In all my works I take the part of trees as against all their enemies.
(J. R. R. Tolkien, Letter № 339)
I love nature. For me nothing can beat a walk in a forest or a park as far from the noise of the big city as possible and preferably in the closet proximity of any body of water. Imagine my disappointment when on one of my visits to my country house I discovered that the forest surrounding our small settlement was being cut down. Looking at the huge mighty trees being felled I felt helpless, angry and wished for one thing only: I wanted the forest to strike back at its wrongdoers, just like it did in The Lord of the Rings.
It is a well-known fact that J. R. R. Tolkien loved nature. When he was a small boy, Tolkien spent part of his childhood in Sarehole – a village near Birmingham. That place made a great impression on young Tolkien: he would spend a lot of time among the trees and was especially interested in what they looked like and how they made him feel rather than in their botanical characteristics.
This love of nature passed on into Tolkien’s books. The way he described natural world in his works shows his great affection towards trees and makes nature a character of its own, not just a set of decorations in the background. In this respect, Tolkien’s dislike for industrial development is clear as it was partially rooted in the way progress was destroying nature.
I am (obviously) much in love with plants and above all trees, and always have been; and I find human maltreatment of them as hard to bear as some find ill-treatment of animals.
(Letters, № 165)
When mistreated trees in Tolkien’s works strike back. One of the best examples of this is the Old Forest. Unfriendly to strangers the forest makes life of most folks going into it a nightmare. The reason for that is simple:
The Old Forest was hostile to two legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries.
(Letters, # 339)
The ill-treatment of the Forest began with the arrival of the Númenóreans whose deforestation and wars against Sauron cast the first blow. Later on Hobbits cut down more trees in the Old Forest to make room for their houses and also built the Hedge to separate their dwellings from the Forest. Unsurprisingly, such an intrusion was little to the Forest’s liking and it decided to cast a counter blow. Speaking of the trees, Merry told Frodo, Sam and Pippin that «they attacked the Hedge: they came and planted themselves right by it, and leaned over it» (Fellowship of the Ring, p. 146).
The Hobbits’ answer was to cut down more trees and make a great bonfire in the forest. Needless to say, after that the Old Forest became particularly unfriendly. Unable to bear arms and defend itself in any other way, the forest opted for the defence that was available to it. According to Merry, the trees could hem strangers in, lead them astray, stick a root out, grasp one with a trailer and hit them with branches, the paths shifted and changed. This attributed much to the Forest’s queer reputation. Worsened by the malice coming from the Old Man Willow, the Old Forest was a place of mistrust and fear.
Fangorn faced the fate similar to that of the Old Forest. Under attack and the threat of further diminishing the forest also boasted a queer reputation, though it did not have the Old Forest’s «evil» reputation. In the Second Age Fangorn shrank because of Númenóreans and Sauron, but in the Third Age it became especially hostile:
Fangorn Forest was old and beautiful, but at the time of the story tense with hostility because it was threatened by a machine-loving enemy.
(Letters, № 339)
Here enters the machine vs nature element – the confrontation, which was such a grief to Tolkien. Even the injuries of the Second Age did not embitter Fangorn Forest as much as Saruman’s devilry did. After the wizard’s fall and the treason of Isengard the forest was abused by the Orcs who felled the trees for the purposes of war:
Down on the borders they are felling trees – good trees. Some of the trees they just cut down and leave to rot – orc-mischief that; but most are hewn up and carried off to feed the fires of Orthanc. There is always a smoke rising from Isengard these days.
(Two Towers, p. 85)
It is an example of industrialisation destroying nature: in order for progress to take place, trees are needed to facilitate it and, possibly, make room for machines. Fangorn’s response to this evil was very different from that of the Old Forest’s, though, and mainly due to the special nature of the trees in it.
Fangorn Forest was home for the Ents – the shepherds of the trees who started walking the Earth in the Elder Days and appeared at the bidding of Yavanna to guard other trees from maltreatment or excessive felling. Few and sleepy by the Third Age, the Ents – urged by Merry and Pippin – did rise to protect themselves and make a counter attack on the enemy with machines.
We are made of the bones of the earth. We can split stone like the roots of trees, only quicker, far quicker, if our minds are roused! If we are not hewn down, or destroyed by fire or blast of sorcery, we could split Isengard into splinters and crack its walls into rubble.
(Two Towers, p. 101).
Once roused, the Ents seem a deadly enemy. But their wrath is not aimed at just anyone walking within the forest’s grasp. While the trees in the Old Forest mistrust and dislike anyone venturing into it whether their intentions are good or bad, the Ents aim their wrath at one particular enemy who has done their forest and friends a lot of harm. As contrast to the grumpy and embittered Old Forest, the Ents of Fangorn arrange one ordered, thought-out and mighty attack on the enemy and in doing that, and also in sending some Huorns to Helm’s Deep, they play a big part in the War of the Ring.
Applying different means and for different reasons, Tolkien’s nature strikes back at those who maltreat it. And it seems that once nature is angered, it is better not to mess with it as it can defend itself alright.
- H. Carpenter – The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien; with the assistance of Christopher Tolkien; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2012 (Kindle edition).
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
- J. R. R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers; HarperCollinsPublishers; London; 2001.
Featured image – Creative Common Licence found at Pixabay.