Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien

Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien

Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien

Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien

Synopsis

Many readers drawn into the heroic tales of J. R. R. Tolkien's imaginary world of Middle-earth have given little conscious thought to the importance of the land itself in his stories or to the vital roles played by the flora and fauna of that land. As a result, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion are rarely considered to be works of environmental literature or mentioned together with such authors as John Muir, Rachel Carson, or Aldo Leopold. Tolkien's works do not express an activist agenda; instead, his environmentalism is expressed in the form of literary fiction. Nonetheless, Tolkien's vision of nature is as passionate and has had as profound an influence on his readers as that of many contemporary environmental writers. The burgeoning field of agrarianism provides new insights into Tolkien's view of the natural world and environmental responsibility. In Ents, Elves, and Eriador, Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans show how Tolkien anticipated some of the tenets of modern environmentalism in the imagined world of Middle-earth and the races with which it is peopled. The philosophical foundations that define Tolkien's environmentalism, as well as the practical outworking of these philosophies, are found throughout his work. Agrarianism is evident in the pastoral lifestyle and sustainable agriculture of the Hobbits, as they harmoniously cultivate the land for food and goods. The Elves practice aesthetic, sustainable horticulture as they shape their forest environs into an elaborate garden. To complete Tolkien's vision, the Ents of Fangorn Forest represent what Dickerson and Evans label feraculture, which seeks to preserve wilderness in its natural form. Unlike the Entwives, who are described as cultivating food in tame gardens, the Ents risk eventual extinction for their beliefs. These ecological philosophies reflect an aspect of Christian stewardship rooted in Tolkien's Catholic faith. Dickerson and Evans define it as "stewardship of the kind modeled by Gandalf," a stewardship that nurtures the land rather than exploiting its life-sustaining capacities to the point of exhaustion. Gandalfian stewardship is at odds with the forces of greed exemplified by Sauron and Saruman, who, with their lust for power, ruin the land they inhabit, serving as a dire warning of what comes to pass when stewardly care is corrupted or ignored. Dickerson and Evans examine Tolkien's major works as well as his lesser-known stories and essays, comparing his writing to that of the most important naturalists of the past century. A vital contribution to environmental literature and an essential addition to Tolkien scholarship, Ents, Elves, and Eriador offers both Tolkien fans and environmentalists an understanding of Middle-earth that has profound implications for environmental stewardship in the present and the future of our own world.

Excerpt

Over the past several decades, a form of literary scholarship has evolved that is now commonly referred to as ecocriticism. This approach to the dialogue between literature and the natural world seems, in retrospect, to have tracked fairly closely with certain phases in the environmental movement. It grew originally out of the study of “nature writing”— Thoreauvian nonfiction in which solitude amid wild landscapes was one central theme. Authors such as John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Edward Abbey came to be prized not only because of their tangy voices but also because of their strong advocacy for preserving wilderness. The work of these writers and others like them strongly influenced the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Readers of Rachel Carson were similarly influenced by her courage in decrying the toxicity in our manufacturing and agricultural practices and by the relevance of her writing to the formation of such regulatory agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency and to such legislation as the Clean Water and Clean Air acts. More recently, Native American writers like Leslie Marmon Silko and Joseph Bruchac have powerfully conveyed indigenous perspectives on nature to a broad audience. Their work has called into question some of the assumptions of the wilderness movement, as well as contributed to a growing emphasis on racial equity and environmental justice within the discourse of ecocriticism.

Beyond these key instances in which literature and activism have become intertwined, there are a couple of emerging developments that are well represented in Ents, Elves, and Eriador. Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans’s admirable study of J. R. R. Tolkien participates in an extension of the ecocritical inquiry to literature that has not been closely associated with the environmental movement and that may, in fact, have considerably predated it. Scholars are returning to such canonical authors as William Shakespeare, John Milton, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson in poetry, and George Eliot and . . .

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