Pippin and Merry don’t have too long to worry about being lost in a very strange forest far from any kind of civilization before they run into someone who can help them.
Tolkien imbues Fangorn with almost a homey feel, if somewhat dingy and stuffy, like your grandpa’s attic (even if it is still wild).
‘I’m afraid this is only a passing gleam, and it will all go grey again. What a pity! This shaggy old forest looked so different in the sunlight. I almost felt I liked the place.’
‘Almost felt you liked the Forest! That’s good! That’s uncommonly kind of you,’ said a strange voice. ‘Turn round and let me have a look at your faces. I almost feel that I dislike you both, but do not let us be hasty.’
Thus we meet Treebeard, aka Fangorn, aka Tolkien’s CS Lewis avatar. I find it rather amusing how Lewis’s Tolkien-avatar (Ransom in the Space Trilogy) was the main character and resident Christ-figure, while Tolkien made Lewis into a grumpy old man-tree-thing.
‘Hrum, hoom,’ murmured the voice, a deep voice like a very deep woodwind instrument. ‘Very odd indeed! Do not be hasty, that is my motto. But if I had seen you, before I heard your voices – I liked them: nice little voices; they remind me of something I cannot remember – if I had seen you before I heard you, I should have just trodden on you, taking you for little Orcs, and found out my mistake afterwards. Very odd you are, indeed. Root and twig, very odd!’
It turns out that they’re both discovering new races for the first time! Treebeard is an Ent, which the hobbits have never heard of, while he has never heard of hobbits. Funny how these just happen to be two of the races Tolkien made up more or less wholesale…
‘[…] I’ll call you Merry and Pippin, if you please – nice names. For I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’ A queer half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. ‘For one thing, it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.’
Yep, that definitely sounds like a language only a linguist would dream up!
This chapter is mostly about getting to know the Ents as a race, so your appreciation will largely depend on your interest in worldbuilding and/or forest scenery. Personally, I’m more here for the scenery. Treebeard (both the character and the chapter) was an unfortunate victim of adaptation in the film, partly because Peter Jackson obviously didn’t care for him and partly because the whole tone and structure of The Two Towers was a little off – that is, the various (good) factions are much less cooperative than in the books.
‘Hm, hoom!’ said Treebeard, when at last their story had wound and wandered down to the battle of the Orcs and the Riders of Rohan. ‘Well, well! that is a bundle of news and no mistake. You have not told me all, no indeed, not by a long way. But I do not doubt that you are doing as Gandalf would wish. There is something very big going on, that I can see, and what it is maybe I shall learn in good time, or in bad time. By root and twig, but it is a strange business: up sprout a little folk that are not in the old lists, and behold! the Nine forgotten Riders reappear to hunt them, and Gandalf takes them on a great journey, and Galadriel harbours them in Caras Galadhon, and Orcs pursue them down all the leagues of Wilderland: indeed they seem to be caught up in a great storm. I hope they weather it!.’
‘And what about yourself?’ asked Merry.
‘Hoom, hm, I have not troubled about the Great Wars,’ said Treebeard; ‘they mostly concern Elves and Men. That is the business of Wizards: Wizards are always troubled about the future. I do not like worrying about the future. I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side, if you understand me: nobody cares for the woods as I care for them, not even Elves nowadays. Still, I take more kindly to Elves than to others: it was the Elves that cured us of dumbness long ago, and that was a great gift that cannot be forgotten, though our ways have parted since. And there are some things, of course, whose side I am altogether not on; I am against them altogether: these- burárum – these Orcs, and their masters.’
Basically, the main reason the Ents never made a stand against the Orcs, even when they were ravaging their woods, is because they thought all the Orcs were coming from Mordor, which was well beyond their strength and reach. The crucial role that Merry and Pippin play is that of messengers, telling Treebeard that Saruman has allied himself with the Orcs (if not with Mordor).
‘I think that I now understand what he is up to. He is plotting to become a Power. He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things, except as far as they serve him for the moment. And now it is clear that he is a black traitor. He has taken up with foul folk, with the Orcs. Brm, hoom! Worse than that: he has been doing something to them; something dangerous. For these Isengarders are more like wicked Men. It is a mark of evil things that came in the Great Darkness that they cannot abide the Sun; but Saruman’s Orcs can endure it, even if they hate it. I wonder what he has done? Are they Men he has ruined, or has he blended the races of Orcs and Men? That would be a black evil!’
Aside from the unfortunate wording, this is a thing I seriously would rather not contemplate the logistics of; I’ll just agree with Treebeard that it would be a terrible evil.
At this point, Treebeard is fully ready to assault Isengard, and Pippin and Merry are naturally all for it. His main issue is simply that he’s afraid there aren’t enough Ents left to do much, especially if some refuse to join them. Although some Ents had been lost through the ages from violence or simply going “tree-ish”, the main population issue is that they lost the Entwives. Their female counterparts were more interested in gardening and farming than the wild woods, so they eventually found their own land, but that land was destroyed during the first war with Sauron, and the Ents never discovered what happened to the Entwives. Treebeard does mention that he thinks the Shire sounds like the sort of place the Entwives would like, and I’ve always thought about the story Sam mentions way back at the beginning about a cousin seeing a walking tree, but we never do get any confirmation one way or the other.
Anyhow, Treebeard summons an Entmoot (a gathering of all the available ents) to discuss the matter. Although it takes a couple days for them to go over all the facts, once they know what all’s up, they literally set off on the warpath from the Moot.
To Isengard! Though Isengard be ringed and barred with doors of stone;
Though Isengard be strong and hard, as cold as stone and bare as bone,
We go, we go, we go to war, to hew the stone and break the door;
For bole and bough are burning now, the furnace roars – we go to war!
The land of gloom with tramp of doom, with roll of drum, we come, we come;
To Isengard with doom we come!
With doom we come, with doom we come!
[…] ‘Of course, it is likely enough, my friends,’ he said slowly, ‘likely enough that we are going to our doom: the last march of the Ents. But if we had stayed at home and did nothing, doom would find us anyway, sooner or later. That thought has long been growing in our hearts; and that is why we are marching now. It was not a hasty resolve. Now at least the last march of the Ents may be worth a song. Aye,’ he sighed, ‘we may help the other peoples before we pass away. Still, I should have liked to see the songs come true about the Entwives. I should dearly have liked to see Fimbrethil again. But there, my friends, songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time and their own way: and sometimes they are withered untimely.’
Even if the rest of the stuff with the Ents was dull and unfunny (because PJ decided they should be comic relief for some reason), “The Last March of the Ents” is a fantastic piece – worthy of song, indeed.
Until next time…