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Re: Hal's walking tree

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  • michael_martinez2
    ... I m not arguing that it must be a spy for Saruman. But since Saruman himself spied out Fangorn Forest (according to Fangorn himself), and he apparently
    Message 1 of 17 , Dec 26, 2001
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      --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
      > At 10:11 AM 12/24/2001 , I wrote:
      >
      > >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.

      I'm not arguing that it must be a spy for Saruman. But since Saruman
      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-existing
      > "black-hearted" Ent as a spy. But if he did, it's an Ent.

      Just because a tree walks does not mean it is an Ent.
    • David S. Bratman
      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
      Message 2 of 17 , Dec 26, 2001
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        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
        refute.

        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
        the body.

        My argument is that the same limitation applies to the notion that the Old
        Forest trees have legs and walk.

        Michael writes,

        >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.

        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
        Merry.

        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
        and marvelous.

        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
        steadily onward."

        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.

        Michael writes,

        >On the other hand, considering how the Ents and the trees of Fangorn
        >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
        >Buckland once.

        The Ents and the trees of Fangorn only attacked Orthanc once. Once was all
        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.
      • michael_martinez2
        ... No, we CANNOT tell that it is not an Old Forest style tree. You re assuming things about the Old Forest trees which cannot be substantiated or refuted.
        Message 3 of 17 , Dec 26, 2001
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          --- In mythsoc@y..., "David S. Bratman" <dbratman@s...> wrote:
          > 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 refute.

          No, we CANNOT tell that it is not an Old Forest style tree. You're
          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
          anywhere else.

          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
          animate.

          > Michael writes,
          >
          > >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.

          Piffle. Don't recast what I write in nasty overtones in a cheap
          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.
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