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.
Enjoying my latest book to read in the train, the Anderson & Flieger expanded edition of On Fairy-Stories, I am struck by these accents – and how those reviewing its original lecture version in 1939 picked up on them. It makes me keener to catch up with Christopher Dawson, whom Tolkien quotes in this context.
Your video selection somehow made me think of this (audio) one:
Hey ho! Very cool video link. There used to be a group here that met up to sing Tolkien’s songs–one of them a student of Lewis’ in the 30s and began our education school. I’ve got the music they used, but it is pretty limited (my ability, I mean!).
That’s great! And I feel sure that the various heartily singing inhabitants of Middle-earth had a range of vocal abilities… (Can you tell us who the Lewis student was?)
Thinking of today being the Feast of St. George (at least in some calendars), and Shakespeare probably being born on it, my mind turned via his Henry V to the Agincourt carol – and looking up the words in its Wkipedia article, I found myself introduced to a new composition, and a new composer (born a little over a year before Williams, and, sadly, killed in combat, not so long after composing it):
Farrar spoke of incorporating “the fine old English ‘Song of Agincourt'” in his Elegy, but how transmuted!
Shakespeare was born on St. G’s day? Wow. Too much. Thanks for this note! I’ll watch the video.
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