Ents: The Reclusive Heroes

TreebeardName the races of Middle-earth, and this will likely be the list: Men, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and a myriad of others such as Istari, Trolls, and the outliers such as Tom Bombadil and Beorn. Few, though, will recall the Ents because of their late appearance in the tale and their lack of a concrete history. However, the Ents did contribute to the War of the Ring in a small but significant way. Without their aid in the Battle of Helm’s Deep and the overthrowing of Saruman, it may well have been impossible for the Fellowship to succeed in the quest to destroy the Ring. Although the Ents may have been a small, almost insignificant portion of Middle-earth’s population, they played a vital role in the War of the Ring.

The Ents have long been shrouded in mystery, with a vague history and a forboding aura. Over the course of Middle-earth’s history, they dwindled in numbers due to various causes. Treebeard, the oldest and wisest Ent, described their plight as this: “Some have fallen in the evil chances of long years, of course; and more have grown tree-ish. But there were never many of us and we have not increased. There have been no Entings… we lost the Entwives.” Due to the lack of women and children (Entwives and Entings) in the population, the Ents are less numerous than the other major races of Middle-earth. Moreover, the Ents are also less well-known than other races, more so than even the Hobbits. For example, no member of the Fellowship knew of the Ents’ existence (except for Gandalf) until Merry and Pippin entered Fangorn and the rest of the Fellowship met them in Isengard. Aragorn had heard of the Ents before, but did not yet know whether they still existed outside of tales: “‘Are there still Ents in the world?…If indeed they were ever more than a legend of Rohan.’” Legolas replies that “‘even among [the Elves] they are only a memory.’” Gimli, on the other hand, had never even heard of them and was quite suspicious of Fangorn and its inhabitants. Therefore, one can assume that the Ents had not come into the world at large for a long time. Also, the Ents did not meddle in the concerns of the other races. As Treebeard said, “‘I have not troubled about the Great Wars…they mostly concern Elves and Men…I am not altogether on anybody’s side.’” Ents had not played a part in any battle before the War of the Ring, another reason that no other race knew or cared to know about them: they were not written into the epics of the wars. All in all, few knew of the Ents because of their small and dwindling numbers, the mystery surrounding them, and their lack of interest in the outside world.

Even though the Ents may not have played a prominent role in the history of Middle-earth before the War of the Ring, they were a vital component in the success of that mission. First of all, they weakened Saruman, one of the chief foes of the Fellowship. The Ents who attended the Moot marched on Isengard with enough force to crush Saruman’s army and minions. When Gandalf and the others arrived at Isengard, they found that the Ents had quelled Saruman’s fires and torn down his structures. As Pippin recounts, “The passages had been cracked and half blocked with fallen stone…all the fires were quenched and every cave filled.” The Ents had effectively robbed Saruman of his progress and weakened his forces, enough so that Gandalf could come and destroy all remnants of the wizard’s power. This allowed the Fellowship and allies to focus all their strength against the real foe, Sauron, without fearing that Saruman might hinder them. However, Saruman had already wreaked havoc on Rohan with his legions in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. Although one could argue that the real hero of this battle was Gandalf and the exiled Rohirrim, they were not without help from the Ents. After the majority of Saruman’s orcs had been killed, the remainder “passed under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again.” None of those orcs were seen again. Ents, also known as the Shepherds of the Forest, had herded the trees into the valley, preventing the orcs from escaping to hunt and terrorize the Rohirrim and Fellowship again. In this way, the Ents foiled Saruman not once but twice in the War of the Ring.

These two victories proved the Ents invaluable in the battle against Saruman and ultimately, the War of the Ring. Although these triumphs may seem insignificant on the level of the War, the Fellowship and allies might not have survived the Battle of Helm’s Deep without the Ents, never mind gone on to Gondor and the battles thereafter. These quiet, little-known forest creatures came out of the shadows of Fangorn to the aid of the Free Peoples of Middle-earth. Could it be possible that if the Ents had come to the aid of Elves and Men in the wars of old, there might not have been so many sorrowful losses? Perhaps they kept to the forests for their own good, for if they had ventured out, they might have been eradicated. No matter how the Ents could have changed history leading up to the War of the Ring, they played an indisputable role in the success of that journey.


Why is The Silmarillion so challenging to read?

UnknownThe Silmarillion is the densest source of Middle-earth related information any fanatic could stumble upon. However, any but the most die-hard fans will soon be wallowing through a mire of too much information to process. What about this incredible book deters so many readers?

The most common reason fans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s other works will simply put down The Silmarillion after the first chapter is that they are expecting a story like The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.  Although it includes adventures, battles, and voyages across uncharted lands, The Silmarillion does not contain many of the elements that draw people to The Lord of the Rings. For example, there is little direct dialogue in the book. Therefore, it can often seem like it is being told in summary mode and that the reader is only hearing the action recounted, not witnessing the battles unfold.

For another thing, though it can be classified as a collection of epic tales, much of the book is focused on describing the landscape and relationships between parts of Middle-earth. Here is one such passage:

“South of Ard-galen the great highland named Dorthonion stretched for sixty leagues from west to east; great pine forests it bore, especially on its northern and western sides. By gentle slopes from the plain it rose to a bleak and lofty land, where lay many tarns at the feet of bare tors whose heads were higher than the peaks of Ered Wethrin; but southward where it looked towards Doriath it fell suddenly in dreadful precipices. From the northern slopes of Dorthonion Angrod and Aegnor, sons of Finarfin, looked out over the fields of Ard-galen, and were the vassals of their brother Finrod, lord of Nargothond; their people were few, for the land was barren, and the great highlands behind were deemed to be a bulwark that Morgoth would not lightly seek to cross.”

This chapter (Of Beleriand and Its Realms) continues on in this fashion, and by the end of it, a reader will have utterly forgotten the associations with all the names they’ve tried to commit to memory in the chapter before. The fact that many of the names sound alike or even rhyme doesn’t help matters. And even if the purpose of the chapter is to give readers a sense of where each group of Elves was in respect to each other, it is so densely packed with this information that it leaves readers with no better an idea of the land than when they started. Furthermore, with all the history and background attached to each name, it may seem like one is reading a passage twice the length of the actual block of text.

Another challenge of The Silmarillion is the unfamiliar vocabulary: the work is written with many archaic or uncommon words, such as ‘tarns’, ‘tors’, and ‘bulwark’ in the passage above. There is also a somewhat unfamiliar syntax in this passage. For example, in the first sentence, it says, “great pine forests it bore”, which we can understand to mean that it had great pine forests. However, when reading sentence after sentence of text formatted like this, a reader may find that they have read an entire paragraph without comprehending much of it.

But are these obstacles enough to make determined fans turn away? It depends. If your love for Middle-earth is primarily based on the action-filled films of Peter Jackson, The Silmarillion may not prove to be your cup of tea.  Even many die-hard fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings find that The Silmarillion isn’t what they’re looking for. But many do end up enjoying the novel, if just to explore another piece of Middle-earth. I, for one, love and appreciate this work, and even if my eye still skids over some sections of it, or I read a passage without realizing how little I’m taking in, I will read it again and again. Just because The Silmarillion can be a challenging read, that should not deter any fan from pursuing the book. It provides a much more complete history of Middle-earth and delights the reader in epic tales of love, battles, and times of peace, as only Tolkien can..


Devoted to The Lord of the Rings and Middle-earth