Affirming Creation in the Lord of the Rings

Perhaps it isn’t that surprising that J.R.R. Tolkien’s books are so environmentally sensitive. Like Sam Gamgee, Tolkien loved things that grow and good tilled earth. He loved walks–long walks beyond his garden through English towns and villages and vast, untouched countrysides. His Middle Earth writings are layered with a rich and expansive architecture of nature.

Perhaps his books are so environmentally rich because he saw the results of the industrial revolution first hand. In his mind, WWI with its crush of men like bags of bones scattered upon a pulverized Europe, was the natural end of an absolute human commitment to bend Nature to the will of economy and progress. In France, Tolkien saw only black mud stained with blood, and he felt that rapid urbanization and industrialization would lead to about the same result.

What’s so surprising about Tolkien’s love for creation, however, is how very prophetic it is. His creation care is not merely about love of growing things, but about a sensitive, living balance between all living things. Legolis laments that,

“No other folk make such a trampling,… It seems their delight to slash and beat down growing things that are not even in their way.”

And it is Treebeard the Ent who divines what Saruman’s real purpose is:

“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.”

Saruman is a traitor because he has turned from a caretaker of creation to its overlord. In the end, all the industry of Man cannot withstand the equilibrium of the nature he intends to bend to his will. It is not merely magic and cunning and the force of men that tips the balance of the war on two fronts in The Two Towers. It is nature taking up the battle that changes everything. It is a lesson that we might do well to remember.

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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15 Responses to Affirming Creation in the Lord of the Rings

  1. Sue Archer says:

    Great post! When reading Lord of the Rings for the first time, I felt very connected with the Ents. (I wanted to be riding with them!) I felt that the movie did a fantastic job of illustrating that theme of nature vs. industry.

    Like

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  6. Tamsin says:

    Came here by way of your “7 Least Popular Posts (That I Still Think Were Pretty Good),” and for what it’s worth, I really enjoyed reading it! To be honest, I can’t say environmentalism is one of the issues I get up in arms about on a day to day basis (I’m entirely sympathetic–I just tend to have other arguments on my plate), so I was really surprised by how much I responded to the Ents’ storyline, in both the book and the movies–it literally gave me chills. And I think you’re right to draw particular attention to that “human commitment to bend Nature to the will of economy and progress.” I’ve always been interested in the environmental side of The Lord of the Rings as a response to the Industrial Revolution, and in retrospect (now having read a ton of 19th/early 20th-century British lit), it really strikes me that Tolkien was part of an ongoing conversation about that (there are some really uncannily similar discussions of the destruction of the countryside in The Old Curiosity Shop which is, erm, not Dickens’ best novel, but interesting in some ways).

    Like

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