) was to Elves, Westernesse. It was finally swallowed up by the seas, when the “fashion of the world was changed” in defense of the Numenorean king Pharazon’s assault upon the Powers in Aman. Prior to the destruction of their island, “elf-friends” Isildur and others of the house of Elendil were driven to northern lands upon “Middle Earth,” a term approximately referring to Europe.2From Old English Middengard, the lands between Heaven and Hell, as it were; also giving us the word “Mediterranean.” The OED on which Tolkien labored gives an example from Ælfric’s Catholic Homilies: Ic wille sendan flod ofer ealne middaneard. Translated thus: “I will send flood over Middle Earth.”
Likewise, Zhera’ and his spouse Izilba fled Numenor in those days, and their wanderings and sorrows, bliss and restoration are recalled somewhat in their tales told here.
So, to be brief in a matter that may consume many years of study (and I should know), the Book of Mormon’s Jaredites are of the house of Zhera’, a trapper of the Silmarillion’s Second Age – himself being ensnared in the fate of the Powers, until these great ones were removed from the World. Lifted up with angelic Elves beyond the reach of Men aspiring to thrones everlasting, Aman was taken to a hidden realm, and Numenor drowned. What remained was a choice land, according to the Book of Mormon.
Mormons may recognize in that fleeing of a blessed land away from the Earth, Joseph Smith’s stories concerning the City of Enoch; or, in the punishment of Ar-Pharazon and his men imprisoned deep under earth, those garbled tales in different versions of old Books of Enoch (regarded as biblical pseudepigrapha). Rather than locating the great tower mentioned in the Book of Mormon in, say, Babylon a mere four thousand years ago, instead this tale pushes back the Jaredite escape to the land of promise a “great many thousand years ago,” (as the Book of Mormon chronologically places Abraham); perhaps twelve to fourteen thousand years ago, while the world grew warm after the last Ice Age.
The events in the Tale of Izilba begin sometime after the year 2962 (Second Age), and I guess she was born around 3156. I suppose she was somewhat older than Zhera’. The Tale begins on the island of Numenor, a star-shaped land many times the size of Hawaii, with a high, holy mountain near its center. East of the mountain called Meneltarma, the Pillar of Heaven, spread out its City of Kings, Armenelos.
Tolkien attributes his “Description of the Island of Numenor” to reports and “simple maps that were long preserved in the archives of the Kings of Gondor.” Readers familiar with the Book of Mormon may recognize something marvelous in Tolkien’s account of that land:
Though the lower slopes of the mountain were gentle and grass- covered, it grew ever steeper, and towards the summit it could not be scaled; but a winding spiral road was made upon it, beginning at its foot upon the south, and ending below the lip of the summit upon the north. For the summit was somewhat flattened and depressed, and could contain a great multitude; but it remained untouched by hands throughout the history of Numenor. No building, nor raised altar, nor even a pile of undressed stones, ever stood there; and no other likeness of a temple did the Numenoreans possess in all the days of their grace, until the coming of Sauron. There no tool or weapon had ever been borne; and there none might speak any word, save the King only. Thrice only in each year the King spoke, offering prayer for the coming year at the Erukyermë in the first days of spring, praise of Eru Iluvatar at the Erulaitalë in midsummer, and thanksgiving to him at the Eruhantalë at the end of autumn. At these times the king ascended the mountain on foot followed by a great concourse of the people, clad in white and garlanded, but silent. At other times the people were free to climb to the summit alone or in company; but it is said that the silence was so great that even a stranger ignorant of Numenor and all its history, if he were transported thither, would not have dared to speak aloud.3J.R.R. Tolkien, Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-Earth. NY: Ballantine Books, 1980:173-4.
Maybe not every stranger. For Lehi of the Book of Mormon reports a dream-vision of being carried to a “dark and dreary wilderness” whence he is led by a man in white robes into deeper darkness. Having called on the Lord’s mercy, Lehi sees a tree with sweet, white fruit “to make one happy,” by which passes a path running alongside a stream. Lehi calls to his family standing near the head of that stream, to come to the tree and partake of its fruit. Some indeed hearken, while Laman and Lemuel do not, but remain near the “river of water.” Lehi sees “numberless concourses of people” also gathered in field, pressing along to obtain the “strait and narrow path,” some holding to an iron rod, though many are lost in the fountains and dark mists that issue about the way. Lehi also describes in contrast to the tree, a great and spacious building, “as it were in the air, high above the earth,” from which mocking voices taunt worshippers and shame whosoever eat the fruit of the tree. In Nephi’s report of his father’s vision, these scenes are set upon a high mountain.
In Tolkien’s “Description,” The winding river Siril rose in springs at the feet of Meneltarma, in the valley called Noirinan. Down the eastern slopes, the City of Kings upon that mountain sprawled under the king’s white tower, in whose court grew a scion of the Elves’ sacred tree, Nimloth the White.
A fruit of Nimloth’s bough, prior to the tree being chopped down at the command of Sauron, was stolen by Isildur and borne over the sea to Middle Earth. Its sapling was nurtured in the house of the exiled kings. Nimloth, however, was consumed upon an altar inside a great tower, wide and tall; built in the last days of that land wherein victims were sacrificed to Melkor. That temple was raised upon the flank of Meneltarma, its height marking Sauron’s surpassing of Manwe’s influence over the blessed Men. Such a reek spread across the land at Nimloth’s burning, itself lasting seven days, that Zhera’ (in the Tale of Izilba) was able to move about the plains north of Meneltarma; though many mists of darkness, abundant in evil spirits, lay about that realm in its last days.
In the following tale, I provide a few footnotes when absolutely necessary. You will come across some names and places familiar to J.R.R. Tolkien’s readers; and many resources derived from his published works can be turned to, should you desire further explanation. The following tale should be regarded as a historical document, not fiction; neither is it affiliated in any way with the properties of the Tolkien Estate.
Dates are given throughout to show the reception of the tale, as it unfolded in early 2017, being written by my hand exactly as presented here, the first and only draft. To this published version I have added almost nothing; yet a word here or there was immediately after the writing, inserted, and I show these with a ^carrot. Some spelling has been normalized and inside [brackets] are insertions later added by me, seldom improving the received tale. More than that, regarding reception and writing, I’ll not explain in an introduction. The tale should speak for itself, though in truth the telling remains incomplete.
“Do we walk in legends or on
the green earth in the daylight?”
“A man may do both,” said Aragorn. “For not we
but those who come after will make the legends
of our time. The green earth, say you? That is
a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it
under the light of day!”
THE LORD OF THE RINGS
THE TWO TOWERS: BK. III, CH.2