Faramir remembers “That which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

“We look towards Númenor that was, and beyond to Elvenhome that is, and to that which is beyond Elvenhome and will ever be.”

So we come to the last of these three reflections on Faramir’s explanation of the silence that he and his men observe in his refuge of Henneth Annûn before they eat, a silence that is woven into the life of Gondor and most particularly into Faramir’s own heart. In the first we thought about the tragic fall of Númenor as recounted by Tolkien in The Akallabêth a chapter near the end of The Silmarillion. In the second we thought about the two mysteries of the Children of God, the immortality of the Elves and the mortality of Humankind, which neither Elves nor Humankind can penetrate. And in this last we will think about that which “will ever be”.

It was Sauron who, when a prisoner of Númenor, denied the reality of any reality beyond that which his captors could perceive save only that which they already knew which was the darkness. For all the Númenorians could perceive in respect of their mortality was the experience of death and decay and an unknown that lay beyond their perishing. So Sauron spoke to them of what he named “the Ancient Darkness”. And of this, he told them “the world was made. For Darkness alone is worshipful, and the Lord thereof may yet make other worlds to be gifts to those that serve him, so that the increase of their power shall find no end.”

And  Ar-Pharazôn, mighty king of  Númenor, facing his own mortality as an implacable limit upon all his ambitions and perceiving the Valar, the angelic rulers of the earth, as the greatest enemy of those ambitions, listened to all that Sauron had to say to him and so became a worshipper of the Dark and of its Lord first secretly and then openly desiring the worlds of which Sauron had spoken and a power that would “find no end”.

It was part of the lie that Sauron told that he should deny any other reality than the Dark, even to claim that any other reality was the malicious invention of the Valar in their desire to deny immortality to Humankind, “seeking to enchain Men in servitude to themselves.” Now, in the likelihood of the victory of the Dark and of its messenger, Sauron, Faramir rejects the Dark. He will face it courageously even in defeat. He will be a true follower of Elendil and the Elf-friends of old until the end. He will accept the limitation that his own mortality imposes upon him not as a punishment but as a gift looking towards a home that “is not here, neither in the land of Aman nor anywhere within the Circles of the World.”

Augustine, writing in the fifth century, spoke of humankind as those eager to “achieve unity by themselves, to be their own masters and to depend only on themselves”. In The Lord of the Rings it is Faramir who is given the part of articulating the rejection of such desire, a renunciation of the despair that leads to the worship of the Dark. Faramir affirms the hope that the last word of all belongs, not to the Dark, but to the Light. It is in this renunciation that his greatness lies but what will he do when he learns that the Ring of Power, the very symbol of the greatness that the Dark can confer upon its master, lies within his grasp?

Whose Side is Treebeard on?

Whose side is Treebeard on in the War of the Ring? That is another way of asking the question, whose side is nature on? Treebeard himself is undecided. “I am not altogether on anyone’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 Elves nowadays.”

Treebeard is on the side of the forests of the earth and since time immemorial he has been their shepherd. And what he has witnessed over the years has been the long slow defeat of the forest. Even the hobbits have not been on the side of the forest. You may remember how Merry  told his companions of the battle between his people, the Brandybucks, and the Old Forest early in their journey; of how fires had been lit by the Brandybucks to drive the forest back and a great hedge planted to withstand any further attempts at encroachment. You may remember too, how the Old Forest tried to trap the hobbits as they attempted to journey through it by forcing them down to the Withywindle and the clutches of Old Man Willow. The Forest had a long and bitter memory of Merry’s people and only the arrival of Tom Bombadil saved him and his friends from disaster and a speedy conclusion to the great Quest of the Ring. The Old Forest was not on their side.

And there is a sense in which even Treebeard’s world is divided against itself because the Ents, the shepherds of the wild forest, have long been separated from the Entwives, the tenders of the cultivated gardens of the world. In this world the untamed wilderness is the masculine principle, the animus, while the cultivated world is the feminine principle, the anima and as Treebeard says to Merry and Pippin, the Entwives “would like your country.”

Tolkien never answers the question of whether the wilderness and the garden, the masculine and the feminine, can ever live in peace together although he does seem to say that the final healing of the world will only come when they are finally reconciled. But one thing is sure and that is “there are some things, of course, whose side” Treebeard is “altogether not on… these Orcs and their masters.” For Saruman the wizard has betrayed the trust bestowed upon him by the Valar, the angelic lords of the earth, the task he was given to aid the free peoples of Middle Earth in their resistance to Sauron and that he has long been plotting “to become a Power”. Treebeard declares that Saruman has “a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.”

And in saying this Treebeard challenges us to declare whose side we are on in the War of the Ring, whether we, like Saruman, use growing things for our own purposes, plotting to become little powers. Whether we, like Saruman, have given way to despair, believing in the inevitable victory of the dark lords of our own times, seeking only to find some accommodation with them, some way of surviving in a world that they rule. If we do then we will find that all who become, or seek to become, dark lords will have little regard for our loyalty seeking only their own ends and we will find something else too. Nature will be against us and will have its revenge upon the dark lords and all who for their own ends choose to be their allies. In our own time we are already rousing the anger of nature and would do well to find a way to make peace before it is too late.

Learning to See as an Ent Sees

In meeting Treebeard Merry and Pippin are introduced to a wholly different way of seeing the world and living in it. Ents may not be trees but they think like trees and if trees could speak (and for all I know they do) they might speak as Ents do.

We do not say anything in Old Entish, says Treebeard, “unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.” In other words we are being invited to look at reality through the eyes of a creature who never rushes and who takes a very long term view of everything and to imagine what life might be like if we were to see it as he does. For there is no doubt that Treebeard would see us as very “hasty” folk indeed. He would be horrified to see us only plant trees that will mature at great speed and then be cut down to feed our need for timber. And if he were horrified by that he would be even more horrified by our daily destruction of the forests of the world and the endless steady transformation of our planet into a vast desert. He might look at our behaviour and conclude that in actual fact the orcs had won the War of the Ring and that a new Dark Lord had indeed arisen wielding something that was very much like the One Ring, if not worse. We may remember that there were times when Sauron took on the appearance of a benevolent lord. Perhaps he would know how to use words like freedom as a cloak for his true purposes but now with the possibility of real and everlasting power he needs cloaks no longer. At the time of The Lord of the Rings he is revealed as he truly is.

Thankfully Sauron and his lesser ally, Saruman, overlook the Ents. It is not that they do not know of their existence but that they discount them as they weigh up who their most dangerous opponents might be. As far as they are concerned Ents are too slow, just like the trolls made by Morgoth in mockery of them, to be a real threat. But as we shall see they have dangerously miscalculated. Evil always discounts that which does not seem to threaten it on its own terms. Evil will always say, as Stalin said of the Pope, “How many divisions does he have?” Maybe it will be those who learn to see like Ents or Hobbits who will prove to be our most doughty champions.

“I can see and hear (and smell and feel) a great deal from this a-lalla-lalla-rumba-kamanda-lind-or-burume. Excuse me: that is part of my name for it; I do not know what the word is in the outside languages: you know this thing we are on, where I stand and look out on fine mornings and think about the Sun, and the grass beyond the wood, and the horses, and the clouds, and the unfolding of the world…”

“Hill?” suggested Pippin. “Shelf? Step?” suggested Merry.

Treebeard repeated the words thoughtfully. “Hill. Yes, that was it. But it is a hasty word for a thing that has stood here ever since this part of the world was shaped.”

 

What would it be like to learn how to Name things as Ents do? We won’t even begin to know the answer to that question unless we learn to take time to look at things. When we look at something as an Ent does then we might begin to learn its long story and to learn to tell it ourselves.

Perhaps we might learn to see through the eyes of that great prophet, William Blake, in his “Auguries of Innocence..”

“To see a World in a grain of sand, And a heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”