Isildur is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium. He appears in the author's books The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and Unfinished Tales.
In The Lord of the Rings, he was first mentioned in The Fellowship of the Ring as a Dúnadan of Númenor, elder son of Elendil. His full character history was detailed in The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales. He was the second king of Gondor (jointly with his brother Anárion until the latter's death) and the second king of Arnor.
As detailed in the appendices of The Return of the King, Isildur was born in the year 3209 of the Second Age in Númenor, the first son of Elendil son of Amandil, the last Lord of Andúnië. He had a younger brother, Anárion. Isildur had four sons: Elendur, Aratan, Ciryon, and Valandil.
In Isildur's youth, Númenor's King Ar-Pharazôn was corrupted by Sauron, who urged the White Tree to be cut down. Isildur went to the courts of the king in disguise and stole a fruit of Nimloth, though the guards were alerted and he was severely wounded in his escape. He was badly wounded, but his sacrifice was not in vain; Nimloth was cut down and burned shortly afterwards, but the line of the White Tree continued.
The Silmarillion explains that Isildur, together with his father and brother, fled when Númenor was destroyed by Ilúvatar. Elendil landed in the north, founding the realm of Arnor, while Isildur and Anárion landed in the south and established the realm of Gondor, which they ruled jointly until Anárion was killed in Mordor.
Isildur settled on the east bank of the Anduin and established the city of Minas Ithil (which would later be named Minas Morgul), as well as the province of Ithilien and setting his throne alongside his brother Anárion in the city of Osgiliath. However, in 3429 (see the Appendix of The Return of the King, especially the chronology of the Second Age) Sauron captured Minas Ithil and destroyed the White Tree. Isildur and his family escaped down the Anduin by boat, bearing with them a seedling of the tree. They sailed to Lindon, seeking the Elven High King Gil-galad and Elendil in Arnor. Meanwhile, Anárion bought time for Gondor by defending Osgiliath and driving the Dark Lord back to the mountains, while Elendil and Gil-galad marshalled their forces.
As told in The Fellowship of the Ring, he returned with his father and Gil-galad in the Last Alliance of Elves and Men in 3434. After the Alliance was victorious over Sauron's host at the Battle of Dagorlad, they advanced into Mordor and laid siege to Barad-dûr. When Minas Ithil was recaptured, Isildur sent his younger sons Aratan and Ciryon to man that fortress, which would prevent Sauron and his forces from escaping that way. Isildur was accompanied throughout the war by his eldest son Elendur. The campaign in Mordor was long and bitter, and Anárion was slain by a stone from the Dark Tower.
After seven years of besieging the Dark Tower, the enemy was all but defeated and Sauron appeared to challenge the king. During the final battle on the slopes of Mount Doom, Elendil and Gil-galad were both slain in combat with the Dark Lord, but Sauron's mortal form was slain as well. Isildur took the hilt-shard of his father's sword, which had broken beneath Elendil when he fell, and cut the One Ring from Sauron's hand; causing Sauron's malignant spirit to flee.
Despite the urging of Elrond, Círdan, and Gil-galad's lieutenants, Isildur did not throw the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom; Instead, he claimed it as an heirloom for his House, and as weregild for the deaths of his father and brother.
After the fall of Sauron, the greater part of the army of Arnor returned home while Isildur stayed in Gondor for a year, restoring order and defining its boundaries. He planted the seedling of the White Tree in Minas Anor in memory of Anárion. As his brother's helm had been crushed during his death at Barad-dûr, Isildur left his helm from the overthrow of Sauron as the replacement for Gondor's crown. He placed Anárion's son Meneldil in charge of Gondor, and returned north to Arnor with his three sons. His wife and fourth son Valandil had stayed behind in Rivendell throughout the War of the Last Alliance and the aftermath, and Isildur also sought further counsel from Elrond.
At the Gladden Fields, Isildur's party was ambushed by roaming Orcs.
Tolkien wrote two differing accounts of the battle leading to Isildur's end:
- The Silmarillion, which is told from the point of the view of the Eldar, states that Isildur had set no guard in his camp at night, deeming all his foes had been overthrown, and was attacked there.
In Unfinished Tales, Tolkien writes that Isildur was ambushed by Orcs while travelling:
- Isildur departed Minas Anor with a party of around 200 soldiers. His men had to march as they supposedly had around ten horses, mainly as beasts of burden and not for riding. They had two dozen archers who were armed with the deadly Númenórean steel bows but their numbers were too few to be effective.
Fatefully, he chose to travel the route along the Anduin, instead of the safer if longer North-South road. Sauron had deployed an army of Orcs East of the Misty Mountains, however, to attack any stragglers of the Last Alliance. The Orcs did not show themselves when the full armies of the Elves and Men passed by, but they were easily more than a match for a company.
Isildur was assailed at sunset, and though the first Orc sortie were beaten off, they regrouped and surrounded Isildur's party to prevent his escape. When nightfall came, the Orcs assaulted him from all sides.
The Dúnedain were surrounded and outnumbered, with Ciryon slain and Aratan mortally wounded in a failed attempt to rescue Elendur, who urged his father to flee. Isildur, realizing his mistake in keeping the Ring and attempting to return it to the holders of the three, put on the Ring, hoping to escape under the cover of invisibility. Fleeing to the Anduin, he cast off his armour and tried to swim to the other side of the river, but the Ring slipped (of its own volition) from his finger. He was quickly overpowered by the Anduin's current, and so the Ring abandoned him. Isildur felt the Ring was missing and was compelled to give in to the river and drown, resigning his life at the loss of the Ring. Despite the darkness, the Elendilmir that he was wearing gave his position away to the Orcs on the far bank who were seeking survivors from the attack, and they killed him with their poisoned arrows. Isildur's squire, Ohtar, saved his sword from the enemy, fleeing into the valley before the Orcs encircled Isildur's company. Estelmo, Elendur's squire, was found alive under his master's body, stunned by a club.
The Elves from Thranduil's kingdom quickly got word of the attack, although they were too late to save any of the Dúnedain. They organized a counter-attack, destroying the Orcs before they could mutilate the bodies of Isildur's company.
During the War of the Ring (as chronicled in the Lord of the Rings), Sauron's servants had been searching the Gladden Fields but failed to find any traces of Isildur's remains. Their efforts were hampered by Saruman, who had deceived Sauron's servants — indeed, the White Wizard had gotten there first before the Dark Lord. After the overthrow of Saruman and the opening up of the Orthanc (both portrayed in The Two Towers), Gimli found a hidden closet which contained the original Elendilmir, which was presumed lost forever when Isildur died.
Along with his brother Anárion's, his monumental statue guards the northernmost border of Gondor, at the Gates of Argonath on the river Anduin.
Portrayal in adaptationsEdit
In Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated adaption of The Lord of the Rings, Isildur is only mentioned and not shown.
In Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings film trilogy Isildur is portrayed by Harry Sinclair. He briefly appears in the first scenes of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, and in an extended flashback scene later on. In the theatrical versions, Anárion and heirs do not appear nor are mentioned at all, and Arnor does not feature at all. In The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Legolas refers to Isildur as "the last king of Gondor". However, in the extended edition, both Arnor and the House of Anárion are mentioned, and at times it is clear that Isildur was not the last King. In the first film, Isildur and Elrond go to the Crack of Doom where he refuses to destroy the Ring; however, Tolkien never wrote that he went to the Crack himself, only that he was advised to (as said above). In all versions, Isildur does not speak save for one word -"No"- when he refuses to throw the ring into the Crack of Doom. This line was not spoken by Sinclair, but by Hugo Weaving, who played Elrond. The Disaster of the Gladden Fields is also depicted in Jackson's first film, with Isildur's column of mounted troops being ambushed on a dark forest road.
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