Next up on the Lord of the Rings re-read, chapter III.4 of The Two Towers, “Treebeard.” I think this may be my favorite chapter to date, or at least the one I enjoyed most.
Spoilers for all of LotR and comments after the jump.
Pippin and Merry, traveling through the forest, come to a rocky hill where they are startled to met Treebeard (a.k.a. Fangorn), an Ent who they had overlooked as an “old stump of a tree.” After they establish that they are not Orcs and that they know Gandalf, Treebeard takes them to his household where they tell him their story to date (except the Ring). Treebeard decides that he must do something about Saruman, whose Orcs have been destroying the forest. After telling them about how the Ents lost track of the Entwives, they sleep.
The next day, he takes them to Entmoot, where for three days the Ents debate what they should do. (The hobbits spend most of this time with a young and hasty Ent, Bregalad.) The Ents decide to make war on Isengard, apparently accompanied by groves of moving trees. The chapter ends with them looking down on Isengard.
That is a really bare-bones summary for quite a long chapter, but so much of it is conversation that if I started summarizing in more detail we’d be here all day.
So, long chapter. Also one I enjoyed a lot: I’m really liking seeing Pippin (and Merry, to a lesser extent) grow and respond to the wider world, and I like Treebeard too. His manner of speech tickles me (I can “hear” his poetry and language surprisingly easily, for me), and I appreciate his practicality and his idealism in dealing with Saruman and overall—see, for instance, his mild scorn in describing the Elves’ withdrawal to “ma(k)e songs about days that would never come again.” Also, the bit of sarcasm in his introductory comment: “Almost felt you liked the Forest! That’s good! That’s uncommonly kind of you.”
(Is Treebeard a polarizing figure like Bombadil? I don’t hear him talked about as such, but he does tend to break into poetry and has some quirky mannerisms. On the other hand he also doesn’t represent a radical pause in the narrative.)
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Random POV note: in order to convey Pippin’s impression of Treebeard’s eyes, the narrative goes to an explicit retrospective quote from him, rather than stepping into Pippin’s head to describe how he felt at the time of seeing them—which is what most third-person narratives would do today, I think, and which indicates how distant the omniscient narrative can be even when it follows specific characters.
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The magic properties of Ent waters: I see that the healing and invigorating properties are present from the stream alone, but it takes the version in Treebeard’s home to make the hobbits feel like their hair is growing.
I also think the description of the lights in Treebeard’s home is beautiful:
Treebeard lifted two great vessels and stood them on the table. They seemed to be filled with water; but he held his hands over them, and immediately they began to glow, one with a golden and the other with a rich green light; and the blending of the two lights lit the bay, as if the sun of summer was shining through a roof of young leaves. Looking back, the hobbits saw that the trees in the court had also begun to glow, faintly at first, but steadily quickening, until every leaf was edged with light: some green, some gold, some red as copper; while the tree-trunks looked like pillars moulded out of luminous stone.
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To briefly return to logistics-geeking, the Encyclopedia of Arda calculates that Treebeard’s “seventy thousand ent-strides” are just over fifty miles. Because I know you all were wondering. (Like Pippin, I would totally have tried to keep track of ent-strides, but I imagine I would have gotten lost well before three thousand.)
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The Entwives: I know you will all be very surprised that this story causes me to roll my eyes a great deal.
First, there’s the name. Entwives? Why not just “female Ents,” or “Enthusbands” and “Entwives”? That is, why are the male members of a species the default, while the female members are labeled only in terms of a relationship with the males?
Second, there’s the gender-based stereotyping of the Ents and Entwives. Entwives are settled, domestic, not scholarly, and minor (but presumably benevolent) tyrants: “They did not wish to speak with these things; but they wished them to hear and obey what was said to them. . . . the Entwives desired order, and plenty, and peace (by which they meant that things should remain where they had set them).” Ents are wanderers, explorers, absent-minded, and not willing to put that much effort into relationships: “Our sorrow was very great. Yet the wild wood called, and we returned to it. For many years we used to go out every now and again and look . . . . But as time passed we went more seldom and wandered less far.”
Third, there’s the Elvish song which casts the separation as the fault of the Entwives, who refuse to come when the Ents ask them to return (though, to be fair, the ending verses reverse this in telling of their eventual reunion “when darkness falls at last”).
So, while I can regret the lack of Entwives and the dim prospects for the continuation of the species, the rest of the story is pretty much not my thing.
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Treebeard’s opinion of Saruman: he may have been too slow to act, but he is a fine judge of character in retrospect. That tinge of sarcasm comes through again when he notes that Saruman “was polite in those days, always asking my leave (at least when he met me).” And I thought “his face . . . became like windows in a stone wall: windows with shutters inside” a surprisingly good descriptive metaphor.
Treebeard says, and I don’t think we have any reason to doubt him, that Saruman’s Orcs must be new because things from the Great Darkness (when Morgoth, Sir-Barely-Appearing-Until-the-Appendices, ruled Middle-earth) cannot bear the sun. Treebeard speculates that they could be ruined Men or a mix of Men and Orcs; he later says that Morgoth made Trolls as “counterfeits . . . in mockery of Ents, as Orcs were of Elves,” which I think must be a genuine creation or Treebeard would have said that Morgoth had taken actual Ents and warped them, a much greater injury. Saruman, of course, is just not as powerful as Morgoth.
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The Entmoot. Tree people, can you identify the trees that ring the dingle, and do they have any significance? They were “dark evergreen trees . . . : they branched out right from the roots, and were densely clad in dark glossy leaves like thornless holly, and they bore many stiff upright flower-spikes with large shining olive-coloured buds.”
I don’t know if Pippin is just more tolerable from inside his head or the reader stand-in function of the hobbits is more prevalent now that we’re so far away from known things, but like with the ent-strides, I’m sure I too would be “wondering, since Entish was such an ‘unhasty’ language, whether they had yet got further than Good Morning.” Also, I appreciated that we got an explicit statement that the two hobbits missed and wanted to see Frodo, Sam, and Strider.
I thought the text did an effective job of building suspense after the hobbits left the Entmoot. The weather turns colder, greyer, more urgent (“hurrying clouds and fitful stars”); then on the third day, as the Ents near a decision, it goes still and expectant through the wind dropping, which parallels the later sudden silence of the Ents before their crashing echoing shout.
For some reason the forest having followed the Ents is always a surprise to me every time the local members of the Company are reunited at Isengard, and I don’t know why, as they’re explicitly mentioned at the end of this chapter. Granted Pippin isn’t sure what he’s seeing, but it’s not that ambiguous.
And we end on another great line: “‘Night lies over Isengard,’ said Treebeard.” Because I almost never stop at the end of a chapter when I’m reading, I hadn’t noticed how well Tolkien uses chapter breaks in LotR before, so that’s one of many things this project is helping me see.
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Word looked up this chapter: “At nightfall he brought them to his ent-house: nothing more than a mossy stone set upon turves under a green bank.” The web claims it’s an archaic plural of “turf,” which being an American I’m not used to thinking of as a building material, probably why I didn’t recognize it.
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Oh, and like last time, I’ll be doing a movie re-watch post, so feel free to save discussion of the movie’s depiction of this chapter for then.