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Treebeard — 1. A ‘frightfully tree-ish’ introduction


Apr 28 2008, 1:38pm

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Treebeard — 1. A ‘frightfully tree-ish’ introduction Can't Post

I have always had rather a soft spot – “Nothing to do with [my] wood: I do not mean that” – for Fangorn, as both a character and a place. Too, we’ve seen the idea of the larger-than-life character who really embodies the whole sense of a place before, and in connection with forests, no less – Tom Bombadil in the Old Forest, and Galadriel in Lothlórien. Surely, these are not coincidences – and I’ll be returning to this later on in the discussion.

“Treebeard” is a chapter steeped in a sense of the almost immeasurably remote past, and with a strong undercurrent of nostalgia and loss. It’s a chapter where we return to song and language. We’ve had only one short verse since the elegy for Boromir so far this entire book. Here, in “Treebeard”, we get five more songs. Here too, we meet another language, Entish, and you can be sure I’ll have a few things to say about that! The chapter is also a bit of a respite from the larger policies and machinations of the Powers Outside; in some ways, it’s a short “hobbit holiday.” But the impact of those two little hobbits, Merry and Pippin, will prove instrumental in moving forward the events of the War of the Ring. Even if they were left out of the Old Lists.

In discussing this chapter, I’m going to take a leaf from N.E. Brigand’s book (no pun intended), and will jump around as I see fit. Unlike NEB, I’m going to begin, rather than conclude, with a long, systematic, and chronological trip through the chapter. After that, I’ll bounce around to a number of different topics that interest me (and hopefully you as well). I’ll seek to make a few contextual connections to works by other authors; feel free to chime in when, where, and if you like. I’ll be bringing in a little from the drafts in The History of Middle-earth, but not too much; despite this chapter’s being among the longest in the book, its treatment in HoMe is one of the most cursory. I’ll be asking a lot of questions. Often, I’ll have my own answers for these. Sometimes, I’ll share them up front; other times, I’ll hold back. I want to hear what you all have to say!

And so, with that Entishly long preamble out of the way, I’d like to throw out a series of questions, working my way through the chapter from start to finish, hitting a few points that jumped out at me. If I seem to overlook something important, like the poetry, it’s only because I’m going to return to it in another post. I’ve also stayed away from the secondary literature, for the most part – by design: if you want to bring any in any of it, be my guest!

A queer stifling feeling came over them, as if the air were too thin or too scanty for breathing. [… Pippin] clambered on to a great tree-root that wound down into the stream, and stooping drew up some water in his cupped hands. It was clear and cold, and he took many draughts. Merry followed him.

1. Does this remind anybody of the adventure in the Old Forest? The scene seems staged to remind readers of Frodo’s similar position at the edge of the water, straddling the roots of Old Man Willow. This is just the first of many implicit and explicit comparisons between the two woods in this chapter. How is Fangorn like the Old Forest? How is it different? Just a bit later, we’ll read of “a rock-wall before them: the side of a hill, or the abrupt end of some long root thrust out by the distant mountains. No trees grew on it, and the sun was falling full on its stony face.” Have we seen a place like this before? :)

‘Yes, it is all very dim, and stuffy, in here,’ said Pippin. ‘It reminds me, somehow, of the old room in the Great Place of the Tooks away back in the Smials at Tuckborough: a huge place, where the furniture has never been moved or changed for generations. They say the Old Took lived in it year after year, while he and the room got older and shabbier together – and it has never changed since he died, a century ago.’

2. What do you make of this unexpected, and highly specific, reference back to the Shire? How long are hobbit generations anyway?


‘But the Sun at any rate must peep in sometimes.’ said Merry. ‘It does not look or feel at all like Bilbo’s description of Mirkwood. That was all dark and black, and the home of dark black things. This is just dim, and frightfully tree-ish. You can’t imagine animals living here at all, or staying for long.’

3. First, the Old Forest, now Mirkwood. What do you make of the comparison? Why allude to Mirkwood and Bilbo’s original adventure at this point in the present tale?

They climbed and scrambled up the rock. If the stair had been made it was for bigger feet and longer legs than theirs. They were too eager to be surprised at the remarkable way in which the cuts and sores of their captivity had healed and their vigour had returned.

4. From the Old Forest to Mirkwood to Lothlórien? Does the atmosphere of Fangorn convey healing properties, as well as a sense of timelessness, the way Lothlórien does? Or am I making too much of this, and it’s nothing more than the general doughtiness of hobbits, as discussed in last week’s chapter? Treebeard makes a more explicit reference to Lorien later in the chapter. How similar, and how different are the two woods?

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.

5. This is the first, but not the only, comparison of Ents to Trolls. I’m going to be returning to this in the next couple of days with greater attention (some of it of a linguistic, some mythological), but would anyone care to comment? We were just reminded of Bilbo’s adventure with the mention of Mirkwood. Does this make you think of The Hobbit also?

6. Bark or hide? Which is it? Are Ents flora or fauna?

Often afterwards Pippin tried to describe his first impression of [Treebeard’s eyes].

7. The paragraph that follows seems to be a statement, or perhaps an excerpt from a written document (e.g., supplementary material from the Red Book?), made long afterwards by Pippin. What do you make of this aside? Does it interrupt the flow of the chapter? When would Pippin have said or written this? To whom is/was he speaking or writing? Why give this description to Pippin in the form of direct address instead of offering it through the narrative, as in the previous descriptive passages?

‘Then I can answer your other questions,’ said Treebeard. ‘I am not going to do anything with you: not if you mean by that ‘do something to you’ without your leave. We might do some things together. I don’t know about sides. I go my own way; but your way may go along with mine for a while.’

8. Does this remind you of Tom Bombadil? Back at the Council of Elrond, he was described in a rather similar way. Treebeard and Tom Bombadil even have the “same initials,” as it were: TB. And they are each described as “the eldest” – which one is really older? What else do they have in common? Do they know each other?

‘Those were the broad days! Time was when I could walk and sing all day and hear no more than the echo of my own voice in the hollow hills. The woods were like the woods of Lothlórien, only thicker stronger, younger. And the smell of the air! I used to spend a week just breathing.’

9. Is this the same restorative “green smell” that Legolas praises a couple of chapters back? For the botanists – all one of you! – could “spend[ing] a week just breathing” be a reference to transpiration in plants?

‘I have brought you about seventy thousand ent-strides, but what that comes to in the measurement of your land I do not know. Anyhow we are near the roots of the Last Mountain. Part of the name of this place might be Wellinghall, if it were turned into your language. I like it. We will stay here tonight.’

10. What does it come to in our measurements? Has anyone ever tried to figure it out? Fonstad? Strachey? An industrious amateur cartographer here?

11. Is the “Last Mountain” another oblique reference back to The Hobbit, or is it mere coincidence? It sounds rather like the Lonely Mountain, no? We’ll see some other possible links between Ents and Dwarves in a moment. Do you find it at all strange that this mountain is actually named (Methedras)? What does that name mean? Do you find it plausible that Merry actually knows/remembers this name? It’s an awfully specific geographical detail to stick in one’s mind – even if one is partial to maps.

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.

12. It seems to me this image alludes to the Two Trees of Valinor. Perhaps also, in a lesser afterimage, to Galadriel’s Mirror. Thoughts?

He went to the back of the bay, and then they saw that several tall stone jars stood there, with heavy lids. He removed one of the lids, and dipped in a great ladle, and with it filled three bowls, one very large bowl, and two smaller ones.

13. Why does Treebeard own smaller bowls? After all, he doesn’t have seats for the hobbits, or beds. Or are these bowls left over from ages past when there were Entings? Did Treebeard ever have any Entings of his own, do you think? If so, what happened to them?

The drink was like water, indeed very like the taste of the draughts they had drunk from the Entwash near, the borders of the forest, and yet there was some scent or savour in it which they could not describe: it was faint, but it reminded them of the smell of a distant wood borne from afar by a cool breeze at night. The effect of the draught began at the toes, and rose steadily through every limb, bringing refreshment and vigour as it coursed upwards, right to the tips of the hair. Indeed the hobbits felt that the hair on their heads was actually standing up, waving and curling and growing.

14. Is this magic? Is the Ent-draught related in some way to miruvor, the cordial of Imladris? Is it related, not in a literal but a literary sense, to the curative liquor of the Orcs from the last chapter? Is it intoxicating?

[Saruman] settled down at Angrenost, or Isengard as the Men of Rohan call it.

15. This is the only use of the Elvish name, Angrenost, in the entire novel. Why does Tolkien have Treebeard give us this piece of information? Is any particular effect achieved thereby? In the ensuing paragraph of exposition, Treebeard is essentially giving the hobbits a history lesson. Why give this job to Treebeard, as opposed to, say, having included it in the Council of Elrond? Considering the concrete description of Isengard a bit later in the chapter, does its layout remind you of any other Tolkienian locale? Perhaps from a different Age?

‘It is a mark of evil things that came in the Great Darkness that they cannot abide the Sun; but Saruman’s Orcs can endure it, even if they hate it. I wonder what he has done? Are they Men he has ruined, or has he blended the races of Orcs and Men? That would be a black evil!’

16. What has he done? How did Saruman achieve this, if Sauron could not? Or perhaps Sauron never bothered to try? One has a sense of Saruman as an alchemist, a scientist, a tinker – “a mind of metal and wheels,” Treebeard says); this does seem a contrast with the more “organic” evil of Sauron, no?

‘Only lately did I guess that Saruman was to blame, and that long ago he had been spying out all the ways, and discovering my secrets.’

17. Spying out what, exactly? Discovering what secrets? What secrets would Treebeard have, other than his real name?

‘Yes!’ said Pippin. ‘I should like to see the White Hand overthrown. I should like to be there, even if I could not be of much use: I shall never forget Uglúk and the crossing of Rohan.’

18. This bit of synechdoche seems rather out of character for Pippin, doesn’t it? The diction seems closer to the speech of Aragorn or Théoden, perhaps even approaching the “heigh stile” of The Silmarillion. When has Pippin heard Saruman referred to in this way? As to his wish to be there, even if of little use, does this foreshadow Pippin’s participation in the Battle of the Morannon at the conclusion of the War of the Ring?

‘Only three remain of the first Ents that walked in the woods before the Darkness: only myself, Fangorn, and Finglas and Fladrif [..]’

19. Only thee of the first Ents remain. Is the number significant? Three Elven Rings? Three Silmarils? How many “original Ents” were there? Could it have been seven, to set against the Seven Fathers of the Dwarves? Is it only coincidence that the names all alliterate (as does that of Fangorn’s Entwife, Fimbrethil)?

‘And now the Entwives are only a memory for us, and our beards are long and grey.’

20. The also reminds me of the Dwarves. Not just the mention of long, grey beards, of course, but the Ents, like the Dwarves, seem to reproduce only very slowly and to suffer from an acute insufficiency of women-folk. I believe only one female Dwarf is ever explicitly named (Dís); likewise, only one Entwife (Fimbrethil). Are there other similarities or points of relationship between the Ents and Dwarves –secretiveness about their respective languages, maybe? What else?

‘It is Elvish, of course: lighthearted, quickworded, and soon over. I daresay it is fair enough. But the Ents could say more on their side, if they had time!’

21. Does this description (“lighthearted, quickworded”) harken back to the Elves of The Hobbit? And if the Ents could say more, why don’t they? Why would the Elves’ song seem to sympathize with the Entwives over the Ents? And why don’t the Ents have time to say more? It would seem they have nothing but time, actually. Like the other verses, I’ll be coming back to the song again later, so don’t feel that you have to “say everything there is to say” all right now.

‘Lie down to sleep!’ said Treebeard. ‘Why of course you do! Hm, hoom: I was forgetting: singing that song put me in mind of old times; almost thought that I was talking to young Entings, I did.’

22. If Merry and Pippin were Entings, what sort of tree-types would they be? A pippin is a kind of apple. What about Merry?

The bright stars peered out of the sky, and lit the falling water as it spilled on to his fingers and head, and dripped, dripped, in hundreds of silver drops on to his feet. Listening to the tinkling of the drops the hobbits fell asleep.

23. Does this remind you of Merry’s dream (or a part of it) from the house of Tom Bombadil, followed by a rather similar image of real falling water (“Goldberry’s washing day”)? Treebeard wakes the hobbits similarly – “Hoo, ha! Good morning,” as compared to “Hey! Come merry dol! derry dol! My hearties!” Is Tolkien trying to remind us of the safety of Tom Bombadil’s house?

[The dingle] was smooth and grassclad inside, and there were no trees except three very tall and beautiful silver-birches that stood at the bottom of the bowl.

24. What is the significance of these three trees? Their number, and color?

He put the hobbits down. Before they walked away, they bowed low. This feat seemed to amuse the Ents very much, to judge by the tone of their murmurs, and the flicker of their eyes; but they soon turned back to their own business.

25. Is it amusement, or surprise? After all, Ents would not be capable of this action, would they?

Not far away the voices of the Entmoot could be heard still going on; but now they seemed deeper and less leisurely, and every now and again one great voice would rise in a high and quickening music, while all the others died away.

26. Strongly evocative of the Music of the Ainur, it seems to me. If so, is this deliberate on Tolkien’s part, do you think?

‘Night lies over Isengard,’ said Treebeard.

27. To me, this is one of the most moody, ominous concluding lines to a chapter in the entire book. You?

And with that, let’s hear from you! I’ll be checking in with my own comments and feedback all day. Then I’ll be back tomorrow with a post(s) on some of the more interesting words in the chapter, some linguistic and mythological connections, sources and contemporaries, and more. The posts over the following days shouldn’t be quite as long or exhausting to read, either, I hope. ;)

Jason Fisher
Lingwë - Musings of a Fish

Subject User Time
Treebeard — 1. A ‘frightfully tree-ish’ introduction visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 28 2008, 1:38pm
    "Tombombadil". N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Apr 28 2008, 4:33pm
    hmm..a very Entish post here... weaver Send a private message to weaver Apr 28 2008, 4:55pm
        Tree-rings for the Elven-kings visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 28 2008, 5:13pm
            hoom, hum. weaver Send a private message to weaver Apr 28 2008, 6:30pm
    a.s. looks up "synecdoche" a.s. Send a private message to a.s. Apr 28 2008, 6:41pm
        Schenectady? N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Apr 28 2008, 7:06pm
    Thoughts. Curious Send a private message to Curious Apr 28 2008, 7:28pm
    Can't see the forest for the Treebeard Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 28 2008, 7:50pm
        Nicely put! visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 28 2008, 8:10pm
        If I may nitpick on your long and well-thought answer sador Send a private message to sador Apr 28 2008, 10:26pm
            Foolish of me! Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer Apr 29 2008, 2:40am
    "Resistance is floral!" Darkstone Send a private message to Darkstone Apr 28 2008, 9:53pm
        Hobbits as speed-bumps? N.E. Brigand Send a private message to N.E. Brigand Apr 28 2008, 10:05pm
        Night-time here. Too tired to answer seriously. sador Send a private message to sador Apr 28 2008, 10:45pm
        *whacks Darkstone with knitting needles* Eowyn of Penns Woods Send a private message to Eowyn of Penns Woods Apr 29 2008, 5:28pm
    whew! lots of questions! Elenedhel Send a private message to Elenedhel Apr 29 2008, 1:00am
    A few answers, at least. squire Send a private message to squire Apr 29 2008, 12:28pm
        like...shiver..."walking sticks" a.s. Send a private message to a.s. Apr 29 2008, 1:35pm
            “There are Ents and Ents, you know” visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 29 2008, 2:43pm
        Some great answers! Hope to see more when you have time. // visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 29 2008, 2:44pm
    As usual Aunt Dora Baggins Send a private message to Aunt Dora Baggins Apr 29 2008, 8:43pm
        Thanks! :) // visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel Apr 29 2008, 8:49pm
    I'll try to be brief sador Send a private message to sador Apr 30 2008, 3:46pm
    Response from the botanist in the room Beren IV Send a private message to Beren IV May 1 2008, 4:46am
    At last, carrying on from where I've stopped sador Send a private message to sador May 2 2008, 8:14am
    Some more answers squire Send a private message to squire May 4 2008, 10:52pm
        Gandalf visits Bombadil Elizabeth Send a private message to Elizabeth May 5 2008, 12:38am
            Ha! I can just see it! // Modtheow Send a private message to Modtheow May 5 2008, 1:16am
        "Hollow hills" FarFromHome Send a private message to FarFromHome May 5 2008, 7:42am
        Oldest living thing? Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer May 5 2008, 2:34pm
            Tom Bombadil has a father-in-law, at least :) visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel May 5 2008, 4:07pm
                Yes, but the River is Tom's son by a previous marriage, making Tom.... squire Send a private message to squire May 5 2008, 4:38pm
                    You might be a redneck if ... visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel May 5 2008, 5:07pm
                Parthenogenesis? Dreamdeer Send a private message to Dreamdeer May 5 2008, 6:25pm
                    Putting the “spring” in offspring? :) // visualweasel Send a private message to visualweasel May 5 2008, 6:43pm
                    Unless... Eowyn of Penns Woods Send a private message to Eowyn of Penns Woods May 5 2008, 7:16pm


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