The island nation of Númenor had risen to the greatest heights of civilization known to the race of Men, but as the long years passed its leaders and its people began to fall from wisdom into folly. Its power was such that its last King, Ar-Pharazôn, was able to sail to Middle-earth and carry Sauron himself back to Númenor as a hostage. Sauron whispered lies to the King, ultimately persuading him to lead an armada into the West to conquer Aman. This act of defiance against the Valar had a disastrous result: the entire island of Númenor was drawn down under the Sea. Some said that the peak of the Meneltarma, its greatest mountain, survived as an island, but the once-great culture of Númenor came to an end.
Those few Númenóreans who survived in Middle-earth thereafter referred to their lost home as 'the Downfallen'. In their own tongue of Adûnaic, this was Akallabêth, and that same word is used as the title of the work, said to have been written by Elendil, that describes the Downfall of Númenor. In the Quenya tongue, 'the Downfallen' translated to Atalantë.1
The similarity of Elvish Atalantë to 'Atlantis' is irresistible, especially given that both names refer to a vanished island civilization. Tolkien himself recognised this, but suggested that the resemblance was coincidental. 'It is a curious chance that the stem √talat used in Q[uenya] for "slipping, sliding, falling down", of which atalantie is a normal (in Q[uenya]) noun-formation, should so much resemble Atlantis.' (Note to letter No 257 in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, dated July 1964).
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