Tolkien and the Environment
“A thing is about to happen which has not happened since the Elder Days: the Ents are going to wake up and find that they are strong.”
The world that J. R. R. Tolkien describes in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a world where Nature has a great power, great enough even to face and fight the Enemy. Environment in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ is a key to every different adventure and it is as present as any other main character. Landscapes, lakes, mountains and trees all have their own names in the different languages of Middle-earth, and some even revered by nearby peoples.
In the eternal struggle between good and evil, Nature is on the side of good. The different realms of Middle-earth fight against Mordor, a dark deserted place where no green thing grows. One of the strongest and most unexpected enemies Sauron finds is the Shire, a green land whose inhabitants dwell in peace and happiness. There is a great power in the Shire, as Gandalf says in ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’, though what exactly that power is we do not know. However, it is certain that the Shire’s calmness, and the way its inhabitants respect and work with the environment, is a strength more powerful than bravery or pride.
Nature is not just seen as important to hobbits, for if we look at the Elven Realms we find no less admiration and respect for it. The Elves, one of the highest beings in Middle-earth, have a deep link with their environment. Greenwood the Great, or Mirkwood as was known after Sauron came to Dol Guldur, largest of the woods of Middle-earth; Rivendell, the dwelling of Elrond where houses, bridges and roads were made to fit and blend in with Nature; and Lothlórien, the fairest place in Middle-earth. Indeed in the Golden Wood, the elves’ close relationship with Nature reaches its peak, for the Galadhrim live actually in the trees, huge golden trees called ‘mellyrn’. It is even said that Lothlórien is reminiscent of the garden of the Vala Lórien in Valinor. Valinor, of course, also has a deep connection with Nature, with its two most beloved and revered things having been two trees, Laurelin and Telperion, which shed both golden and silver light that bathed and lit the beauty of the land.
But what about Dwarves and Men? Dwarves are more drawn to stoneworking and smithcraft than the joy of Nature, and not all Men seem too concerned about it either. Stone cities such as Minas Tirith or Osgiliath show us the distance between humans and Nature, yet it is true that the people of Rohan do show somewhat more of a connection, but still in no way as much Elves or Hobbits. But there are indeed fair places among the dwellings of men, such as Ithilien or the plains of Rohan. Indeed, if we look closer, while Minas Tirith is built of stone, the most sacred thing that lies within the city is a tree, the White Tree of Gondor, seed of Nimloth of Númenor, descended from Telperion of Valinor.
Another race of Middle-earth that is deeply related to Nature are the Eldest of beings of Middle-earth, the Ents, the shepherds of the Trees. These are wonderful living things, walking, talking trees who protect the forests of Middle-earth, peaceful and wise, not very drawn to adventures or wars, and as much alike to hobbits than to any other being in that aspect. But as kind and quiet as the Ents may be, if they are roused they can be terrible and they will fight fearlessly to protect the trees and forests. So it was in the War of the Ring, where the least expected stroke that fell on Saruman was given by the Ents who flooded Isengard and revenged their dead kin, trees that Saruman had fallen and thrown into the fires of Isengard.
But not everything could manage to endure the evilness of Mordor, even when its Lord was destroyed. The beauty and the peace of the Shire was damaged by Saruman, and trees fell and rivers polluted, but even here Nature wins again, for what was the gift of Galadriel to Sam? A tiny seed, not very useful it seemed to the hobbit for the long and perilous journey ahead, but it was that seed that gave life again to the Shire. And what was once was green and full of life started to become so once again.
Tolkien disliked allegories and did not want his work compared to any real topic of his time. We won’t now compare Sauron and Saruman with the rise of industry and modern technologies, but we can learn a lesson from Tolkien’s work – respect for Nature and for living things, for they are all older than we are and they have endured more than we will all ever endure.
And to quote Professor Tolkien: “Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate. In all my works I take the part of trees against all their enemies”. Now, if only we would all play the part of an advocate for Nature, maybe we would regain a glimpse of the Shire or Lothlórien in our own woods.