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Tolkien's Aldarion And Erendis: The Mariner's Wife Explained

Adventure. Action. Epic. Drama. There are a lot of different words that can be used to describe J.R.R. Tolkien's works — but "romance" isn't usually included in the list. Apart from a handful of romantic relationships, most of which are couched within larger action stories, the creator of Middle-earth didn't spend much time focusing on matters of the heart in his writings. Even Aragorn and Arwen's romance had to be seriously fleshed out for Peter Jackson's adaptation. The usual lack of Middle-earth romance is part of what makes "Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner's Wife" — one of Tolkien's more unconventional stories — particularly interesting. The partially written story can be found in the posthumously published book Unfinished Tales. It is dozens of pages long and primarily consists of what is arguably the most detailed love story in all of Tolkien's legendarium. Slow-moving and filled with relationships, love, drama, and both a call toward and hatred for the sea, the story is one of the most moving bits of narrative that Tolkien ever wrote.

We decided to dive into this out-of-the-way piece of Tolkienian trivia for a couple of reasons. First, it's a fascinating story, in and of itself, that shows a unique perspective of Middle-earth during a little-talked-about era of time. On top of that, this obscure bit of Tolkein's mythos is one of the most important pieces of source material available for one group in particular: the crew tasked with creating the largest Middle-earth adaptation in cinematic history. Before we get too far into the details of the story itself, though, there are a few basic facts that should be set to rights.

Setting the stage

First off, the story of The Mariner's Wife does not take place during the time of The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit. In fact, it occurs more than 5,000 years before those stories begin, playing out during the early parts of the Second Age of Middle-earth history. The bulk of the story is set on the island nation of Númenor. This five-point, star-shaped landmass is a unique creation in Middle-earth. The angelic guardians called the Valar raise it out of the ocean at the beginning of the age. They offer it as a gift to the faithful Men who had fought with them to overthrow the original Dark Lord, Morgoth, at the end of the First Age. The nation that develops on Númenor ends up playing a huge part in the larger story toward the end of the Second Age and beyond.

The story that we're interested in, however, takes place early in that age, when Númenor is still less than 1,000 years old. Aldarion is the heir to the throne and his executive responsibilities and love of the sea play a huge part in the drama as it unfolds. Set against this lofty individual is Erendis, a beautiful, strong-willed Númenórean woman who is not of the royal line and who does not share the heir-apparent's love of the water. The final note worth mentioning is about age differences. The Men of Númenor are mortals, but they are blessed with unusually long lifespans. Aldarion is of the royal line — the ancestors of Aragorn — and he ends up living for 398 years. Even Erendis, though, who doesn't have the royal blessing, still lives for 214 years. The lengthy lifespans and nearly 200-year difference in death dates are a big part of how the story of these two lovebirds plays out.

The Mariner's Wife

The tale of "Aldarion and Erendis: The Mariner's Wife" starts with a young Aldarion being introduced to the sea by his grandfather. He quickly falls in love with the uncharted oceans that lie between his home island and Middle-earth and begins sailing away from Númenor for extended periods of time. And when we say "extended" we aren't just talking about a six-month sabbatical. Aldarion travels for years and years at a time. One of the trips literally lasts for 14 years. This habit of leaving his home nation for long stints of time begins to estrange the heir from his father, the king Meneldur, who is more of a homebody and doesn't share his son's love for the sea. Aldarion's passion for the sea is so strong, though, that he forms the Guild of the Venturers — a group of similarly devoted sailors — and continues to sail to Middle-earth. There, he becomes close friends with the high Elven King Gil-galad and the Elven leader Círdan. He also begins making plans for settlements and strongholds on the mainland.

When Aldarion is a whopping 71 years young, Erendis is born on Númenor. Eventually, the mariner meets his future wife when she is still a young adult. However, it isn't until much later, when Erendis herself is over half a century old, that he begins to court the beautiful Númenórean woman. At first, Erendis resists the idea. This isn't due to a lack of love for Aldarion, though. She, too, is smitten by whatever the Middle-earth alternative of Cupid's arrow is. However, the wise "young" woman is well aware of Aldarion's history of disappearing for years at a time on his voyages, and she decides that she cannot bear to share him with the sea. Either she or the ocean will have his love, Middle-earth melodrama at its best.

Aldarion and Erendis get hitched

All that said, over the years Erendis' conviction wears down and Aldarion convinces her to marry him. While most Númenórean engagements last three years or less, the happy couple remain engaged for over a decade. Why the long wait? Well, Aldarion caves in to the sea longing again and spends six years of their engagement out on another voyage. Upon his return, he convinces the much less happy Erendis to still marry him and they finally tie the knot. Several years go by, during which Aldarion manages to get a hold on his sailing urges and remain on land. During this time the pair has a daughter, the future queen of her people, whom they name Ancalimë.

However, just seven years after the nuptials, Aldarion's will breaks, and he leaves on another voyage. This one is only supposed to last a couple of years — isn't that what they always say? — but the heir, husband, and father ends up disappearing for five long years, during which his home nation gets nothing but radio silence. When Aldarion at long last returns, he finds the king's welcome very cold and his wife and daughter nowhere to be seen. He discovers that soon after he was a no show at the two-year mark, they moved to a country estate further inland — as far away from the sea as possible. Aldarion attempts a half-hearted pursuit, but Erendis cannot believe what her husband has done to her and refuses to hear his excuses — which he has in spades, by the way. Left out in the cold, Aldarion leaves in bitterness, turning his attention back to his larger plans, which happen to be of the world-saving nature. And yes, this is where things take a bit of an unexpected turn.

Aldarion and Erendis become estranged

Up until now, Tolkien cleverly spins Aldarion's motives as those of a man whose love is torn between an affectionate wife and a reckless attraction to the sea. However, at this point, Aldarion gives his father a letter from the Elven King Gil-galad, explaining that he has been helping prepare for a growing but unknown threat on the mainland — which turns out to be Sauron rising in power for the first time. Aldarion and his continental allies begin laying many of the seeds that lead to great Númenórean victories centuries later. Particularly, they build ports that allow for help to be sent to the mainland quickly. The letter reveals that Aldarion's work has made him a hero to the Elves — the guy even hobnobs with Galadriel at one point. The king realizes how important his son's activities have been, even if he still strongly disapproves of how he's handled his personal life, and he actually abdicates the throne and lets his son take the reins.

The story wanes at this point, as Tolkien never finished it. However, scraps of details reveal that Aldarion continues to prepare his people for their role in the future wars against Sauron. Ancalimë grows up in a broken home, juggling her parent's affections and learning to both hate men and rule with an iron fist. Erendis remains cold and bitter for decades. Then, in her last days, her heart softens one final time. She seeks out her husband, but he's away on what ends up being his final voyage to the mainland. She heads to the great Númenórean port town of Rómmenna to wait for him. The last thing we hear is the tragic line that "There it seems, she met her fate; but only the words 'Erendis perished in water in the year 985' remain to suggest how it came to pass."

Why is The Mariner's Wife particularly important right now?

The tale of Aldarion and Erendis is tragic. Told primarily from the perspective of the abandoned Erendis and her daughter, the story is unique amongst the many epic tales that surround it. The question that remains is, why is this tale particularly important right now, two decades into the 21st century? The answer can be summed up in one word: Amazon. Amazon Studios' upcoming Lord of the Rings and Hobbit prequel show has a huge buzz. Hundreds of millions of dollars are being pumped into its production, and it's set to reintroduce us to classic characters like Galadriel, Sauron, and Elrond much earlier in their stories. How much earlier? Try the Second Age. That's right, the show is slated to take place in the Second Age, with an early leaked synopsis specifically stating that it will begin "in an era of relative peace." This strongly hints at the first half of the age — which happens to be squarely during the lifetimes of Aldarion and Erendis.

This doesn't just make it very likely that the two will make an appearance in the show itself; it also makes The Mariner's Wife one of the most intricate and detailed accounts that Tolkien ever wrote for the era the show will focus on. In fact, as far as continuous, detailed stories go, there may not be a more complete account of early Second Age life than "The Mariner's Wife." While it mostly focuses on Númenor, the constant references to larger events on the mainland will likely make it a key resource for the production team as they cobble together one of the most ambitious projects in both Middle-earth and cinematic history.