LotRFI Pt.23–Treebeard

When I first met Treebeard, I was enamored! He was completely outside of the realm of my reading experience up to that point in my life. The closest character I had read about was the titular character from Roald Dahl’s BFG. I was amazed by this walking, talking tree. Unlike the other characters whom the company meet, I instantly liked Treebeard. His first passage is very similar to the humorously brusque tone that Gandalf sometimes adopts:

‘Almost felt you liked the Forest! That’s good! That’s uncommonly kind of you’ said a strange voice. ‘Turn round and let me have a look at your faces. I almost feel that I dislike you both, but do not let us be hasty’ (TT, III, iv, 463).

Image copyright Per Sjögren

The way that Treebeard tactlessly offers an unkind judgement of the hobbits, but then castigates himself for jumping to conclusions was endearing to me. I must admit that I was an inordinately tactless child. The remainder of his first day with the hobbits, getting to know them and taking them to shelter and to sustenance won me over. Interestingly, I sometimes imagine that what I felt about Treebeard is how many people recount feeling about Tom Bombadil. I supposed that I trusted Treebeard more because he seemed more natural to me. I did not suspect his motives because, unlike Bombadil, Treebeard would speak plainly about his motives.

Interestingly, because I grabbed onto Treebeard with my entire imagination, it deeply impacted me when he becomes angry on his way to drop off the hobbits. This tempestuous state of emotions is probably what lead the war march of the Ents to become one of my favorite songs from the text.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Legolas, Uruk-Hai, and Meduseld!

What Do You Think?

What was your first impression of Treebeard?
Where do you rank the Ent March among Tolkien’s songs?
​Have I missed anything? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.19–Galadriel’s Mirror

Finally, we come to Galadriel’s mirror and the surrounding scenes. Again, I must admit to a ‘misreading’ of an important scene in LotR. Since I did not trust Galadriel, my interpretation of her speech at the well was closer to Jackson’s than to mainstream Tolkien criticism. I did not like his over-production of the scene because I thought it was a cheap way to build suspense, but I did feel uncertainty in this scene while reading it. (I also started to grow exasperated with Frodo’s tendency to throw the Ring at any strong character nearby.) It was not until I understood the Arwen story from the appendices and started to read Galadriel’s history from S, that I understood the true nature of the interaction.

Image copyright Greg and Tim Hildebrandt

Beyond this observation, there is an element in these scenes that molded the way I interpreted ‘magic’ in Tolkien’s secondary world. The characterization of ‘magic’ throughout the Fellowship’s stay in Lothlórien left a profound impact on me the first time I read Tolkien’s work. It made so much sense to me that magical creatures would not interpret their own actions as magical, but as part of their life. It was a logical perspective, but one I had not considered before. The further characterization of ‘magic’ by Galadriel, wherein she expresses confusion about how it is applied to good and evil intentions was revelatory for me:

‘This is what your folk would call magic, I believe; though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same words for the deceits of the Enemy’ (FR, II, vii, 362).

This rational approach to magic was so verisimilitudinous with the way that people who understand a concept dispel the mystery of those who do not that I was completely sold on the existence of ‘magic’ in Tolkien’s world.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk about the breaking of the Fellowship, then move in to the second volume!

What Do You Think?

What do you think of Tolkien’s characterization of magic?
Did you follow the Arwen subplot on your first reading?
​Did I miss something? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt. 18–Lothlórien

FR, II, vi starts with a good bit of character development: Aragorn laments his prescience; Gimli reflects at Kheled-Zâram; Legolas talks about the relations between his kindred and the elves of the Golden Wood; Boromir shares a mistrustful legend of his people; and the hobbits yearn for a return journey.

Image copyright IaValerosa from Iavalerosa.com

Once the company enters the Golden Wood, they encounter sentries from Lothlórien. These guards are mistrustful of the Fellowship and confront them with force. For the first time in my reading of LotR, I did not know if I could trust all of the elves in the story. The tension between the Fellowship and this small group of guards continues word arrives from Lothlórien that the Fellowship is expected and allowed to walk freely. I must admit that I was wary of the elves up until the Fellowship left Lothlórien.

I thought that the depiction of the Cerin Amroth and Caras Galadon were too good to be true. I suppose that this is another example of taking Frodo too seriously when he warns that the agents of the enemy seem fair and feel foul (to paraphrase FR, I, x, 171). Galadriel’s mind tricks when she greets the Fellowship certainly bolster this interpretation. As Boromir reflects:

‘Maybe it was only a test, and she thought to read our thoughts for her own good purpose; but almost I should have said that she was tempting us, and offering what she pretended to have the power to give’ (FR, II, vii, 358).

This made me question Galadriel’s motivation for welcoming the Fellowship. I knew that Aragorn has spoken of Galadriel as a friend, but I did not know if perhaps she had changed allegiances, maybe she was like Saruman. I should admit that I completely missed the relationship between Arwen and Aragorn in my first reading of the text, which means that I did not have this extra connection to reinforce the idea of Galadriel’s commitment to Aragorn.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I want to talk about Galadriel and her mirror a bit more, then on to the final chapter of FotR​.

What Do You Think?

Did you always trust the Lothlorien elves?
How did you interpret Galadriel’s temptations?
​Did I miss anything important? Let me know!

LotRFI Pt.15–Caradhras Changes Everything

I have always had inordinately strong opinions about the passage about Caradhras. In fact, it was changes made to this episode that made me shout “no!” when I went to see Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Rings in theaters.

I was familiar with other literature that gave a sense of autonomy to nature before I read LotR, and I was excited to see that Tolkien does the same throughout the text, even before getting to the fully autonomous Treebeard. As a child, I loved the idea that trees could have volition and emotions. Tolkien takes this wondrous idea and pushes it one step further in the Caradhras episode. As the snows on Caradhras foil the attempt of the Fellowship to pass over the mountain, this exchange occurs:

‘We cannot go further tonight,’ said Boromir. ‘Let those call it the wind who will; there are fell voices on the air; and these stones are aimed at us.’

‘I do call it the wind,’ said Aragorn. ‘But that does not make what you say untrue. There are many evil and unfriendly things in the world that have little love for those that go on two legs, and yet are not in league with Sauron, but have purposes of their own. Some have been in this world longer than he.’

‘Caradhras was called the Cruel, and had an ill name,’ said Gimli, ‘long years ago, when the rumor of Sauron had not been heard in these lands.’ (FOTR, II, iii, 289)

Here Boromir tries to attribute the malevolent weather to Sauron or one of his agent; however, but Aragorn and Gimli are quick to halt this impulse and clarify that there are other forces at play in the world. Gimli goes so far as to specify that the will is probably that of Caradhras himself.

Image copyright Ted Nasmith

I cannot emphasize this enough: this passage changed my worldview the first time I read it. To ascribe volition to not just plants, but to all of nature, to the very earth itself! This was a truly awe-inspiring thought for me. I remember walking around for days thinking about the ramifications of this idea. What does it mean to till an earth that could feel the cuts? What does it mean to dynamite a mountain that can fight back? To this day, I occasionally ponder this “what if” question when I consider my lifestyle.

Let me be clear, I did not instantly change and become an eco-warrior or any of the other clichés, but this passage made me think about how I affected the soil, the rock, and the foundations of our planet for the very first time. I had already learned about trees and had Arbor Day plantings and such, but this was so much more inclusive than those lessons. If you can impact the ground, then make an influence on the world in every second of every day.

Imagine watching Peter Jackson’s movie after that. Jackson ascribes the wind to Saruman! Doing so completely changes Tolkien’s entire conception. It flattens all of nature, except Ents/Huorns, to mere things with no will or agency. This was by far the biggest disappointment for me leaving the theater.

LotRFI Pt.14–Wargs

The beginning of the next episode which features wild animals is remarkably contrary to the crebain incident. Without warning, Aragorn names the enemy: “Aragorn leapt to his feet. ‘How the wind howls! He cried. ‘It is howling with wolf-voices. The Wargs have come west of the Mountains!’” (FR, II, iv, 297) The story then becomes a rapid exchange of dialogue as the Fellowship makes decisions and outlines plans for their journey. Then there is a lull in the activity as the Fellowship makes camp and sets a watch against the wolves. Then, the fight begins as Wargs encircle the camp and the Fellowship is forced to fend them off.

Image copyright Katarzyna Chmiel-Gugulska

This encounter always reminded me of the fight where Strider, Frodo, and the other hobbits struggled against the Ringwraiths near Weathertop. In each case the protagonists are encircled by enemies near a campfire and must use fire itself to drive away the enemy. It is probably this desired parallel that makes Gandalf’s role so significant to me. Unlike the somewhat successful attack by the Ringwraiths earlier, Gandalf, with some assistance from Legolas, drives away the Wargs before they can hurt anyone. Gandalf puts forth some of his power, seeming to grow in stature and power, as he grabs a branch and with it causes “fire to leap from tree-top to tree-top” until “the whole hill was crowned with dazzling light” (FR, II, iv, 299). At this sight, and the death of their leader, the Wargs flee. Gandalf’s might and skill saves the group and keeps the wolves at bay until they can reach Moria. While the crebain serve to deepen the ominous atmosphere in Hollin, the Fellowship confronts the wolves and staves them off. While there is still fear of their return, there is every indication that this is a manageable threat.

As a note of full disclosure: I read The Call of the Wild by Jack London a few years before LotR. It quickly became one of my favorite books when I was around ten years old. I enjoyed the escapism I found in the Alaskan wild and the grittiness of the writing; however, I mostly enjoyed the book because I loved Buck, the canine protagonist who relates the story. I undoubtedly channeled some of the horrific images from that book into the threat presented by the Wargs here.

Where do We Go From Here?

I want to take a step back, chronologically, and take some time to ruminate on Caradhras. This was a particularly important insight for me, and I hope I can do it justice!

What Do You Think?

I have depicted my first interpretation of the Crebain the Warg encounters as very different in nature. Do you agree with this perspective? Do I miss some important similarities?

LotRFI Pt.13–Crebain

After leaving Rivendell, the narrative makes many asides into the description of geography and scenery, and there is much interaction among the Fellowship which helps to establish each character as well as their roles within the group; however, there are two major encounters with groups of wild animals that I want to look at in a bit more detail: the crebain and the wolves.

Image copyright Daniel Govar

The Fellowship encounters the crebain in the land of Hollin, little more than a fortnight out from Rivendell. Unlike the movie interpretation of these events, the significance of the crebain is not in their appearance, but in the silence which their approach instills in the land. Aragorn observes how “No folk dwell here now, but many other creatures live here at times…Yet now all things are silent. I can feel it” (FotR, II, iii, 284). This passage is so ominous that I underlined it several times. As a reader, I was very afraid of anything that could cause an entire region to change its character! I imagined some sort of invisible blight that had somehow scared all of the animals of the area, but left the land untouched. What kind of monstrosity would be capable of such a thing?

It is because of this anticipatory passage that the appearance of the crebain is so impactful: What starts as a shadow in the distance takes on an ominous import as the source of such devastation and fear. This led to an interesting fluctuation of emotions for me. At first the cloud terrified me. Then, as I discovered, along with Sam, that it was simply a large flock of birds, I felt a sense of relief. Aragorn’s reaction to the birds, and his subsequent explanation of their significance renewed my sense of looming fear. The trick that Tolkien pulls here he does several times (including earlier with the black riders), and I do not know that I had ever before experienced this unique skill by any other author. He started with a kind of anxiety about the unknown cause of the stillness in Hollin, and somehow Tolkien identifies the immediate cause of the anxiety for the reader, but still leaves an ominous foreboding and completely unanswered questions. In my previous readings, whenever the source of the anxiousness was identified, there was something to be done. The enemy could be faced, fled, or reasoned with. The enemy became a known quantity. In this instance, the reader understands that the crebain are simply an implement. Whether they spotted the Fellowship or not is left uncertain, as is their ultimate master, although there are some pointed speculations. Furthermore, simply because they are under a malevolent influence does not entirely answer the question of why all of Hollin has gone quiet. What do the beasts and other birds have to fear from the master of the crebain?

While it was such a small occurrence when compared to the quest of the Ring, this episode really had an effect on my reading as a child. Largely because a part of the natural world is here used as an implement of evil, the event underscored my cautiousness and unwillingness to trust in characters with an unknown past (including Boromir).