June 1, 2014

Are Ents Trees?

Despite the fact that Treebeard says himself that he is not a tree in the Two Towers film, many casual LotR fans (and especially non-LotR fans) always seem to mistake them for trees.  One relation in particular repeated the falsehood numerous times so eventually I wrote the following in an attempt to clarify the misconception.  If you're confused yourself or know of someone like that hopefully this post will help.  Jump the break to find out exactly what ents are and why they are not simply walking trees.

Treebeard Sketch by Alan Lee

Ents are Not Trees

     Many first-time visitors to Middle-earth are often confused by the Ents.  “Why are there talking trees walking around?” some ask.  While they seem like trees (especially in the movies) they are very different from trees themselves.  To really understand this distinction one must dig a little deeper to figure out what an Ent really is. 

     First, the word ent is actually an Anglo-Saxon word which literally means giant.  This should not be surprising considering the size of the ents and especially since Tolkien himself was a leading professor of Anglo-Saxon.  Many of his names in The Lord of the Rings are actually derived from Anglo-Saxon words. 

     The history of the Ents goes back near the very beginning of Middle-earth, before the awakening of the Firstborn (the elves).  The Valar, who are like angels, were sent to shape Middle-earth and protect the Children Of Iluvatar (Elves and Men).  For long ages they toiled, working hard to make Arda (earth) habitable and pleasant for the Children, the Firstborn and Followers.  Aule (the Vala who “specializes” in crafts) became impatient for the Elves so he made creatures that he thought would be like them.  Aule (along with nearly all of the other Valar) did not know exactly what the elves would be like since Iluvutar had only revealed a little bit about them beforehand.  Because of this, Aule had in fact made dwarves.  Yavanna (the Vala who “specializes” in plants, animals, and other things nature related) saw the dwarves, what they were like, their axes and fiery hearts, and feared for the trees she spent long years making.  Iluvutar saw her concern and let her make another creature, the Ent to watch over the trees.  They were called the “Shepherds of the Forest”.  So at the very beginning of their creation we see that they are in fact not trees.  Instead they were sent to protect them.

     The Ents do not play much of a big part in early ages of Middle-earth, even though they are more numerous and well-known.  It’s not until the War of the Ring that the reader really gets a close-up view of them.  In the fourth chapter of Book III in The Two Towers the two young hobbits, Merry and Pippin run into Treebeard for the first time. 

“They found that they were looking at a most extraordinary face.  It belonged to a large Man-like, almost Troll-like, figure, at least fourteen foot high, very sturdy, with a tall head, and hardly any neck.  Whether it was clad in stuff like green and grey bark, or whether that was its hide, was difficult to say.  At any rate the arms, at a short distance from the trunk, were not wrinkled, but covered with a brown smooth skin.  The large feet had seven toes each.  The lower part of the long face was covered with a sweeping grey beard, bushy, almost twiggy at the roots, thin and mossy at the ends.  But at the moment the hobbits noted little but the eyes.  These deep eyes were now surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating.  They were brown, shot with a green light…” 

     This description is certainly evocative of trees, “twiggy at the roots”, “grey bark”, etc.  Yet it is obviously  not a tree.  Trees do not have deep brown eyes nor do they have arms.  Notice that Tolkien likened their figure to that of men or trolls.  A few paragraphs later Treebeard takes the hobbits to his house by walking on two legs.  Trees do not have legs.  At least the trees on this planet don’t. 

     Below is a picture of Treebeard from the 2002 film, The Two Towers.  Beside it are a few of the moving trees from The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian film based on the book by C.S. Lewis.

Both are, in my opinion, accurate to their source material.  If Tolkien intended for the Ents to be moving trees why wouldn't they look like Lewis’s on the right?  

Furthermore, below is a picture of a LEGO Ent and beside it a picture of a LEGO tree.

If they are really the same why don't they look more similar?

     While there are Ents in one category and trees in another there is a whole new category in-between that I think causes much of the confusion.  “I do not understand all that goes on myself,” but I will try to explain it to the best of my ability.  Treebeard tells the Hobbits in chapter IV that

“Some of us are still true Ents, and lively enough in our fashion, but many are growing sleepy, going tree-ish, as you might say.  Most of the trees are just trees, of course; but many are half awake.  Some are quite wide awake, and a few are, well, ah, well getting Entish.  That is going on all the time... We are tree-herds, we old Ents.  Few enough of us are left now.  Sheep get like shepherd, and shepherd like sheep, it is said… Some of my kin look just like trees now, and they need something great to rouse them; and they speak only in whispers.  But some of my trees are limb-lithe, and many can talk to me…”

     These half-tree half-ent creatures were given a special name, the Huorns.  Lethargic as they may be,
Huorns at a distance as seen in The Two Towers Extended Edition
Huorns could become quite aggressive when angered.  When not looked after by the Ents they could become “queer and wild” (The Two Towers, Book III, Chapter IX).  The Hobbits were ensnared by Old Man Willow in the Old Forest early on in their adventure, a Huorn that 
didn't have a shepherd (thankfully Tom Bombadil was there to help). Looking after Huorns was one of the Ents’ primary responsibilities, especially in later ages.  After the Battle of Helm’s Deep the Huorns that finished off the remaining Uruk-hai were led back to Fangorn forest by Ents.

     Clearly Ents are not trees as many casual movie-goers imagine.  While they are associated with trees and can often times become tree-ish they are not trees.  They were made to protect them and shepherd them, not to be one of them.  They had songs, stories, meetings [entmoots], jobs, and even individual names (e.g. TreebeardQuickbeam, or Fimbrethil).  They are even counted among the Children of Iluvutar: Elves, Men, Dwarves, and Ents.  If they have all these they surely cannot be simply trees. 

(Copyright to the illustrations and images belongs to the respective artists/studios.)

An earlier version of this was first posted on my first blog, www.animatostudios.blogspot.com.


  1. So far your new blog seems to be going well. Your first blog post 'Are Ents Trees?' was magnificent! You it explained it clearly and made it understandable to, as you said, casual fans.
    Being a Tolkienist myself, I look forward to seeing more blog posts.

  2. Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it! Not all posts will be quite as long or detailed as this, but I hope to post a few of these a month. Other times I'll post concerning the films (some discussion, speculation) or about things in the community.

  3. Thanks for the information. It makes sense because Treebeard said that Fangorn Forest stretched all the way to the mountains of Ered Luin. That would explain the Huorn in the Old Forest. As a Tolkienist, I hope you continue to post more of these interesting articles.

    1. Excellent point Nathan. It would have been really interesting to travel through that expansive forest. As time wore on and the forest shrunk it's quite likely that little isolated pockets of Huorns (and possibly Ents) could have been left around Eriador. Old Man Willow was probably one of these, leftover from that ancient forest (as you pointed out).