Re: Hal's walking tree
- --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
> At 10:11 AM 12/24/2001 , I wrote:I'm not arguing that it must be a spy for Saruman. But since Saruman
> >If it's a spy of Saruman's, it's unique among our knowledge of
> >Saruman's spies, and uncharacteristic of his style, and hence
> >highly unlikely.
> By which I was referring to "a tree enchanted by Saruman to walk".
> That's what doesn't fit what we know of Saruman. If he did that
> anyway, though, he'd be equally likely to send them to Fangorn, in
> which case Treebeard would have known about them.
himself spied out Fangorn Forest (according to Fangorn himself), and
he apparently relied upon spies to handle the Shire, I would say that
it is highly unlikely he would have used a walking tree spy (assuming
he had any) to spy upon Fangorn.
> It would be much less unlikely for Saruman to employ a pre-existingJust because a tree walks does not mean it is an Ent.
> "black-hearted" Ent as a spy. But if he did, it's an Ent.
- Once again, I'll try to summarize.
We do not know specifically what Hal saw. It's not actually described as a
walking tree. (We do not even know if Hal really saw what Sam says he saw,
nor how, if he didn't, the error arose.) It might even not be an Ent, but
something unknown to us, totally unrelated to Ents and only compared to a
tree because of its height. That's part of the beautiful ambiguity in
Tolkien that makes Middle-earth feel real.
But we can tell some things it is not. For instance, it is not (unless
Sam's account is not accurate) a very tall man. And it is not an Old
Forest-style moving tree, the original suggestion which I am concerned to
How can we know this? I would not want to be seen as attempting to impose
limitations on Tolkien: that is not my intent. My intent is to understand
the limitations that Tolkien imposed on the creation himself.
He did impose limitations, for compelling aesthetic reasons. There are
some possibilities for explaining Middle-earth which, once even opened as
possibilities, tend to diminish the wonder and the creativity of the
subcreation. These types of explanations Tolkien rejected himself whenever
they were raised.
A classic example is the science-fictional type of explanation. This one
Tolkien rejected in a famous passage about lembas in the Zimmerman
letter. Once one starts thinking of lembas as a food concentrate, even if
as only as a possible explanation for its powers, one begins to diminish
the subcreation, to take away the magic (magic in sense 2 in my other post).
Furthermore, the food-concentrate model of lembas contradicts Tolkien's own
description of its virtues in Book 6, Chapter 3. It feeds the will, not
My argument is that the same limitation applies to the notion that the Old
Forest trees have legs and walk.
>They don't have to be Ents just because they are animate (if thatThis reads to me as mocking any attempt to suggest that animate trees don't
>implies walking -- as opposed to floating or whatever animation you
>may be envisioning as opposed to walking).
walk, offering an intentionally absurd counter-explanation of floating, and
implying a challenge to come up with something else.
I don't know how the Old Forest trees move, though I have some ideas which
I have not stated. Neither does anyone else know how they move, probably
not even Tolkien. That's another example of the beautiful ambiguity. (See
point 2 following.) But two things we can be sure of, because Tolkien has
carefully and subtly laid them out for us:
1) As Michael pointed out earlier, Ents are originally derived from trees,
and trees can grow Entish and vice versa. But they are not the same thing,
else it would be meaningless to say they can become like each other. One
difference: Ents have legs and take giant strides, ordinary trees
don't. By that very notion, therefore, a tree which grows legs has become,
to that extent, an Ent. Or something so Entish as to make no difference to
anyone except Treebeard. At any rate, an Ent standing still with its arms
by its side might be mistaken for a tree, but not on close inspection.
2) Tolkien is _very_ careful to describe _trees_ moving _without_ saying
that they walk or showing that they have legs. The passage I quoted in
which Merry describes the trees as said to be moving using the verb "move"
without saying anything about walking or legs. In the similar passage
later on, which Michael refers to, in which Merry learns first-hand that
this happens, what he exclaims is "The trees _do_ shift!" "Shift" is an
even weaker verb than "move" in describing how it happens. Indeed, the
spooky effect is much stronger because of the weak, ambiguous words used by
If the trees had legs, it would hardly be surprising that they moved. What
makes the Old Forest creepy is that they DON'T have legs. Then how can
they move? But they DO move! But they don't have legs! What's going on
here? This Old Forest, it's one creepy place.
Once you suggest (not state, just suggest) that they do have legs, you have
diminished the creepiness. Treebeard is, to an extent and from one
perspective, a tree with legs, but he is not creepy thereby: just wonderful
If the Old Forest passages don't convince you that this is Tolkien's
intent, then look at the description of the Huorns at the end of Book 3,
Chapter 4. When the Ents march on stage a couple pages earlier, they're
really walking: "the Ents were swining along with great strides down the
slope ... keeping step with their feet and beating time with their hands
upon their flanks."
But the Huorns (not so named in this passage) are something else
altogether. Pippin looks behind and sees groves of trees (not Ents - he
only mistakes them for Ents for a moment - but trees), "but they were
moving! Could it be that the trees of Fangorn were awake, and the forest
was rising, marching over the hills to war? He rubbed his eyes wondering
if sleep and shadow had deceived him; but they great grey shapes moved
Pippin can hardly believe his eyes. He's seen Ents before, and if the
trees were walking or striding, he'd continue to take these for Ents. But
they're not Ents, they're trees that are moving without walking. And when
the Huorns appear before Helm's Deep, it's as if a forest had grown there
overnight, not as if a bunch of Ents are standing there. The Huorns
swallow up the fleeing orcs and none are ever seen again: the reader who
knows Old Man Willow will have no trouble imagining how a tree without legs
can handle that trick. When, in chapter 8, Ents emerge from the forest,
they are immediately identifiable by the observers as something other than
trees, though they look like trees; similarly, Sam's description of Hal's
"walking tree" never calls it a walking tree, but a tree-man (a good word
to describe Ents) or giant (an especially notable word, as "ent" is Old
English for giant). Noted more than once in the chapter 8 passage is the
prominence of the Ents' limbs.
The word "marching" does appear in the chapter 4 passage, but I think
that's misleading if taken as stating that the trees have legs. If they
did, it would contradict the tone of everything else in the passage. And
trees can be described as marching without moving at all. I only felt I
really understood what Tolkien was describing when I first went to northern
England and saw cultivated forests on hillsides. The trees are planted in
rows and columns -- they aren't wild random forests such as we think of in
America. Tolkien often, if not always, had this kind of forest in mind:
see Mirkwood in the drawing of the Elvenking's gates in _The Hobbit_. And
the particular forest I saw in Cumbria could best be described as marching
over the hillside, without moving at all.
So here, once again, we have trees moving WITHOUT LEGS. If the Old Forest
trees moved with legs, we could envisage them standing still pretending
they didn't have legs (unlikely to fool a sharp-eyed hobbit), or only
growing the legs when you're not looking; and in either case suddenly
shooting out these legs and nipping around behind your back with those
seven-yard strides (unlikely to fool a sharp-eared hobbit).
This image in any form is ludicrous. It implies an author totally unlike
Tolkien. And it is one Tolkien was careful to eliminate with his
descriptions of moving trees, both here and in Fangorn.
It remains possible, though I think highly unlikely, that Hal's "walking
tree" is from the Old Forest. Highly unlikely because Treebeard knows
what's going on there, as Michael points out. But if it is, it's not
moving the way the trees we _do_ see in the Old Forest move.
>On the other hand, considering how the Ents and the trees of FangornThe Ents and the trees of Fangorn only attacked Orthanc once. Once was all
>Forest felt about the Orcs, and did nothing for years, it should not
>be surprising that the trees of the Old Forest only attacked the
that was necessary. If the trees of the Old Forest had Ent-like power,
once would also be all that would be necessary; and if for some reason they
pulled their punches on the first attack, a second one would be
devasting. For one thing, Ents (and Hal's "walking tree") could simply go
around the Hedge.
- --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
> Once again, I'll try to summarize.No, we CANNOT tell that it is not an Old Forest style tree. You're
> We do not know specifically what Hal saw. It's not actually
> described as a walking tree. (We do not even know if Hal really
> saw what Sam says he saw, nor how, if he didn't, the error arose.)
> It might even not be an Ent, but something unknown to us, totally
> unrelated to Ents and only compared to a tree because of its
> height. That's part of the beautiful ambiguity in Tolkien that
> makes Middle-earth feel real.
> But we can tell some things it is not. For instance, it is not
> (unless Sam's account is not accurate) a very tall man. And it is
> not an Old Forest-style moving tree, the original suggestion which
> I am concerned to refute.
assuming things about the Old Forest trees which cannot be
substantiated or refuted. The Old Forest trees move around. We
don't know how they move around or how any of them would appear if a
Hobbit saw it moving by itself in the open or on the North Moors or
All we know is that Sam reports in the pub that his cousin Hal saw
something that looked like a giant tree-man. Later on, Sam is part
of a group of Hobbits who are driven along a specific path by a group
of trees in the Old Forest.
Those trees, according to Merry, were at one time animate enough to
move over to the High Hay and bend over it and do some dirty work.
But they were vulnerable to counter-assaults by the Hobbits, who
burned a lot of trees. Did the trees fight back? Did any of them
flee? How many Hobbits were injured? Merry doesn't say. So we
can't make any comparisons, except for the fact that the trees were
> Michael writes,Piffle. Don't recast what I write in nasty overtones in a cheap
> >They don't have to be Ents just because they are animate (if that
> >implies walking -- as opposed to floating or whatever animation you
> >may be envisioning as opposed to walking).
> This reads to me as mocking any attempt to suggest that animate
> trees don't walk, offering an intentionally absurd counter-
> explanation of floating, and implying a challenge to come up with
> something else.
effort to discredit me.
You're making assumptions and I merely pointing out that your
assumptions cannot be either proven or disproven.
The relationship between Ents and animate trees is not spelled out by
Tolkien. So there is absolutely no basis for saying that Hal's
walking tree MUST be an Ent or cannot be an Ent.
If you want to make a case for legless trees, you'll have to show
that Tolkien would have defined a leg to be something that a self-
animating tree cannot use or possess. And that is impossible.
Chairs and tables have legs, for example, and they don't move.