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But for my part I will risk no hurt to this thing: of all the works of Sauron the only fair. It is precious to me, though I buy it with great pain.
~ Isildur about the One Ring

Isildur is a supporting character in the late J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. He is a prince of the kingdom of Númenor, who takes part in man and elf-kind's war against the Dark Lord Sauron, and who cuts the One Ring from Sauron's hand. His refusal to destroy the Ring has gar-reaching consequences for Middle-earth, and sets the story in motion. His descendant Aragorn leads the war against the resurgent Sauron thousands of years later.

Fictional Biography

History

Isildur was born in Númenor in the year SA 3209 of the Second Age. He had a younger brother, Anárion, born in SA 3219. They lived at the haven of Rómenna on the east coast of the island of Númenor. Their father was the great king Elendil and their grandfather was Amandil, the Lord of Andúnië. The Lords of Andúnië were descended from the Kings of Númenor through Silmarien, the daughter of the fourth King of Númenor, Tar-Elendil. While living in the island realm he married and his first son, Elendur, was born in 3299.

Elros, the Half-elven and the first King of Númenor, had chosen the life of Men, while his brother Elrond chose the life of Elves. Over time, the Kings of Númenor grew to resent their ancestor's choice and desired power for themselves. They became estranged from the Elves and from the powers called the Valar and they neglected the worship of Eru Ilúvatar, the Tolkien lendarium's version of God, who had created them.

In SA 3262, Ar-Pharazon, the King of Númenor, took Sauron captive; Sauron allowed himself to be taken because he wanted to corrupt the Númenóreans in order to bring about their downfall. He used their desire for immortality and power to convince them to renounce Eru and worship the evil Vala Morgoth, his master. A small group of Númenóreans led by Isildur, Elendil and Anárion remained friendly with the elves and faithful to Eru and the Valar. They were called the Faithful because they weren't corrupted by Sauron's lies.

Isildur learned from Amandil that King Ar-Pharazôn, under the influence of Sauron, purposed to cut down Nimloth the White Tree that had come from the Undying Lands to Numenor. One night Isildur went in disguise to Armenelos and from the courts of the King stole a fruit from the tree before it was cut down, thus preserving the line of the White Tree. However the guards discovered and attacked him and, although suffering grave injuries, he managed to escape with the fruit. Isildur stood near death for many months, but when the fruit of the White Tree began to sprout, he awoke and recovered from his injuries.

As Sauron's influence increased, the Faithful began to prepare to leave Númenor. They filled their ships with their families and many of their prized possessions, including the Palantíri. Isildur had three ships of his own, and he brought aboard the seedling of the White Tree as well as his wife and his son Elendur. Isildur's grandfather Amandil hoped to plead with the Valar to spare the Faithful. He sailed westward toward the Undying Lands, but what became of him is not known and he was never seen again. As Ar-Pharazon felt the approach of old age, Sauron manipulated him into believing that he could achieve eternal life if he conquered the Undying Lands. In SA 3319, Ar-Pharazon set out with a great fleet intending to take the Undying Lands by force, but when he set foot on the shore, Ilúvatar caused the Seas to open up and Valinor was hidden. The fleet sank and Númenor was destroyed by a great wave.

Life In Middle Earth and The Joint Rule of Gondor

In the great storm that came with the drowning of Númenor the nine ships of the Faithful were scattered as a great wind from the west sent them to the shores of Middle-earth. Elendil was cast up north in the land of Lindon passing up the River Lhûn, while Isildur and Anárion came to the Mouths of the Anduin in the south. Elendil and his sons established the North-kingdom of Arnor and the South-kingdom of Gondor in SA 3320. Elendil was the High King of both realms, but he ruled from Arnor and committed the rule of Gondor to his sons. However, Sauron had also escaped and re-established his power in the land of Mordor. It was not known at first that Sauron had already returned there in secret and had begun to rebuild his strength.

Isildur lived in Minas Ithil on the eastern side of the Anduin, while Anárion made his home in Minas Anor on the western side of the Anduin. However, they jointly ruled the kingdom and set up thrones side by side in the Great Hall of Osgiliath. Isildur had one of the Palantír called the Ithil-stone, which he used to communicate with his brother and father. Isildur built Minas Ithil in a valley of the Mountains of Shadow on the border of Mordor and planted the seedling of the White Tree in front of his house. Minas Ithil was a beautiful city, but it was also a stronghold to defend against the evil that might still dwell in Mordor. Isildur and his wife had two more sons, Aratan (in 3339) and Ciryon (in 3379), while living in Gondor.

In the early days of Gondor, Isildur went to the Hill of Erech at the entrance to the Blackroot Vale in the White Mountains. On the hilltop he placed the Stone of Erech, a great black sphere that he had brought from Númenor. Isildur met with the King of the Dead, who swore allegiance to Isildur upon the Stone, but later when Isildur called upon the Men of the Mountains to join the fight against Sauron, they refused. Isildur cursed them and said that they would never rest until they fulfilled their oath, and they haunted the Paths of the Dead. Sauron attacked and captured Minas Ithil in 3429. Isildur escaped with his wife and sons and another seedling of the White Tree. Isildur and his family boarded a ship at the Mouths of the Anduin and sailed around the coast of Middle-earth to Arnor, where Elendil dwelled. Elendil consulted with Gil-galad, the last High King of the Ñoldor in Middle-earth who lived in Lindon west of Arnor. Gil-galad and Elendil formed the Last Alliance of Elves and Men to oppose Sauron in SA 3430. That same year, Isildur's youngest son Valandil was born at the home of Elrond in Rivendell.

The army of the Last Alliance gathered at Rivendell in SA 3431 and then marched to war. Isildur and his three oldest sons Elendur, Aratan, and Ciryon went with the army, while Isildur's wife and their young son Valandil remained in Rivendell.

War of the Last Alliance

In 3434 the combined armies of Elves and Men crossed the Misty Mountains and marched south through the vale of Anduin, where they were joined by the Silvan Elves led by Amdír and Oropher, with a host from Khazad-dûm. The Alliance entered the vast plain near the Black Gate, where they were joined by Anárion's forces from the south, and confronted at last the black legions of Mordor. The Silvan Elves had little sympathy for the Sindar and Noldor that were led by Gil-galad. As a result, they were indisposed to place themselves under the supreme command of the High King of the Noldor.

During preliminary skirmishing, the Silvan Elves defying Gil-galad's command, rashly charged against the numerous host of Mordor, before the King had given the order. The Silvans were valiant, but ill-equipped compared to their nobler kin. Oropher perished in the first onslaught while Amdír and his troops were cut off and driven into the marshes where half of his host perished. This area became known afterwards as the Dead Marshes, because of the thousands of bodies buried there. This battle raged for months. Elendil and Gil-galad eventually gained the upper hand. Thus Elves and Númenóreans finally pushed the enemy hordes back towards the Black Gate and broke through Cirith Gorgor.

A great portion of Sauron's army was slain in this battle. The Alliance was able to enter Mordor, establish a camp upon the Plateau of Gorgoroth and lay the Siege of Barad-dûr itself. The Orcs that survived the slaughter at Dagorlad were surrounded in Barad-dûr, Sauron's dark stronghold. There, the forces of Gil-galad, Elendil and Thranduil laid siege to the tower, but could not breach its gates. Sauron put together a strong defence with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of projectile and sorties throughout seven years, during which the Allies suffered heavy casualties.

In S.A. 3440, Anárion's helmet was crushed by a thrown rock, resulting in his death. At last in SA 3441, Sauron himself came down from his tower. He came to Mount Doom, where the two kings, Gil-galad and Elendil, fought with him in single combat. In the battle Gil-galad's face was scorched by the heat of Sauron's hand, killing him, while Elendel was struck down by the dark lord's mace, and his sword Narsil broke in two beneath him as he fell. Nonetheless, Sauron was wounded in the fight with the two kings. It was in the momen when all hope had faded, that Isildur took up his father's sword and used the broken blade to cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand. Sauron's spirit fled from his body, but as long as the Ring that held much of his power survived so would his spirit. Mourning his family, Isildur became susceptible to the Ring's corruption, which led him to take it for himself as a weregild for the deaths of his father and brother.

Triumph and Fall

After the fall of Sauron, Isildur returned to Gondor and assumed the Elendilmir, proclaiming his Kingship in Arnor and sovereign lordship over the Dúnedain in both the North and the South. He remained for a year in the South, restoring the realm back to order, defining its bounds and mentored his nephew Meneldil son of Anárion in the duties of a king. During this time the greater part of the army of Arnor returned to Eriador by the Númenórean road from the fords of Isen to Fornost. With Meneldil and a company of trusted friends, Isildur rode about the boundaries of Gondor and in Anórien created the tomb and memorial of Elendil upon the hill of Eilenaer, thereafter called Amon Anwar.

While he remained there, he wrote an account on how he acquired the Ring and its apparent properties while it was still hot, noting that it had burned his hand so badly that he believed it would hurt. He noted that the Ring, as it cooled, seemed to shrink, and that the writing upon its outer band seemed to be fading. He theorized that the heat from Sauron's hand might have caused the writing to remain visible, and that heating it again might produce the same effect. However, he was already so enthralled by the Ring that he refused, even in writing, to take any action which might cause harm to it. When Isildur finally felt free to leave he committed the rule of Gondor to Meneldil and departed on 5 Ivanneth, T.A. 2. With him were his three sons, Elendur, Aratan and Ciryon, and his guard of 200 knights and soldiers. Before leaving Minas Anor, Isildur planted the seedling of the White Tree recovered from Minas Ithil in memory of his fallen brother Anárion.

Disaster of the Gladden Fields

While leaving he was in haste, for he wished to go to Rivendell and find his wife and youngest son Valandil before returning to Arnor. He intended to deliver the One Ring to Elrond, as suggested by his eldest son and confidante, Elendur. Therefore he took the shortest route, making his way north from Osgiliath up the Vales of Anduin to Cirith Forn en Andrath, the high-climbing pass that led down to Imladris. On the twentieth day of their journey, under heavy rain, they came within sight of the distant forest crowning the highlands. Anduin had swollen with swift water and they sought the ancient paths of the Silvan Elves that ran near the eaves of the Forest by the entrance of the Vales between Lothlórien and Amon Lanc.

Late in the afternoon of the thirtieth day (5 Narbeleth), while they were passing the north borders of the Gladden Fields, they were ambushed by Orcs of the Misty Mountains. Isildur ordered his squire Ohtar to take the Shards of Narsil and flee. After the initial attack the Orcs faltered, and it seemed that they were withdrawing.

The Dúnedain had gone scarcely a mile when the Orcs attacked again. This time they attacked on a wide front, which bent into a crescent and soon closed into an unbroken ring about the Dúnedain, who had too few archers, and even their dreaded Númenorean steel-bows could not reach at the distance the Orcs stood. The Orcs closed in on all the sides, flinging themselves on the Dúnedain with reckless ferocity. Some of the greater Orcs leaped two at a time, and with their weight, dead or alive, bore down a Dúnadan so that other strong claws might drag him out and slay him. The Orcs may have paid five to one in this exchange, but for them it was cheap. Ciryon was slain in this way and Aratan was mortally wounded while trying to save him.

As the battle progressed it became clear that defeat was imminent. Isildur he was rallying men on the east side where the assault was heaviest. He considered to escape with the help of the Ring, but he delayed because he would not leave his son. But Elendur begged him to flee to in order to prevent the Orcs from capturing the Ring. Asking his son to forgive him, Isildur put on the Ring, and suddenly the Elendilmir of the West, which could not be quenched, blazed forth. Men and Orcs gave way in fear. With great sorrow he parted from Elendur, who was slain leading the remaining Dúnedain.Isildur, pulling his cloak over his head, vanished into the night and was never seen again.

He fled a great distance, and upon reaching the Anduin he tried in despair to swim across it. Despite his strength, the current swept him down toward the Gladden Fields again, and the Ring betrayed him and slipped off his finger as he swam. In his dismay he nearly gave up and drowned, but the mood passed and he found himself free from his long burden. He reached an islet near the western bank, but as he rose out of the water in the moonlight, prowling Orcs spotted him. Fearing his great height and the piercing light of the Elendilmir, they shot him with arrows. His corpse was never found, believed to have been lost to the river's current.

Portrayals in Other Media

  • Isildur was portrayed by Harry Sinclair in Sir Peter Jackson's the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
  • Isildur is a supporting character in the video game Middle-earth: Shadow of War, in which his eventual fate is much different than in Tolkien's writings. In this continuity, Isildur survives the Orc attack, but the Orcs bring him before Sauron, who tortures him until his spirit breaks and he becomes a Nazgûl.

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