“We Are Tree-herds, We Old Ents.” Treebeard Teaches Merry and Pippin About His People.

The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 607-611

Ents are shepherds of trees, tree-herds as Treebeard puts it, and it is in the nature of shepherds to live so closely to the creatures they care for that they can anticipate any action that those creatures might perform. Of course, sometimes a sheep, or perhaps a tree, might do something that takes the shepherd by surprise and if that happens then they will do all that they can to put things right. As that ancient source of wisdom, the Bible, puts it, “the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”. This does not just mean that the shepherd will die for the sheep although they are always prepared to do so if required but that they give their lives for their welfare from day to day and Treebeard has been doing this for a very long time indeed.

Treebeard, the shepherd of trees, by Alan Lee

His long life of service to the trees began with a prayer of Yavanna, the member of the Valar for whom the care of things that live and grow upon the earth was most dear. She prayed to Eru to provide for the care of trees. Her main concern then was with Dwarves and their axes, which rather puts into context the advice that Aragorn gave to Gimli about being careful how he used his. Indeed the only other recorded occasion apart from these events at the end of the Third Age in which Ents became involved in the affairs of the wider world was when the Dwarves of Nogrod went to war with the Elves of Doriath and sacked their stronghold of Menegroth.

Menegroth lay at the heart of Doriath, a forest kingdom ruled over for long years by Thingol and by his wife, Melian the Maiar. It was Melian who through her magic arts made Doriath a secret place and it was in that land that Luthien was born and nurtured and where Galadriel learned much from Melian so that the land of Lothlórien in many ways resembled Doriath. It was through the tragic greed of Thingol that led to his death and war with the Dwarves of Nogrod and led to so much destruction of that which had been so beautiful. The Ents fought alongside the Elves in this war and it is quite possible that Treebeard was one of those who fought. His motto of “Do not be hasty” may have been made in those unhappy days and he has kept it. He has not gone to war for thousands of years until the arrival of two young hobbits who come among the Ents as they seek to escape from orcs.

The death of Thingol in Menegroth.

Like trees themselves Ents are patient creatures. Treebeard is able to look back to a time when “there was all one wood… from here to the Mountains of Lune, and this was just the East End.” He ponders the sense of spaciousness that he enjoyed in former days. “Broad days,” he calls them when there was room and time just for breathing. “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.”

Although he regards the decline of the forests of Middle-earth with sadness we do not get the sense that he does so with resentment or bitterness. As Gandalf will say to him later on he has not plotted to cover the lands with his trees. But at the last he will become angry at the wanton destruction of trees by Saruman who does so simply for the sake of his own self-aggrandizement. His choice not to act hastily has guided him for many long years. He has not been passive in the face of evil but has devoted himself to the care of his Forest of Dark Night, his tauremornalómë, protecting unwary travellers from the worst of that dark and teaching those parts of the forest that have embraced darkness in hatred of the light to rest in darkness as a part of the natural rhythm of things, a time in which the forest can breathe in before exhaling once more in glad welcome of every dawn.

There are almost too many examples of the wanton destruction of trees in the world to name just one.

“Do Not Repent of Your Welcome To The Dwarf.” The Fellowship Tell the Story of Gandalf’s Fall to Galadriel and Celeborn.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 344-347

With the arrival of the Fellowship to the halls of Galadriel and Celeborn in Caras Galadhon at the heart of the realm of Lothlórien the tale of Gandalf’s fall into the abyss at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm must at last be told. So too has the manner of his fall at the hands of the Balrog of Moria, “of all elf-banes the most deadly, save the One who sits in the Dark Tower.”

Caras Galadhon as seen from Cerin Amroth by Ted Nasmith

If news of the fall of Gandalf has been the cause of great grief in the Elves of Lothlórien so news of the Balrog of Moria is the cause of great anger and most especially in Celeborn.

“Had I known that the Dwarves had stirred up this evil in Moria again, I would have forbidden you to pass the northern borders, you and all that went with you. And if it were possible, one would say that at the last Gandalf fell from wisdom into folly, going needlessly into the net of Moria.”

Vincent Pompetti imagines Celeborn and Galadriel together as they greet their guests.

Readers will note that even though Celeborn is angry with the whole company, even with Gandalf himself, it is Gimli who he singles out for his particular wrath. It is Dwarves who have stirred up the evil that has lain hidden long years in the depths of Moria.

Celeborn’s anger against the Dwarves has a long history. It began in the First Age of Arda when his kinsman, the Lord Thingol of Doriath gained possession of a Silmaril through the mighty deeds of Luthien and Beren who took it from the very crown of Morgoth himself. The Silmaril was the price that Thingol had demanded of Beren so that he could have the hand of Luthien in marriage. Thingol asked Dwarf craftsmen to put the Silmaril into the Nauglamir, greatest and most beautiful of the works of the Dwarves in that age. The Dwarves were overcome by desire for the Silmaril and demanded that Thingol give it to them in payment for their labour. When Thingol refused this they killed him and a war broke out between Dwarves and Elves with terrible slaughter upon both sides. Although Celeborn’s role in that war is never mentioned there can be no doubt that he played his part in it and that he carried both anger and distrust towards Dwarves in his heart thereafter.

Thingol and the Dwarves

That the telling of the tale of the events at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm does not end with a swift expulsion of the Fellowship from Lothlórien and disaster for their mission is thanks to the intervention of Galadriel. If Celeborn is the keeper of the memory of a perception of treachery upon the part of dwarves and of a bitter war in which his homeland was destroyed by them then Galadriel is the keeper of a very different one. In her heart she cherishes the memory of Melian, the wife of Thingol, who became like a mother to her. Melian was known for her great wisdom and through all the story of Thingol and his avaricious heart she tried to warn him that such a spirit could lead to no good. Thingol became a grasper after things, even treating his own daughter, Luthien, as if she were a possession and not a free person. Galadriel, after the spirit of Melian, is a giver of hospitality, even though, like Melian too, she has put a girdle around Lothlórien to keep all evil at bay. She made Aragorn and Arwen welcome, both separately and in giving space for their love for each other to grow. And now she extends a loving welcome to Gimli the Dwarf.

“She looked upon Gimli, who sat glowering and sad, and she smiled. And the Dwarf… looked up and met her eyes; and it seemed to him that he looked suddenly into the heart of an enemy and saw there love and understanding.”

For Gimli this moment is a turning point in his story. His looking up, away from his anger and sadness and into the face of Galadriel turns him into a lover of beauty. He offers her his heart in worship and this is no idolatry because idolatry is in essence the worship of things for the sake of a small, mean self, the kind of worship that led to the fall and mutual destruction of Thingol, his realm, and the Dwarves, long ago. Gimli becomes a servant of all that is beautiful for its own sake. He “kisses the joy as it flies”, as William Blake puts it and so comes to live in “eternity’s sunrise”.

Gimli finds love in Galadriel’s face.

“I Will Not Walk Blindfold, Like a Beggar or a Prisoner”. The Sadness of a Divided World is Shown in the Beauty of Lothlórien.

The Fellowship of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991) pp. 332-340

After crossing the Nimrodel the Fellowship meet Elves of Lothlórien for the first time. Haldir, Rúmil and Orophin are guards upon the border and perform their duty conscientiously. In the night a company of orcs cross the stream so it is well that the Company are safe amid the high branches of a mallorn tree and in the morning they begin their journey further into the enchanted wood.

But here the story stumbles as if it has been plunged into darkness, for here the elven guards insist that one of the Fellowship must be blindfolded. Gimli the Dwarf cannot look upon the ways into Lothlórien.

“I will not walk blindfold, like a beggar or a prisoner,” he complains. “And I am no spy. My people have never had dealings with any of the servants of the Enemy. Neither have we done any harm to the Elves. I am no more likely to betray you than Legolas, or any other of my companions.”

The Blindfolding of the Fellowship

That Gimli speaks the truth regarding his own heart there is no doubt but sadly there is much of the history of his people and the Elves that he leaves unsaid. In the tales of the Elder Days there are many sad stories of betrayal and readers of The Hobbit will remember how Legolas’s father, Thranduil of the Woodland Realm in the north of Mirkwood, imprisoned the company of Thorin Oakenshield among whose number was Gimli’s father, Gloín. They will then remember how Thorin, at first, refused to share any of the wealth of the Lonely Mountain following the fall of Smaug the Dragon and how with Dain Ironfoot of the Iron Hills he was prepared to go to war with Thranduil’s people in order to defend it.

But perhaps most sad of all was the history of Moria. We have seen how at one time there was close friendship between Durin’s people and the Noldor of Hollin, the people of Celebrimbor, how the gates of Moria could be opened by a simple expression of friendship but then how this golden age came to a terrible end first through Sauron’s betrayal of Celebrimbor who he had pretended to befriend in order to learn the lore of making rings of power and then through the disturbing of the Balrog hiding in the depths of Moria who slew Durin and drove his people from their home.

The Balrog of Moria

The tale of the peoples who dwelt east of the Misty Mountains during the long story of the rise of Sauron, first in Dol Guldur in the south of Mirkwood and then in Mordor, is one of a retreat behind defences. Such defences were necessary. We saw the company of orcs cross Nimrodel in search of the Fellowship and defence needed to be made against them and every land had to act in much the same way but what happened behind each fence was that the world beyond it became at first unknown and then suspect, even dangerous. So Celeborn of Lórien warns against Fangorn Forest while the people of Rohan know Lothlórien as Dwimordene, the place of phantoms. And for the Galadhrim, the tree people of Lothlórien, the dwarves who awoke the Balrog of Moria are most suspect of all.

Haldir, who has travelled on missions for his Lord and Lady puts it best of all.

“In nothing is the power of the Dark Lord more clearly shown than in the estrangement that divides all who still oppose him. Yet so little faith and trust do we find now in the world beyond Lothlórien, unless maybe in Rivendell, that we dare not by our own trust endanger our land.”

At the last Aragorn agrees that all the Fellowship will walk blindfold into Lórien so that Gimli is not singled out as a possible threat to its security. Gimli is now prepared to laugh as if this all a merry jest but all feel the sadness of being prisoners amid such loveliness.

The Beauty that cannot be seen in a Dangerous World.