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 Post subject: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2015 9:52 pm 
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During my latest reading of LOTR I was surprised at how charmed I was by Treebeard.

Of course the introduction to him comes with a hint of malevolence -- I almost feel I dislike you both, he says to Merry and Pippin, and more chillingly he confesses that he might have trod on them ( taking them for stunted orcs ) if they hadn't been speaking in such lovely hobbit voices. ( Good thing they didn't have colds, I guess? ) But this passes like a quick morning haze and then what comes next is unexpected and delightful. His physical nature, to begin with -- we get his rooty beard, his branchy toes, his unbending middle, and his deep and ancient eyes. Then come his songs and chants, that seem to come out of nowhere except from his delight in nature, and in existing inside of nature.

It is clear, very soon, that in spite of the rather alarming beginning that Treebeard is utterly charmed by the young hobbits, and in turn I find myself drawn in to being charmed by him. He adds them to his lists, he carries them around, he tells them stories, he asks them about all they've done, but he demands nothing -- there is no urgency, no motive, other than the delight in speaking with new friends.

Treebeard, like Bombadil, is very much living in nature, and will often break into sudden song, but Treebeard is never absurd or existential in the way that Bombadil is. Treebeard is more accessible.

Treebeard is a wonderful fantasy creation, but he does not follow the usual methods or reasons -- he is not there to awe us, or scare us, or to impress us with his ability to kill or run or fly -- he is not noble or majestic or appalling -- he has no reason for being except that Tolkien saw him in his mind and I presume was charmed by the idea of Treebeard even as he wrote about him, and so he became a part of the story, even if the story didn't need him before that moment. The story wanted him after.


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 Post subject: Re: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Tue Jan 13, 2015 10:21 pm 
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A lovely, post Faramond. :love: I don't think I've ever given Treebeard his due, given that his part in Merry and Pippin's story happens when I was always desperately worried about Frodo and Sam and eager to get back to them. Except for feeling some real pain over Tolkien's nefarious touch of having some hobbits report seeing a walking tree in the Northfarthing, news which it is clear will never reach Treebeard to give him a clue in his search for the Entwives. . . .

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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 Post subject: Re: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Wed Jan 14, 2015 5:49 am 
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I quite like Treebeard, and think this post is a lovely defense of his character. But interestingly, on a recent reading, I found that it was exactly Bombadil's absurdity and flights of existentialism that made him more accessible (and enjoyable) to me, than Treebeard. But that may be me and few others. I'm a sucker for the absurd - especially in humor.


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 Post subject: Re: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Thu Jan 15, 2015 4:40 pm 
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Treebeard is delightful and mysterious. Yes, it is ironic that no news of the walking tree in the Northfarthing would get back to him; after all, it was Sam who reported it secondhand at the inn (and wasn't believed), but he isn't with them now; and he and his audience were working-class hobbits from a town where Merry and Pippin were, at most, occasional visitors.

But I can't help wondering if that wasn't an Ent rather than an Entwife; Treebeard does say that last he knew, the Entwives had changed too much. So was there a small expatriate colony of Ents up north somewhere? Of course, Treebeard could have been mistaken.


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 Post subject: Re: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Tue Jan 20, 2015 3:36 pm 
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I had never really noticed it before my last reread, but the story of the Entwives is quite beautiful and sad.


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 Post subject: Re: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Tue Jan 20, 2015 6:28 pm 
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Yes it is quite beautiful, and quite sad. There is also an element of subversiveness to it that I don't believe I have ever seen discussed before.

There was, of course, great love between Tolkien and his wife Edith; their overcoming of the obstacles placed before to bring their love to fruition is justly celebrated, as is the marking of their gravestones as Lúthien and Beren. But for all of that great love, by all accounts there's was a troubled marriage, and they grew ever apart as the years lengthened. We see reports of Edith assisting Tolkien with his earliest writings, sometimes helping to copy or type manuscripts, and acting as a sounding board and audience. But that becomes less so over time, as Tolkien's main collaborators because Lewis and the other (male) Inklings, and his own son Christopher. Edith because increasingly isolated from Tolkien's academic and literary worlds, and lived a lonely life, particularly after their children grew up and left home. There was also tension between them over religion, over religion Edith's jealousy of Tolkien's friendship with Lewis is one of the factors that led to a souring of that friendship. Tolkien was aware of his wife's loneliness and disillusionment, but was largely unable to redress it, though he was a caring and sympathetic man and husband, until late in their lives (and long after the writing of The Lord of the Rings, when they found a greater degree of peace, despite failing health.

In contrast with this, it is well known that Tolkien was particularly supportive of female students at Oxford, to a degree that was quite unusual at that time. I think that Tolkien saw in his own life the danger of a rigid separation between gender roles and identities. Thus we see a warning of this in the story of the Entwives, and the danger of the two sexes drawing too far apart from each other.

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 Post subject: Re: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Wed Jan 21, 2015 5:10 pm 
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That's fascinating, Voronwë. I didn't know that Tolkien was supportive of female students—to be honest I would have expected the opposite. I should read more about him.

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“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King


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 Post subject: Re: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Wed Jan 21, 2015 6:41 pm 
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That's interesting, Voronwë. Do you think it also applies to Aldarion and Erendis? That's the story my mind went to when I read about the Entwives. Both are about couples that drift apart and eventually become completely estranged because one or both becomes overly fixated on an interest or goal. And in both cases there is some mutual responsibility for the relationship's failure (Erendis is more sympathetic than her husband, but not blameless).

To a lesser extent, Amroth/Nimrodel and Aegnor/Andreth also have some parallels to the Ents/Entwives and Aldarion/Erendis. All couples that didn't work out because they wanted different things, though each case plays out somewhat differently.


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 Post subject: Re: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Wed Jan 21, 2015 6:59 pm 
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kzer_za, I do think that there are definitely parallels. Though I would not necessary agree that Erendis ultimately comes across as more sympathetic than Aldarion. But it is definitely one of Tolkien's most complex relationships, and probably would be worth a thread of its own.

This would seem to be a convenient place to mention a new book that was just released this past week by the Mythopoeic Press, edited by Janet Brennan Croft and Leslie Donovan, called Perilous and Fair: Women in the Works and Life of J. R. R. Tolkien. Among the essays is one by John Rateliff entitled "The Missing Women: J. R. R. Tolkien's Lifelong Support for Women's Higher Education".

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 Post subject: Re: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2015 4:34 pm 
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Thank you for the tip; I'll have to look for that!


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 Post subject: Re: Charmed by Treebeard
PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2015 5:24 pm 
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I ordered it yesterday so I should have it soon. I'll report back about what I think about it.

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