The audience for the Peter Jackson film adaptation of the Lord of the Rings will recognize the Ents of Two towers, where they play a big role in the fight against Saruman. Although they are incorporated into a small part of history, their existence protecting Middle-earth spans a much larger period. The Ents are tree hosts or forest shepherds, which means they take care of the trees, but they also served as allies to the beings of Middle-earth who opposed the darkness of Sauron. Their name, Ent, is Old English for “giant,” but the Elves called them Onodrim.
They resemble in some ways the trees that people tell in fairy tales around the world. They can live so long because weather affects them the same way it affects real trees. What is a long period of time for non-Ent creatures is only a few minutes in the Ent world. Teeth are very tall and strong, but their otherwise laid-back nature usually prevents them from showing it. However, when they attack the Isengard in the the Lord of the Rings trilogy, we see the full potential of their power. Despite their strength and impenetrable bark shells, they are, in a way, an endangered species given that only male Ents remain in Middle-earth.
The Ents are separate but similar to the Huorns, who arose from the fact that the Ents lived among the trees. Although not as mobile as the Ents, the Huorns developed the ability to communicate through language. The original language of the Ents, Old Entish, was a very slow and difficult language to pronounce. It is believed that beings who were not of Entish origin could not pronounce the language correctly. The difficulty of speaking Old Entish meant that the only creatures the Ents could communicate effectively with were the Huorns. As a result of their interactions with the Elves, the Ents resumed their language, but still spoke the Entish dialect, creating the New Entish.
Treebeard, based on Tolkien’s friend CS Lewis, is the Ent that audiences know the most because he plays a big role in Two Towers. In the film, he explains much of the existence of the Ents to Pippin and Merry, even claiming that he is the oldest creature on Earth. Nevertheless, his explanation gives few details about the origin of the Ents.
Understanding the context of the Ents helps put into perspective just how grand their attack on Isengard was. To fully understand this, one must look at Tolkien’s writings and examine their history. The history of the Ents begins with the regular trees of the Great Forests, which during the Star Ages were under threat. As a result, great spirits, created by Eru lluvatar at the behest of Yavanna, came to the forests to live among the trees and protect them. Later they were called Ents.
They appeared in Middle-earth around the same time as the Dwarves, as it was the Dwarves who threatened the trees. The more time passed, the more they came to resemble the trees they were watching. Fangorn Forest is the last remaining place where the Ents inhabit as the timeline of the trilogy unfolds.
Tolkien, who resented industrialization, likely wrote the Ents in history as a physical representation of nature battling the damage that technological advancements and mass production cause to the Earth. Tolkien used Yavanna to send the Ents to protect trees and plants, literally, as a boon to the planet.
The biggest missing piece from the puzzle of their early days – for which even Tolkien has no clear answer – are the Ent wives. The Ent wives left the part of Middle-earth where the male Ents stayed, due to their preference for different lifestyles. The Ent wives chose to live in peace among men, teaching them the ways of horticulture.
Although for a time the Ent men visited the Ent women, the darkness of Sauron quickly destroyed the region in which they lived, and the Ent men have not seen them since. There is a tradition among the Elves that one day Ent males and Ent wives will be reunited. Their story in the the Lord of the Rings The trilogy even ends with Aragorn presenting Treebeard with the notion that the Ents now have the ability to spread across Middle-earth, in search of the Ent wives.
Being of divine origin, it is safe to assume that an element of the Ents will be present in Middle-earth even after they have left. Whether they find the Ent wives and repopulate the forests with Ents, or develop their language skills and share them with the creatures of Middle-earth, the spirit of the Ents will always be there. Their existence in Middle-earth is far too steeped in world history to disappear completely.
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