I'm actually more than a little surprised that we did not cover this topic during the Wednesday discussion about the guardians of the forest and what they represent in Tolkien's universe, but here goes:
We have discussed Ents and the Green Knight as beings who occupy a different sort of civilization than "humans", even though they certainly are cultured. It is clear from our discussion that Tolkien values the forest as representative of the "Old World", who guide the growth of natural things, but I wonder what perspective he would put on the mysterious Wild Men encountered about halfway through the Ride of the Rohirrim during Return of the King. In particular, why does Tolkien choose to represent the "Men of the Wild" in such a way as he does even though Treebeard and the Green Knight are represented as high beings, which are to be expected and revered by the reader.
By contrast, The Wild Men are uncultured, speak in broken Common Tongue, and generally seem to represent undeveloped savages more than anything else, although I agree that there is certainly a lot more depth to them than meets the eye. The Ents are characterized as representative of the Wild, but as we see they are actually very complex characters. We see that they have communities and gatherings, can get roused to anger, and feel love. They even possess great knowledge about the history of the world. The Wild Men, by contrast, are represented by little more than beasts, being focused rather on their own survival than the greater conflicts of the world. Ghan-buri-Ghan's speech seems to be uncivilized and uncouth, certainly a far cry from Treebeard's elegance. He is presented as slow and lumbering, with very little complex thoughts on his mind besides the preservation of his race. In essence, I feel as though Ghan-buri-Ghan is very similar to a beast of the wild, rather than a human. This is not to say that he is in the wrong, quite the contrary! We see at the end of the series that Ghan-buri-Ghan and the Wild Men are left at peace. However, my question still remains. While the Ents, despite what they may seem as, are in fact very sophisticated beings, I wonder why Tolkien chose to represent the Wild Men, who are equally representative of the wilderness, and have equal potential in the way of storytelling, in the way that he did.
In relation to our discussion on Wednesday, why are we afraid of trees? I don’t think that it’s necessarily that we are afraid of trees, but rather that humans are afraid of the untame-able wilds, they fear things they cannot control, which is entirely to be expected. Now, rather we can attribute this to the influence of Morgoth or just human nature is besides the point. In the storyline, the Ents represent the controllable, understandable wisdom of the wild that is in control of the Huorns to prevent them from killing everybody. Ghan-buri-ghan, on the other hand, seems to indeed represent the wilds that cannot be tamed, that we are afraid of. I disagreed in class with the assessment that people are afraid of trees, but certainly the fear of the untamable is something we can all understand. In Return of the King, Ghan-buri-Ghan and the Wild Men represent just this. They do not ally themselves to the side of the Good Guys, because to do so would be to associate themselves and thus be chained by an outside organization. Rather, they right with the Good Guys for the purpose of ensuring their continued survival as a species. The Huorns behave similarly, but they do fall under the control of the Ents, and as such are a little less useful in this discussion about the wilderness.
So in conclusion, I feel like Tolkien touches on some very important thematic elements in the creation of the Wild Men. The first of which is self-preservation, which, as we know from the Silmarillion, is something that the Ents are rather short on, being destined to fade away into nothingness with the coming of men. The Wild Men, by contrast, are a race of beings who are thoroughly concerned merely for their own survival, rather than the motivations of the more major characters in the series. They are the untamed wilderness that refuses to be controlled by anybody, and in fact they wish nothing more than to just fade into obscurity after Aragorn comes into the seat of power. I would even venture to say that this may be a commentary on the imperialistic expansion of the European countries, demonstrating the fact that leaving the “untamable” as they are, rather than trying to control them, really turns out better for everyone involved.
Quite possibly, Tolkien is once again demonstrating his recurring theme of Nature triumphing over Industry, as the Wild Men, in the end, to achieve everything they desire, and, as far as we know, remain so until the end of time.
EDIT: Sorry for the late post. I didn’t realize Blogger had fixed itself.