We talked a lot about balance at the end of class on Monday, and about how art and nature are part of the same system, we need a middle ground between cultivation and wilderness, etc. We mostly focused on what it is the Ents need to maintain balance, i.e. some kind of order and cultivation to curb the wildness (which happens to be the very thing the Entwives took with them when they left). It was also implied that the entwives left some kind of wildness behind, and that this is what possibly led to their demise. Tolkien doesn’t explicitly state that a lack of what the Ents have was what specifically allowed “the gardens of the Entwives to be wasted” (The Two Towers 79), but I think we can infer that it is the fact that the Ents and the Entwives are separated that will lead to the demise of both. Perhaps the stubbornness of both has something to do with it, as we can see in the Elvish song in which both Ents and Entwives declare that their land is best, and invite the other group to submit to its superiority. Either way, I think we have landed on the idea that the separation is what is deadly.
I’d like to use this post to think more about these themes of balance and separation, and more about what the Entwives are missing. Is it just wildness or is it something else, too? After Treebeard laments that the Entwives are gone, desire things that ought remain outside the forest, and that they “made gardens to live in,” he says that, “we Ents went on wandering, and we only came to the gardens now and again,” (79). I think that word “wandering” is very important to what Treebeard is saying, and is a core value of Ent life. It is always mentioned in conjunction with what the Ents have and what the Entwives have rejected, and can be thought of as a similar virtue to the unrestrained growth that we talked about in class as being the Ent side of a harmonious balance.
But what is wandering for the Ents? It may seem like wandering is simply an offshoot of that wildness that we agreed is what the Ents have and that the Entwives lacked. But it is also something different. It’s something people do, as we know from the song that follows Aragorn around (“Not all those who wander are lost”). It also has some associations with the wilderness, as Aragorn’s wandering seems to be in reference to his time as a ranger, a job that requires a fair bit of time spent in the wilderness. But I think that although wandering may associate with the wilderness, it is not exclusive to the wilderness. After all, is it impossible to wander around a town or a city, or to let your thoughts drift places they weren’t aiming to go while indoors? Wandering can certainly happen in the wild, but the wild is not a precondition for wandering. Nor does wilderness activity require wandering. After all, most of the journey do dispose of the One Ring goes through the wilderness, but that is certainly not wandering.
It is also notable that when Treebeard uses this word, “wander”, he uses it in a very complicated way. What I mean is that it is not clear that Treebeard’s wandering is thought to be aimless, even if that is what we think of when we think of wandering (at least I do). For example, he talks about how the Ents have searched far and wide for the Entwives, but then refers to this as wandering: “For many years we used to go out every now and again and look for the Entwives, walking far and wide and calling them by their beautiful names. But as time passed we went more seldom and wandered less far,” (79). It might make sense to think of a search as wandering (or meandering?), but then again, it does have an aim, which is to find the Entwives. They may not know where the Entwives are, but it is not as if they are merely walking aimlessly around Middle-Earth. Yet at the same time, their journey does sound like it has an aimless aspect to it. What then do we make of this kind of thing? Even Treebeard’s first mention of the Ents as wanderers alludes to the fact that they “came to the gardens now and again.” If we think of the Entwife gardens as an image of cultivation and focus, and also as a place where the Ents might actually aim to go, then how are they wandering there?
To sum up, I think that this word, “wandering” throws a bit of a wrench into the discussion of what the balance is between the virtues of the Ents and the Entwives. Wandering seems to include some element of focus (what we might think of as the Entwife virtue), at least in how Treebeard uses it. And in fact, it also seems like the Entwives are at least a tiny bit associated with wandering—the Ents say that they had been seen walking west, east, or possibly south. This may not be literal wandering, but there is an association there with aimlessness. So is it exact balance that the Ents would have needed in order to be happier and to have been able to reproduce more generations? Or perhaps just more balance? Because there does seem to be aspects of both the wild and of order in each of the Ents and Entwives; there just may not have been enough.