TTT: Bk 3, Ch 4
"Don't be hasty, that is my motto."Merry and Pippin continue their journey through the forest. It is dim and stuffy and they continue to follow the Entwash, for at least it is a source of fresh water. As they ascend a hill to breathe cleaner air, they encounter a most peculiar creature. Here they meet Treebeard:
"They found that they were looking at a most extraordinary face. It belonged to 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. At any rate the arms, at a short distance from the trunk, were not wrinkled, but covered with a brown smooth skin. The large feet had seven toes each. The lower part of the long face was covered with a sweeping grey beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the roots, thin and mossy at the ends. But at the moment the hobbits noted little but the eyes. These deep eyes were now surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating."Ah, Treebeard. I read through this chapter many times and found it somewhat dull, struggling to keep alert and stay focused on the story. But after seeing his incarnation in PJ's "The Two Towers", I have gained a new appreciation for the old Ent. He's quite an interesting character.
In Letter No. 180, (14 January 1956), Tolkien wrote:
"though I knew for years that Frodo would run into a tree-adventure somewhere far down the Great River, I have no recollection of inventing Ents. I came at last to the point, and wrote the 'Treebeard' chapter without any recollection of previous thought: just as it now is."In fact, at one point, Tolkien envisioned Treebeard as a malevolent character. In the original draft of the chapters in Rivendell, Gandalf tells Frodo of his delay: "I was caught in Fangorn and spent many weary days as a prisoner of the Giant Treebeard." (The Return of the Shadow, p 363) Of the name "ents", Tolkien mentions in Letter No. 157 (27 November 1954): "I always felt that something ought to be done about the peculiar Anglo-Saxon word ent for a 'giant' or mighty person of long ago". Again, here is an example of how Tolkien uses the language (or word, in this case) first and builds the story upon it.
While Treebeard tells the hobbits what he is called by others, he doesn't give them his true name. Again, the taboo of revealing one's name comes up again. We alluded to Tolkien's use of this cultural superstition back when we first met Aragorn as Strider. In fact, Treebeard is taken aback that Merry and Pippin are so quick to volunteer their own names to him. The other reason he holds back is that his name in Old Entish - is very long. For he explains that it is like a story, growing all the time. And it generally takes a long time to say anything in Entish "because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to."
He agrees to take Merry and Pippin back to his home. As he carries them, Treebeard explains that Ents are tree-herds, shepherds of trees. Some Ents, he says, have been growing "treeish" as of late - very still and very quiet. He recalls a time in the Elder Days when most of Middle-Earth was covered in forest and he recites a poem filled with place names that the hobbits (and most readers) don't recognize - Ossiriand, Neldoreth, Dorthonian. These are all places in the land of Beleriand as it existed in the First Age before the defeat of Morgoth, west of what was now the Ered Luin (Blue Mountains). Tolkien has many stories about these lands in The Silmarillion.
They arrive at Treebeard's house - Wellinghall - in the center of the forest. Merry and Pippin quench their thirst on Ent-Draughts, which have a rejuvenating effect on them. The sustenance of the Ents, Ent-Draughts were a drink concocted by the Ents from the waters of mountain springs and had special properties. The hobbits could feel its power flowing through them as they drank and one of the effects would be to make them grow noticeably taller. Again, Tolkien introduces a drink with remarkable envigorating qualities, like the miruvor and the orc-liquor. Treebeard takes a load off by lying down (he's not "bendable" enough to be able to sit) and he asks the hobbits to tell him their tale. Starting with the Shire, they recount everything that has happened to them including the doings of Saruman.
Treebeard is concerned about Saruman, who has been his neighbor for many years. The wizard would often talk with Treebeard, asking for information on a number of topics. But Saruman never reciprocated, which disappointed the Ent for he was always eager for news of the outside world. But lately, Treebeard had begun to notice a change in Saruman. He suspects that the wizard is plotting to gain power. As the Ent explains:
"He 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 now it is clear that he is a black traitor. He has taken up with foul folk, with Orcs."He speculates that the reason Orcs now traveled so freely through these lands is on account of a black evil that Saruman was brewing. He knows of his felling of trees for wood to feed the fires of Orthanc. There always seems to be smoke rising from Isengard. As Treebeard ruminates on all of this, a surge of anger rises in him. And it is here that he decides that something must be done about Saruman. While he knows it will be a challenge, he is resolved to rouse his fellow Ents to congregate for a meeting on this subject. Unfortunately, there aren't as many Ents as their used to be, for there have been no Entlings (or Ent children). The female Ents - or Entwives - went away long ago and the Ents have no idea what became of them.
Treebeard recounts that tale of the Entwives, a "strange and sad story". The Entwives it seems took to tending gardens, shrubs and other lesser growing things instead of forests. Just prior to the end of the First Age, the Entwives crossed the Anduin and settled in an area along the eastern banks. This land was now called the Brown Lands - they became desolate and wasted from the war between Sauron and the Last Alliance. The Ents always hope that one day, they will find the Entwives again. Treebeard tells Merry and Pippin to get some sleep while he goes about and gathers the other Ents.
I find it interesting that Treebeard's presence in the film The Two Towers is so prominent when he only appears at length in this one chapter. But his role in the War of the Ring is critical. And even though a character like Tom Bombadil appears in three chapters, his relationship to the plot is not nearly as critical (short of saving the hobbits from Old Man Willow and the Barrow-wights, of course). This is a particularly long chapter that covers everything up until the attack on Isengard, after which we won't see Treebeard again until chapter nine.
Anyway, the next morning Treebeard wakes the hobbits and takes them to the meeting place of the Ents which is an open glade called Derndingle. There they have an Entmoot - or staff meeting if you will - to discuss the latest with Saruman and decide whether or not they will take action to put a stop to his mischief. As the Ents gather, the hobbits notice that they are all different in appearance and take on the characteristics of the type of tree they are responsible for - beech, oak, fir, birch, rowan, linden, etc.
As the Entmoot commences, Merry and Pippin wait on the outskirts of Derndingle. Eventually they are joined by a younger - and especially "hasty" - Ent called Quickbeam; "They have called me that ever since I said yes to an elder Ent before he had finished his question." Quickbeam is sent to keep the hobbits company and he talks to them about his first-hand experiences with the damage Saruman and his Orcs have done. The Entmoot continues for a second and then a third day. Meanwhile at this same moment, Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli have arrived at Fangorn Forest and entered it looking for the hobbits. They are about to encounter the White Wizard.
Later that afternoon of the third day, there was suddenly a clamor from the Entmoot. The Ents had sufficiently worked themselves up into a frenzy and have decided to go to war against Saruman. Tolkien describes this change in the Ents: "It seemed now as sudden as the bursting of a flood that had long been held back by a dike." Interestingly enough, this figurative image will become a literal one later on. Marching west in a straight line, the Ents were off to Isengard; "We come, we come with horn and drum: ta-runa runa runa rom!" Pippin observes to Treebeard that the Ents have certainly made up their minds quickly (which is a sharp contrast to the way the hobbits view the Entmoot in the film). Treebeard is a bit surprised himself:
"Indeed I have not seen them roused like this for many an age. We Ents do not like being roused; and we never are roused unless it is clear to us that our trees and our lives are in great danger. That has not happened in this Forest since the wars of Sauron and the Men of the Sea. It is the orc-work, the wanton hewing - rarum - without even the bad excuse of feeding the fires, that has so angered us; and the treachery of a neighbour, who should have helped us. Wizards ought to know better: they do know better. There is no curse in Elvish, Entish or the tongues of Men bad enough for such treachery. Down with Saruman!"
The rousing of the Ents is clearly meant to represent the unpredictable power of nature that can ruin even the most carefully laid plans. Here it is Saruman whose underestimation of this power power leads to his undoing. The attack of the Ents on Isengard will prove to be a tremendous turn of fortune for the enemies of Sauron. Bringing Merry and Pippin with them, Treebeard and the Ents drew ever closer to the great cleft at the foot of the Misty Mountains: the Nan Curunir, the Valley of Saruman.
[Chronology: February 28th - March 2nd 3019 T.A.]
Next: The White Rider