Suite101: He shall be Like a Tree Planted by the Rivers of Water – Michael Martinez’ J.R.R. Tolkien and Middle-earth

by Apr 30, 2001Lord of the Rings (Movies)

“The Ents’ search for the Entwives inspired many songs and tales, and even Aragorn seemed to know something of the Ents’ long search, for he told Fangorn that new lands would be open to them. Fangorn by that time held little hope of finding his beloved Fimbrethil again, and he may never have left his woods in the Fourth Age.”
In last week’s Suite101 article, Michael Martinez observed that the trees of Middle-earth reveal Tolkien’s deep love for nature’s graceful giants. But though the Ents championed the cause of trees in a world of two legged hewers, they seemed to reveal little about themselves. We must magnify Tolkien’s words with our imaginations if we are to behold the all the trees in the silent, wild wood.

Here is a brief excerpt:

Why did the Ents end up in Fangorn Forest? How, and when, did they make the trek across Middle-earth to the southern end of the Misty Mountains. And why did they move all the way down there? Fangorn tells Merry and Pippin that he once wandered through the willow-meads of Tasarinan. “Willow-meads” is a curious turn of phrase. Trees don’t grow in meadows. But Tolkien loved to scatter willows around Middle-earth, along with rivers and lakes. And willows do grow beside rivers and lakes.

The willow has long been used as a symbol of regret and lost love in English literature. As Fangorn sings about his youth in Beleriand, he begins with the Willow-meads of Tasarinan (Nan-Tathren on the map of Beleriand, a region between the Mouths of Sirion and the Gates of Sirion, to the south of Doriath). When Frodo and Sam wander through Mordor, and they are thirsty, Sam thinks wistfully of willow trees beside rivers where they had stopped on their journey. And as Theoden leads his Riders of Rohan out of Harrowdale, they pass willow trees along the Snowbourne river.

The most poetic description of the willows in Middle-earth is probably Voronwe’s description of Nan-Tathren for Tuor in “Of Tuor and his coming to Gondolin”:

“…In that land Narog joins Sirion, and they haste no more, but flow broad and quiet through living meads; and all about the shining river are flaglilies like a blossoming forest, and the grass is filled with flowers, like gems, like bells, like flames of red and gold, like a waste of many-coloured stars in a firmament of green. Yet fairest of all are the willows of Nan-Tathren, pale green, or silver in the wind, and the rustle of their innumerable leaves is a spell of music: day and night would flicker by uncounted, while still I stood knee-deep in grass and listened. There I was enchanted, and forgot the Sea in my heart….”

For all its beauty and bliss, however, Nan-Tathren seems never to have attracted a permanent Elven population. Tuor and Idril led the exiles of Gondolin to the region and stayed there for a while, holding a feast and making songs of regret and sorrow for Gondolin, and to remember the courage of Glorfindel. But they did not remain long in the region.

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