in this answer, it is alluded to that Tolkien had an "original sin" in The Silmarillion. It was based on Morgoth's Ring (part of Tolkien's unpublished drafts).

I gave you life. Now it shall be shortened, and each of you in a little while shall come to Me, to learn who is your Lord: the one ye worship, or I who made him.'

One of the commenters disagreed:

I think this draft is inconsistent with what Tolkien eventually decided to publish. In The Silmarillion, there is to my recollection no notion of original sin, Men were mortal from the start by design.

Q1: Were Men mortal destined to "come back to Eru" from the get-go in the published version of The Silmarillion, or was "Gift of Men" indeed the punishment for an "Original sin" of stopping to listen to Eru?

Q2: If the former, does the concept of "Now [life] it shall be shortened" apply to published work as well? (it seems so, since Men of 3rd age have shorter lifespans).

  • I only had one accept vote, but all of the existing answers as of today are good, and got upvotes from me. Commented May 13, 2013 at 1:11

6 Answers 6


I agree with Gilles. Early on, The Silmarillion records the passing of Men as a gift and the original intent, not as a result of any sin:

Ilúvatar knew that Men, being set amid the turmoils of the powers of the world, would stray often, and would not use their gifts in harmony; and he said: ''These too in their time shall find that all that they do redounds at the end only to the glory of my work.' [...] It is one with this gift of freedom that the children of Men dwell only a short space in the world alive, and are not bound to it, and depart soon whither the Elves know not. Whereas the Elves remain until the end of days

The Silmarillion also records the messengers from the Valar to the Númenóreans (those sent to dissuade them from their rebellion) as saying:

the Doom of Men, that they should depart, was at first a gift of Ilúvatar. It became a grief to them only because coming under the shadow of Morgoth it seemed to them that they were surrounded by a great darkness, of which they were afraid; and some grew wilful and proud and would not yield, until life was reft from them.

It explicitly calls out that it was not intended as a punishment, but as a gift. It became regarded as a punishment, but that does not change the original intent.


In The Silmarillion (i.e. in what Tolkien eventually published), there was no notion of original sin. This idea was present in earlier drafts, presumably inspired from Judeo-Christian tradition. While The Silmarillion retains a few traces of Biblical inspiration, the idea of collective sin had completely disappeared. I would say that in fact, in The Silmarillion, there is no notion of one's sins being a matter between one and Eru, except in Melkor's case.

At the end of chapter 1 of the Quenta Silmarillion, Ilúvatar presents to the Valar his general intentions with his Children, the Quendi (Elves) and the Atani (Men).

[Ilúvatar] spoke and said: “Behold I love the Earth, which shall be a mansion for the Quendi and the Atani! But the Quendi shall be the fairest of all earthly creatures, and they shall have and shall conceive and bring forth more beauty than all my Children; and they shall have the greater bliss in this world. But to the Atani I will give a new gift.”

Therefore he willed that the hearts of Men should seek beyond the world and should find no rest therein; but they should have a virtue to shape their life, amid the powers and chances of the world, beyond the Music of the Ainur, which is as fate to all things else; and of their operation everything should be, in form and deed, completed, and the world fulfilled unto the last and smallest.

But Ilúvatar knew that Men, being set amid the turmoils of the powers of the world, would stray often, and would not use their gifts in harmony; and he said: “These too in their time shall find that all that they do redounds at the end only to the glory of my work.”

Not only does The Silmarillion not mention sin, but the straying of Men was inherent in their being. Even as they later follow Melkor, they are still acting according to Ilúvatar's will (although Melkor isn't).

I don't think the decline in life-span was directly addressed in The Silmarillion. I refer to Zarkanya's essay on the decline of the Númenóreans for an analysis; the decline wasn't abruptly decided as part of the (literally) earth-shaking changes that marked the downfall of Númenor. It should be noted that the kings of Númenor had a markedly longer life than the general population; that long life was apparently at least in part a genetic trait (to use an anachronic term). Quoting The Akallabêth (the tale of the downfall of Númenor in The Silmarillion), because of their ascendance — the line of the half-elven Elros:

But to Elros, who chose to be a king of Men, still a great span of years was allotted, many times that of the Men of Middle-earth; and all his line, the kings and lords of the royal house, had long life even according to the measure of the Númenóreans.

The Dúnedain, of which the Númenóreans (or at least the bulk thereof) were part, did nonetheless have a longer life-span than other Men. Again, from The Akallabêth:

For though the Valar had rewarded the Dúnedain with long life, they could not take from them the weariness of the world that comes at last

The notes in the chapter on the Kings of Núnemnor of the Unfinished Tales have a longer discussion on the topic; it seems that Tolkien did not fully settle on the exact rules governing relative lifespans.

In summary, the answer to your first question is yes: Men were mortal by purpose. The answer to your second question is less clear, but the shorter lifespans were at least not the direct result of actions by Ilúvatar.


The "Gift of Men" comes before the fall and is originaly attented as a "Gift", as implied by its name. It is illustrated in The Akallabêth:

The Doom of Men, that they should depart, was at first a gift of Ilúvatar. It became a grief to them only because coming under the shadow of Morgoth it seemed to them that they were surrounded by a great darkness, of which they were afraid; and some grew wilful and proud and would not yield, until life was reft from them.

It is this gift which allow Men to transcend the Music by being not attached to the World and only pass in it. The Elven "Immortality" is, by contrast, a consequence of the fact that they are bound to remain in the World until its end: It is even stated that, the more the end approach, the more they will come to regret this gift.

The "punition" is the shortening of Men's lives. (Partially restored to their original length in the case of the Edain, for working with the Good Guys.)

  • I can't comment on dlanod post, but as stated in the other question, "you shall come before me" can have multiple interpretation: Either that this is new (which is not the case, for the reasons cited) or as a remainder. In this last interpretation, there is no contraction, both the Silmarillion and Morgoth's Ring can be correct.
    – Eureka
    Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 11:54

It's important to realise that the published version of The Silmarillion was not what Tolkien himself desired to publish, as he had never actually finished it and died before he could do so. What we have instead is his son's best guess at what he may have published. A minor point with reference to this question but important to get right.

Tolkien's own intention was to publish the "Athrabeth" (from which the "I gave you life" quote was taken) as an appendix to The Silmarillion, and it probably shouldn't be considered a "draft"; as Christopher Tolkien notes in HoME 10:

it is a major and finished work, and is referred to elsewhere as if it had for my father some 'authority'.

It therefore seems appropriate to treat it as a full representation of Tolkien's intent and of his view of these matters.

There are actually two separate readings that one may take from the "punishment of Men" arising from their "original sin", and both have relevance to the Númenóreans. The first and most obvious one is a lengthening of lifespan, but the second one is also explicitly stated in many places, including in works published during Tolkien's lifetime (i.e. The Lord of the Rings) and that is the ability to willingly surrender one's life.

Therefore, in The Akallabêth, we learn of Tar-Atanamir:

And Atanamir lived to a great age, clinging to his life beyond the end of all joy; and he was the first of the Númenóreans to do this, refusing to depart until he was witless and unmanned, and denying to his son the kingship at the height of his days.

In LotR we also see that this applies to Aragorn, and at the end of "The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen" (Appendix A) we read Aragorn saying:

to me has been given not only a span thrice that of Men of Middle-earth, but also the grace to go at my will, and give back the gift.

It is also mentioned throughout other material that this would be the ultimate fate of the Ringbearers after their departure West: once healed, to willingly surrender their lives. This is discussed some here, with references from Tolkien's letters and from the "Athrabeth."

It seems obvious therefore that there are two components to the state of "unfallen Men", with one being a longer lifespan, and the other being to freely give up their lives at the end of that lifespan rather than to cling on until the very end. This second component is AFAIK nowhere explicitly confirmed as belonging to the "unfallen state", but can be easily deduced from the various published materials. The Númenóreans were restored to this state at the start of the Second Age, but when the Shadow fell on Númenor they lost both components.

  • "... is his son's best guess at what he may have published" - actually, it's worse (?) than that, it's more like the most consistent collection of tales and how they join up. Hence there are things that CJRT knew or suspected JRRT wanted to use, but not enough work had been done to fully incorporate the required changes into the text (famous example: Gil-Galad being a son of Orodreth was wound back as it didn't yet completely fit the overall story) Commented Aug 5, 2021 at 7:10

To add a little bit to the other answers, there is another recently published text of Tolkien's (written c.1960), which also references the original sin idea.

The Quendi never “fell” in the sense that Men did. Being “tainted” with the Shadow (as perhaps even the Valar in some degree were, with all things in “Arda Marred”) they could do wrong. But they never rejected Eru, or worshipped Melkor (or Sauron) either individually, or in groups, or as a whole people. Their lives, therefore, came under no general curse or diminishment, and their “life-span”, coextensive with the remainder of the life of Arda, was unaltered – except only insofar as, with the very ageing of Arda itself, their primitive vigour of body steadily waned. But the “waning” does not yet appreciably affect the periods dealt with in the Silmarillion.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "The Awaking of the Quendi" - Text B

An earlier version of this same text notes that nothing of it should be "disclosed or discussed" in the Silmarillion.

Let Melkor discover Men 1,440 years (that is, 10 VYs) before the Valar open attack in VY 1090. Men will therefore “awake” – the exact process will not be disclosed or discussed in the Silmarillion – some (little) time before VY 1080; say, 1079/1075.
The Nature of Middle-earth - "The Awaking of the Quendi" - Text A


Eru created men with the gift of mortality but with a long span of life and the ability to give it up (sign off) when the lifespan is reached like the Númenóreans. This "giving up" should not be confused with suicide but rather it's just the ability to separate one's spirit from the body to escape the world and return to Eru without physically harming the body.

The other aspect of this "gift of mortality" is the freedom to chart their own destiny. They were given the freedom to either serve Melkor or the Elves in their wars against each other or not to side with any of them at all. After all, in the eyes of the Valar, both Noldor Elves and Melkor were fallen creatures and under their curse. Thus, serving the rebellious Noldor is not necessarily a good thing and serving Melkor against the Elves a necessarily bad thing. What is bad in the eyes of the Valar is to serve Melkor when they responded to the plea of Eärendil and decided to wage war against Melkor and his minions during the War of Wrath. Nonetheless men who sided with Melkor were not punished but those who sided with the Valar were gifted with long lifespan (sort of giving back their original long lifespan). But when the Númenóreans fell (second fall of men) by invading Aman that long lifespan was eventually taken back again save for the "Faithful."

It is noteworthy to point out that the Valar have the authority to manage the Elves but none to manage men. This is the reason why the Valar did not summon men when they had summoned the Elves. Eru (not the Valar) dealt with men directly through the VOICE. Finrod told Andreth that the reason for this is that men are greater since it's quite obvious that only Eru has jurisdiction over men. Proof of this is when the Númenóreans invaded Aman the Valar gave up the governance of Arda and appealed to Eru to deal with this evil action of men. They correctly figured out that they have "no authority or power" to deal with the situation. Thus Eru intervened since he alone has jurisdiction over his second born children.

When the first men worshiped Melkor and built a house for him, Eru shortened their lifespan. Eru did not change their nature from being immortal to mortal. Men were never created to be like the Immortal Elves. The gift of Mortality is never a punishment but an essential part of men's nature since even if the first men did not worship Melkor they will still die (escape the world) once they reach the end of their lifespan which was originally longer compared with their lifespan after they no longer listened to the VOICE (Eru) and followed the deceitful words of Melkor instead.

Eru's shortening of mortal men's original long lifespan can be viewed not as a punishment but as a remedy to the corruption of Melkor. Why? If their lifespan was not shortened the corruption in serving Melkor would have had a detrimental effect to the vast majority of men living in the East. Thus, the merciful thing for Eru to do is to shorten men's lifespan so that their spirits would return to him as soon as possible in order to be taught by him who was the true liar: Melkor whom they worshiped while they were alive in Arda or Eru who created Melkor. The fate of men is not known to the Elves but the readers of J.R.R. Tolkien can know from his numerous writings on the subject about the fate of men. In The Silmarillion we read that the Valar had declared to the Eldar that men would join in the second music of the Ainur. Thus, we can conclude that the spirits of dead men went to the timeless halls with the Ainur who did not enter "Eä" (Universe). Since the fate of men was not in the First Music of the Ainur it is of no wonder that their fate the Valar knew not. But Eru seeing the corruption of the world brought by Melkor purposely hid the fate of men from Melkor so that he would not know that Eru's intention is to use men to sing in the second music of the Ainur in order to remake Arda Marred. This is what Finrod suspected when he told Andreth that the redemption of Arda and the Elves might lie in the "strange fate of men". Thus, the purpose of Eru in giving men the gift of mortality was for them to join in the second Music of the Ainur in the remaking of Arda Marred.

Some of the first men repented of their errors and tried to escape by traveling to the West. They were pursued and killed by men faithful to Melkor in the belief that this will assuage the anger of the tyrant Melkor whom they detested and feared. These men who journeyed to the West entered Beleriand to live with the Elves. The shadow that had always followed them in which they were ashamed to tell the Elves was their dark past in worshiping and serving Melkor which of course they had repented. But they found out that the Melkor they were trying to escape in the East was the Dark Lord that resides in the North.

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