Name 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.