Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Wrath of Huorns

                A major topic in today’s class was man’s relationship with trees. While we discussed a great deal, we did not manage to examine one aspect of trees that I believe is critical to the Lord of the Rings: trees as monsters.

In our class on Monsters and Critics, we identified several key traits of monsters: they are fearsome and instill terror, serve to forge heroes, and offer an appropriate death for heroes in Germanic legends. We never claimed that monsters were necessarily evil/Evil, but they are still different than mere predators, such as lions or raptors.

Huorns seem to fit these criteria rather nicely. The Huorns are scary, unnerving even the doughty survivors of Helm’s Deep with their unnatural movements, rustlings and aura of malevolence. Old Man Willow helped forge the hobbits as heroes, being their first real encounter with danger (aside from a hiding from Nazgul). Both Helm’s Deep and Old Man Willow show that the huorns are not opposed to killing, and Old Man Willow even seems to delight in it. Indeed the huorns are always accompanied by auras of malice, ill-will and suppressed rage. Finally, while orcs are not heroes, the huorns do seem to be an appropriate foil to the uruks: both are numerous, both were created by a higher power (Melkor for the orcs, while the future huorns were trees that gradually became more ent-like). However, the two groups differ in that orcs are fractious and treacherous, while huorns seem to be almost robotic. A similar contrast is that orcs hate the sun, while huorns probably need it to survive (being plants and all).

However, this complicates our schema of monsters, Good, and Evil. Can the Good Guys really utilize monsters? Is that allowed? Good’s potential monsters are huorns, ents and the eagles. While the latter two are scary and ferocious in their own right, they do not seem to possess the malevolence of the huorns: the ents are slow to anger and wrath, while the eagles are distant, proud, and seem loath to involve themselves except in exceptional circumstances. Similarly, they eagles and ents do not ever come into conflict with Heroes, while the huorns would if the ents would allow it.

This is because the huorns are dangerous, even to Good people. We noted in class that without ents to guide/control them, huorns would have no qualms killing any two-legged creature that strayed into reach. Without the ents, Fangorn would be a hostile realm. Old Man Willow’s willingness to kill the hobbits is another example of huorn bloodthirst.* Finally, a great deal of huorn related language deals with darkness and shadow, language usually reserved for agents of Sauron. For example, orcs flee “under the waiting shadow of the trees; and from that shadow none ever came again.” (Two Towers Chapter 7). Or “the trees were grey and menacing…and a shadow or a mist was about them…dark caverns opened beneath them…stretching away into impenetrable shadow” (Two Towers, Chapter 8). This language of darkness stands in contrast to Tolkien’s other trees. The Trees of Valinor and Lothlorien are associated with light and brightness, not chthonic darkness and shadow.

So what is it that makes huorns acceptable monsters? Why are they on the side of Good? And what does it mean that Good has such creatures in its ranks? One possibility is that the huorns are merely tools of the ents, much like swords are tools of men in the fight against Evil. But swords do not have even the rudimentary intelligence that huorns possessed. This could also be a reflection of Tolkien’s own ideas of personal Good and Evil. In Letter 183, Tolkien reflects that all people are capable of extreme Good and extreme Evil at any time. Why would this not be the case of factions? No matter how pure the goals of Good, it is still capable of treading into Evil. Indeed, falls from Good are something of a theme in the Lord of the Rings, with Saruman and Denethor falling from Good out of their desire to thwart Evil. 

Or perhaps it was a willful inconsistency, with Tolkien allowing the huorns to exist because it offered him the opportunity to rail against humanity’s exploitation of forests. In Letter 183, Tolkien notes that Good could have bred armies of orcs to ravage all of Arda against Sauron, and still be in the moral right. However, this “huorns’ Evil was intentional” is also problematic, as it means any forest inhabited by huorns cannot be inhabited by people. As long as huorns dwell in Fangorn, it unlikely to become an ideal forest like Lothlorien, where people live in harmony with the trees.

However, this might not be a bad thing. In our Jewels and Trees I discussion, we noted that Lothlorien is only free of imperfection by the power of Galadrial’s ring. It is an unnatural forest, an artifact of Elvish magic rather than Iluvatar’s creation. Its presence in Arda might expose why huorns are part of Good, rather than Evil. Huorns add an element of danger to forests and make the woods wilder and more feral. This is appropriate because the woods are wild, at least to the extent allowed by ents. If the forests were not wild, then they would be orchards, and the ents would still be with the entwives. Huorns are an element of balance necessary for forests to retain their character, and by fulfilling this function, they align with Iluvatar’s divine plan.

But this balance is only maintained while the ents still live to protect the trees and curb the huorns’ wrath. Without the ents’ guidance, forests would become like the Old Forest, hostile, feared, and generally shunned by the inhabitants of Middle-Earth. This could possibly be occurring even with ents: Fangorn is avoided by the Rohirrim, and Tom Bombadil is unable (or too inattentive) to keep the Old Forest from becoming hostile to hobbit-kind. What happens when the last ent falls?

G. Brunk

*Although Old Man Willow MIGHT qualify as Evil, since he has corrupted the other Old Forest Trees into helping him kill travelers and non-Tom Bombadils.


  1. In the middle of your post, you briefly touch on the possibility that the huorns are “merely tools of the Ents, much like swords are tools of men in the fight against Evil,” but you dismiss it by saying that swords do not have intelligence in the way that the hurons do. This is a good argument, and I also do not believe that huorns should be thought of as merely tools of the Ents. But, I do believe that something can be a tool and yet have intelligence of its own.
    Consider Túrin’s sword in “Of Túrin Turambar.” Túrin asks the sword to take his own life, and the sword answers coldly “‘Yea, I will drink thy blood gladly, that so I may forget the blood of Beleg my master, and the blood of Brandir slain unjustly. I will slay thee swiftly’” (The Silmarillion 225). The sword not only has memories, but is able to differentiate between right and wrong, knowing that Brandir was slain unjustly. Also, Sauruman, the wisest of the wizards, fell under the control of Sauron, becoming essentially a tool for Sauron’s malicious will.
    Though huorns should not be thought of merely tools of the Ents for numerous reasons, such as the fact that they have “lives” outside of the jurisdiction of the Ents, considering them as tools does not demote them to a lesser state of being. Plenty of other “tools” such as Túrin’s sword and the One Ring can have qualities that make them more than just the performer of their designed duty.

    -Tate Hamilton

  2. G.,

    I really enjoyed and appreciated this post which is a very intelligent examination of a class of being which is generally slightly below the threshold of inspection. The huorns seem to have some sort of rudimentary consciousness (or at least emotion) and agency, yet do seem to be controllable by the ents. Maybe rather than tools, we should take Tolkien’s tree-shepherd analogy at face value and look at them as analogous to a herdsman’s animals, though here used in war. Maybe a Mongol’s pony might be a decent analogue, though obviously it’s not really the means of attack exactly. Maybe war-dogs? As late as the sixteenth century, armies still trained large and vicious dogs, armored them, and sent them to kill their enemies. It wasn't the main weapon, as the huorns are, but is still a being a step down the Chain of Being being used to fight and kill. Of course, dogs never disappeared an entire army of retreating Urûk-hai…