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 the love of growing things, but about a sensitive, living balance between all living things. Legolas 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.