The Two Towers by J.R.R Tolkien (Harper Collins 1991, 2007) pp. 618-623
After Treebeard calms down following the outbreak of his rage against Saruman he begins to ponder how large a company of Ents he might be able to gather together to launch an attack upon Isengard. His hope is that he will be able to get together a “fair company of our younger folks” but, he laments, “what a pity there are so few of us”.
Pippin wonders why this should be so when the Ents have lived in Fangorn Forest for so many years. “Have a great many died?” he asks.
“Oh, no!” said Treebeard. “None have died from inside, as you might say. Some have fallen in the evil chances of the long years, of course; and many more have grown tree-ish. But there were never never many of us and we have not increased. There have been no Entings- no children, you would say, not for a terrible long count of years. You see, we lost the Entwives.”
Treebeard’s story is the story of a breakup of a marriage. But not just between the two folk who once pledged their troth to one another but between the males and females of an entire species. And, we might say, between nature and culture themselves.
For with his sub creation of the Ents Tolkien has given us a race of creature in which the masculine and feminine principles seem to reside completely within the males and females of their race. Now we know this is not the case with human beings. In us there are feminine qualities in men and masculine qualities in women and, indeed, there are those who argue that one of our most important tasks in life is to bring these into unity with one another within us after having become clear which gender we are, whether we are male or female.
But in the Ents Tolkien gives us something different and in so doing he speaks of the nature of all growing things. As Treebeard puts it of the Ents, “they gave their love to things that they met in the world”. They loved “the great trees, and the wild woods, and the slopes of the high hills; and they drank of the mountain-streams, and ate only such fruit as the trees let fall in their path.” The Ents gave their love entirely to that which is wild and uncultivated. The Entwives, on the other hand, were in love with gardens. They “desired order, and plenty, and peace” Treebeard says. And then he adds, somewhat acerbically, that “they meant that things should remain where they had set them.”
We have been thinking in this blog of Treebeard’s home, Wellinghall, in the last couple of weeks of postings. We have seen that there is no clear delineation between the world outside his home and that within it. If there are walls then it is the trees of the forest that are those walls. The streams of the Entwash arise from the ground within the house and flow through it and there is no roof that lies between Treebeard and the open sky. He is content to live within weather and not to protect himself from it just as the trees of the forest do. He has no gardens in which he cultivates food. He is a gatherer and, most certainly not a hunter.
As he later remarks, Treebeard thinks that the Entwives would like the Shire because hobbits are gardeners. Indeed, as Frodo remarked to Galadriel, gardeners are held in high honour within that land and it is the name that Sam Gamgee will give to his family as they rise in honour in the Shire. Indeed I wonder if it might have been an Entwife that Sam thought he saw and which he tried to describe to Ted Sandyman in their argument in the pub at the beginning of The Lord of the Rings. Tom Bombadil is a gardener who lives at the edge of the Old Forest and he is contentedly married to Goldberry the daughter of the river although periods of separation from one another seem to keep that marriage fresh.
As we are left wondering whether there can be a reconciliation between the worlds of the forest and of the garden, between the Ents and the Entwives. In the song that the Elves made and which Treebeard sings the hope of a reconciliation is given but it is one that can only be achieved, it would seem, after catastrophe when the Ents and Entwives walk together into something entirely new. And can the forest and the garden do the same?
Together we will take the road that leads into the West,
And far away will find a land where both our hearts may rest.