05 September 2017

Evil Trees

A few sessions ago in Exploring The Lord of the Rings we briefly considered how odd it seemed that Old Man Willow was surrounded with such lush growth, when in Tolkien's legendarium evil is usually associated with no-man's-land-like devastation, destruction, and rottenness (as in 'the leprous growths that feed on rottenness',The Passage of the Marshes). Some passages that seemed relevant came to my mind. 
First, when Sam, affected by the gravity of the Ring, imagines himself Samwise the Strong, hero of the Age, at whose command 'the vale of Gorgoroth became a garden of flowers and trees and brought forth fruit'. Luckily his love of his master and his hobbit-sense sober his vision: 'The one small garden of a free gardener was all his need and due, not a garden swollen to a realm; his own hands to use, not the hands of others to command.' 
'Swollen' is here the critical word. It suggests that, however beautiful and green Sam's garden might have been, it would have exceeded its due measure and thus become bad. Elsewhere we find it used to suggest that Ugluk's head is too big for his shoulders, and to describe Sam's parched tongue on the slopes of Mt Doom. Then there's the Deeping Stream at the Hornburg, swollen by rain until it overflows its banks. And of course there's Shelob, 'who only desired death for all others, mind and body, and for herself a glut of life, alone, swollen till the mountains could no longer hold her up and the darkness could not contain her'. And again: 'behind her short stalk-like neck was her huge swollen body, a vast bloated bag, swaying and sagging between her legs.'
The other passage was in Of Aule and Yavanna
... and Yavanna returned to Aulë; and he was in his smithy, pouring molten metal into a mould. 'Eru is bountiful,' she said. 'Now let thy children beware! For there shall walk a power in the forests whose wrath they will arouse at their peril.' 
'Nonetheless they will have need of wood,' said Aulë, and he went on with his smith-work.
It's interesting to note two things here. First Yavanna refers to the 'wrath' of the power that will walk in the forests, but Manwe had just said to her before she returned to Aule that the just anger of these powers (by which of course they mean the Ents) would be something to fear. So proportion is important here. Second Aulë's response is also about balance. Wood is needful. In due measure. 
Turning back from these passages to Old Man Willow, consider his extreme power over the other trees of the Old Forest and his status as the most dangerous of the trees who hated all that went free upon the earth and remembered the time when they were lords. His evil remembers and foresees a dominance as green and growing as the Barrow-wight's foresees a dead sea and a withered land.

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