The Two Towers: Novel Summary: Book III - Chapter 4

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Summary: After escaping the orcs by fleeing into Fangorn Forest, Merry and Pippin encounter Treebeard, an Ent. Ents are tall creatures that look like trees but are not; rather, they are tree-herders. Treebeard does not recognize what kind of creatures Merry and Pippin are; they teach him about hobbits, and Treebeard incorporates hobbits into the ancient catalogues of Middle-earth's peoples that he knows. Merry and Pippin tell Treebeard about events beyond Fangorn Forest; the news of Saruman's treachery saddens Treebeard. The Ent has been vaguely aware of "young Saruman's" activities at Isengard, but he is upset to hear the wizard's destructive and violent intentions confirmed, for Saruman used to wander in the forest as a friend of the trees. Now, however, Saruman's orcs are chopping down trees to feed the industrial fires of Isengard. Treebeard also laments the fact that so many of his fellow Ents "are growing sleepy, going tree-ish." Ultimately, Treebeard decides that he must stop both the destructive behavior of Saruman and the declining tendency of the Ents, and he convenes a great meeting of Ents. After much and lengthy (to the hobbits' sensibilities, at least) discussion and debate, the Ents being a march to Isengard. And the trees of the forest themselves join them.
Analysis: Treebeard's unfamiliarity with hobbits continues the theme of the interdependence of the peoples of Middle-earth-an interdependence Tolkien clearly sees as applicable to our own world, as well. The Lord of the Rings continually returns to the question, "What is a hobbit's place in the world?"-by which Tolkien is asking his reader to consider their own place in the world. He urges them to neither underestimate nor overstate their answer to that question. Another aspect of this chapter worthy of consideration is the way in which Tolkien's professional life as a philologist-one who studies the origin and evolution of words-colors it. Treebeard tells the hobbits, "Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to." As such, they ought not be too hasty about revealing their names, for-as in many ancient cultures in the real world-names are invested with power. To know a person's or thing's name is to know the person or thing. Also like many cultures known to us, Treebeard and his fellow Ents operate with a different sense of time; e.g., Treebeard's comment, "[W]e do not say anything in [Entish language] unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to." Time is valuable, and so is not to be wasted on frivolous conversation or deeds. Treebeard and the Ents also heighten our awareness of Middle-earth as a fully realized, self-consistent fantasy setting-what Tolkien, in On Fairy-story, referred to as a "subcreation"-because of their relationship to time. Like the Watcher and the Balrog of Book II, who represent ancient malevolent forces, the Ents are an ancient force as well-essentially neutral, but capable of being "roused" to action, as the events of this chapter illustrate. Tolkien suggests that all of these forces and creatures have existed independently of the world of mortals for ages untold; he thus reminds his readers that the "pressing problems" of their day, no matter how urgent they might seem and, indeed, actually be, may not occupy as large a place in the grand scheme of history as might be supposed. Tolkien, in other words, invites his readers to share a larger and wider perspective not just on their own lives but also on their whole world.
Treebeard also represents what later readers regard as Tolkien's "green," or environmentally conscious, thought. For example, Treebeard laments the death of the trees Saruman has felled. He describes the treacherous wizard's mind as made "of metal and wheels"-an image we find aptly deserved when the narrator later describes Isengard in Chapter 8. Saruman's "sin," to put it in theological terms which would have been familiar to the devoutly Roman Catholic Tolkien, is hubris, or pride; as Treebeard says, the wizard "is plotting to become a Power." The language evokes the sense that Saruman is overreaching his grasp. He compounds his sin by doing so at the expense of the natural order: Saruman "does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment." The wizard is, in other words, a strictly self-centered utilitarian. Plainly, Tolkien's indictment of Saruman is also an indictment of "modern," mechanized, industrial society, which all too often abuses nature for its own, short-sighted ends, instead of seeking to live in harmonious balance with it.

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