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I hate Treebeard, only because he has a better beard than I do.

There was a time in my life when I believed that I too could grow an incredible beard that might one day house families of squirrels and field mice who would tickle me as they burrowed into my beard making a safe space for themselves.  This fantasy would often accompany an honest desire to be a woodland dwelling forrest god with taut, MV5BMGMxMmRkNzctMWQzYy00MTY3LWEzMDAtMzEzMDhkZWI4MjZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDUzOTQ5MjY@._V1_UY317_CR4,0,214,317_AL_bulging muscles and hair down to my ass.  It was a beautiful time in my life when the word metal was an adjective rather than a noun, and the soundtrack to my life was Corey Taylor screaming while Clown banged on beer kegs with an aluminum bat.  And of course these wild-man fantasies would be accompanied by loads of sex (Often with buxom wood nymphs, and sometimes with other bearded wild-men but such occasions were rare because I was still in that awkward phase when I pretended that browser histories weren’t a thing and that I wouldn’t wind up gay if I jerked off to two dudes having sex “just that one time”).

I can’t deny how much the Lord of the Rings franchise has mattered to my personal and intellectual development because I watched The Two Towers everyday after school for two weeks as soon as the VHS copies came out on sale.  I’d watch the film over and over again wishing I was in Middle Earth fighting alongside Two TowersGimli and Aragorn and Legolas.  And, I really wish this part wasn’t true, I would often watch the film once my family had gone to sleep so I could fight imaginary orcs and Uruk-hai.  There were so many signs of my loser-dome in those early years, and I’m only recently acquiring a semblance of personality.

These fantasies turned realities that were the major reason why I didn’t lose my virginity until I reached my early twenties were always, always, coupled with a sublime awe of ents.  Having grown up in a home that my parents literally built with their own two hands, and having an entire woods to explore and walk around in the ents were charged in my young pre-teenage mind with a kind of supernatural power.  I would actually tremble when the ents “went to war,” and watching an army of trees march to end the fires of industry seemed to me the most beautiful moment in the film.  I would watch the scene over and over again, and no matter how many times I watched it, the scene felt imbued with an energy and symbolism that felt potent and relevant and, I’ve used the word already but it feels right, sublime quality.

Though I suppose I’m getting ahead of myself because my reader may not have any idea what the ents actually are, at least in terms of the larger Tolkien universe.  My reader might have an idea already, “them those tree people what throw the rocks and such.”

The Wrath of the Ents, by Ted Nasmith

My regular reader’s outstanding grammar aside, that is partly an idea of what the Ents were, however there’s a little more to it.  A friend of mine gave me a Christmas present this year, which made me feel like an absolute ass because I didn’t get him anything, but opening the package I realized my friend knew me perfectly for not only was it a book, the title was Tolkien: A Dictionary by David Day.  I discovered that this book was in fact a 15743926121miniature version of A Tolkien Bestiary, and looking at this wonderful book a better idea of what Ents actually are comes into play:

Elvish histories tell how, when Varda, Queen of the Heavens, rekindled the stars and the Elves awake, the Ents also awoke in the Great Forrests of Arda.  They came from the thoughts of Yavanna, Queen of the Earth, and were her Shepards of Trees.  Shepards and guardians they proved to be, for if roused to anger they could crush stone and steel with their hands alone.  Justly they were feared, but they were also gentle and wise.  They loved the trees and all the Olvar and guarded them from evil


Though Ents at times had great gatherings, called Entmoots, for the most part they were a solitary folk living apart from one another in isolated Ent Houses in the Great Forrests.  Often these were mountain caverns plentifully supplied with spring water and surrounded by beautiful trees.  (81-3.)John_Howe_-_Ents

Now it’s very possible that the reader still has no clear understanding of what an Ent actually is, which has fine because there are Tolkien Scholars who still have no clear conception of what an Ent actually is.  I discovered halfway through the eighth Non-Lord of the Rings book about Tolkien and his work that there is an ongoing debate about the etymological origin of Ents, and therefore no-one is really sure what they are.  They might be orcs or trolls or giants or simply something that can’t be clearly defined.  It’s easy to read this description and watch the Peter Jackson films and believe they have a firm conviction of what Ents actually are, but their quality is something linguists, scholars, and fans themselves are still debating, and even reading Tolkien himself the reader is sure to come away still stumped.

They found that they were looking at a most extraordinary face.  It belonged to a large Man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck.  Whether it was clad in stuff like green and grey bark, or whether that was its hide, was difficult to say.  At any rate the arms, at a short distance from the trunk, were not wrinkled, but covered with brown smooth skin.  The large feet had seven toes treebeard-3each.  The lower part of the long face was covered with a sweeping grey beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the toots, thin and mossy at the ends. (452).

In the same paragraph Tolkien has compared Treebeard to both a man and a troll, further creating an “other” by the seven toes on his feet.  There really is nothing like an Ent because every time one gets close to understanding what it actually is, Tolkien offers only more speculation, and to be completely honest after a while I really don’t care what Ents really are.  And neither should the reader.

The role of the Ents in Book 3 of the Lord of the Rings is not so much their supernatural existence, but rather their ultimate role in changing the events of the war of the Ring.  Merry and Pippin escape into Fangorn after being held prisoner by the Uruk-Has that killed Boromir at the end of the Fellowship of the Ring.  The Two Towers follows the pair of them as they encounter Treebeard in the woods, and through their influence the man decides to join the war, and rally the ents to him in order to defeat the evil Wizard Saruman who is wreaking havoc over the territory of Rohan with his orcs and “industry.”ti_02

It’s in this territory that most of the interpretation of Treebeard and Ents tends to veer towards the predictable.  Most people who comment or write about the Ents tend always to use them as nothing more than a metaphor for environmentalism, the only ever real political position that Tolkien offered during his lifetime.  It’s because the “Old Professor” rarely ever espoused any significant personal interpretations, and because the man had a driving passion for the woods and pastures of native England, the existence of the Ents in the novels has largely been interpreted as an attempt to create a symbolic army for the environment.  The Ents became tree-huggers rather than tree-shepards, and thus legions of term papers and blog posts were established killing any real attempt at independent scholarship or initiative.800px-Ted_Nasmith_-_The_Tree_Shepherds

It’s not that I disagree with the argument that Ents serve as an environmental argument, it’s just that I object to simply interpreting the Lord of the Rings books using the pathetic tool of allegory.  Allegories tend to be the tools of religious sycophants, or else pathetic middle school compositions that totally should have deserved the contest prize over Tom’s poem about some piss-for-shit leaf on a branch of a fucking tree in fucking Autumn.  #NeverForget#TomCanSuckIt.

Treebeard is an interesting character because he is a man (or troll, or giant, or god, or tree, or whatevs) because he is a man with no real allegiance to anything other than his own business.  At one point Merry and Pippin are discussing the war with the man and he offers his take on the world and himself:44f6fed5898c5e36c1c4c6278b11c13f

‘Hoom, hm, I have not troubled about the Great Wars,’ said Treebeard; ‘they mostly c concern Elves and Men.  That is the business of Wizards: Wizards are always troubled about the future.  I do not like worrying about the future.  I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even the Elves nowadays.  […]. And there are some things, of course, whose side I am altogether not on; I am against them altogether: these—burarum’ (he again made a deep rumble of disgust)’—these Orcs, and their Masters.

‘I used to be anxious when the shadow lay on Mirkwood, but when it removed to Mordor, I did not trouble for a while: Mordor is a long way away.  But it seems that the wind is setting East, and the withering of all woods may be drawing near.  There is naught that an old Ent can do to hold back that storm: he must weather it or crack.  (461).

treebeard-2It’s hard to say, write really, that I identify with Treebeard without feeling like an absolute hipster.  It’s easy to nod along with someone and their words, it’s quite another thing to commit to action and demonstrate conviction.  It might also be because the current political environment in the United States is not friendly to anyone outside of the two-party, two-side system.  Treebeard stands in the face of those who would have him pick one side or the other, and ultimately he does pick a side.  It would seem then that Treebeard’s ultimate decision to join the fight of the War of the Ring is a real political gesture, however my only conflict with this argument is that Treebeard is a man with his own sense of time.e7dc8b16e1260144332e08709a804379

I addressed in my essay about Gandalf, and then again when discussing Durin’s Bane that Tolkien’s effort in The Lord of the Rings is often about creating a sense of deep time.  The reader steadily, as they read, become aware that the characters that they love and care about are actually small figures in the ancient conflict between good and evil, or the light and shadow that stretches back millennia.  Treebeard then is another one of these figures that serves to juxtapose the hobbits against the enormity of time that exists in the universe.

Pippin himself observes this feeling of time when he tries to describe Treebeard

But at the moment the hobbits noted little but the eyes.  These deep eyes were no surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating.  They were brown, shot with a green light.  Often afterwards Pippin tried to describe his first impression of them.882ed63e9dc1ba58c8d17f58178d8670--ent-lord-of-the-rings

‘One felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long, slow, steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present; like sun shimmering on the outer leaves of a vast tree, or on the ripples of a very deep lake.  I don’t know, but it felt as if something that grew in the ground—asleep, you might say, or just feeling itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky had suddenly waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care it had given to its own affairs for endless years.  (452).

Tolkien provides most of the material for me, using words like “deep” and “endless” to characterize the Hobbit’s impression of the Ent.  And the reader at that point is able to feel the hobbits’s feelings of Treebeard’s feelings of them as they feel their own feelings about the feelings of feelings thus expressed.Many_ents

I like James Joyce a little too much I think.

I can hear my reader’s objections.  We’ve already addressed the theme of Time in The Fellowship of the Ring; what good is it to continue on with this theme when there are so many other aspects of the universe to explore?  Treebeard is important, but he’s just another beating of the same drum.

To this I don’t really have a good defense.  The reader is right, Treebeard is another expression of the Deep Time that Tolkien is crafting over the entire trilogy, and my exploration of the character is just a reminder of that sensation of deep time.  However if I can offer some sort of defense for myself it would be that even if Treebeard is an example of the “deep time” of Middle Earth he is not what the reader has observed before.  Gandalf was a wizard and a Maiar, one of the ageless spirits watching and manipulating the course of human events and wars to ensure the course of some nameless, natural order.  Durin’s Bane was a balrog, a footservent of an agent of pure evil that existed purely for the sake of war, destruction, and pain.  It’s existence revealed the ancient quality of the world, but it was also a reminder of evil.

Treebeard, simply put, is about desiring only peace.

The ents, to me and my reading of the The Two Towers, were the most fascinating and hopeful aspect of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the word hope is employed purposefully.  When I would rewatch the “Last March of the Ents” and feel the hairs on my arms and legs stand on end and the shiver run through my body, it was because the Ents were creatures without any sort of real agenda.  They were almost human beings 800px-Luca_Bonatti_-_Farewell_to_Fangorndefending their homes.  Unlike the Men, who were greedy and vain, or the orcs, who were vicious and cruel, the Ents fought only for the trees and the earth and the safety of the natural world.  This is not a particularly sexy position to take in an armed conflict, but it stands to be reminded that it is ultimately the reason most people would or should want to fight.

Treebeard is not a machiavellian despot fighting to secure of position of territory for further conquest, he is a man who has lived a long life and decides to fight because he recognizes that, even if his efforts will be for naught, the fight against the shadow is worth fighting for because it will be for the world rather than for a partisan cause.  This OptimisticInfiniteHornedtoadprovides some real sense of hope as a reader, and a real form of identification.  Watching the year 2017 unfold, and watching my country dissolve into contested and petty partisan conflict a figure like Treebeard was refreshing and hopeful because it was an example of a being who could look past it.  The time of trees is older and longer than the times of men.  Outside of my office window stand two pecan trees.  They are most assuredly older than I am, and I’m sure they’ll be there long after I am dead.  In their time they will provide food for squirrels, shelter for birds, and sleeping space for plenty of stray cats who will no longer be strays once my wife has discovered them.  It’s not a profound, or highly insightful comment on the battle84f7481f88088496274cf4e8df676634-d3l2t5v between good and evil, but trees, like Ents, are beings that offer a long series of selfless acts at their own expense.

Tolkien was a man who loved nature and the woods and beauty of the natural world.  And rather than turning that love into simple political or environmental allegory, it’s a much more satisfying interpretation to observe that Treebeard and the Ents are a real contribution to the mythos of Middle Earth because they are Shepards trying desperately to keep careful watch over their flock of trees and who, when the time comes, were willing to fight for the life and world in which they loved.

Treebeard may not charge onto the fields of Pellenor welding Anduril and slaying Orcs, but he does at least chunk a few boulders, and wear an impressive beard.




*Writer’s Note*

All quotes taken from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers were taken from the Mariner paperback edition.


**Writer’s Note**

I might as well share the scenes I used to watch over and over again until my VHS was nothing but a thin whisk of dark plastic that clicked and hissed as it tried desperately to play the “Last March of the Ents.”  I eventually replaced it all with the extended DVD sets which themselves are now nothing but thin nubs of whatever they made laserdiscs out of.  Watching this scene on YouTube I’m struck by the appalling quality of the video itself.  Despite this, watching the Ents slowly march out of Fanghorn forest I can’t deny I still feel that sublime tingle.  It’s something to the craft of these films that after close to a decade I’m able to reconnect to the teenage loser who believed in the forrest and trees.  Enjoy.