Origin and History of the Ents
including an Investigation of the Proposal that Ents are Maiar
and their Relation to the Trolls
by Lalaith <email@example.com>
The Ages of The Trees
"No one knew whence they (Ents) came or first appeared. The High Elves said that the Valar did not mention them in the 'Music'." (L248) Also, their own traditions sharply distinguish the Ents (and Entwives) from the other Speaking Peoples by that they attributed their origin not to the design of the gods but to another species.
"Elves began it, of course, waking trees up and teaching them to speak, and learning their tree-talk. They always wished to talk to everything, the old Elves did." (TT) So Treebeard recalls the earliest history of the Shepherds of the Trees. Later records say that "they were known to the Eldar in ancient days, and to the Eldar indeed the Ents ascribed not their own language but the desire for speech." (LP) However, very probably we should rather read "Quendi" here than "Eldar", for the memory of the Ents seems to begin only in the time when Morgoth, known to them as "the Great Darkness", was imprisoned and then "came in the North" (TT), i. e. established himself in Angband. Of his earlier dwelling in Utumno even their oldest member, Treebeard, does not reveal knowledge.
But during this period there were no Eldar in Middle-earth. If the Ents awoke in the Ages of the Trees and during Morgoth’s imprisonment, the "Elves that cured us of dumbness long ago" (TT) would have been Umanyar, those who stayed behind. Then the most likely candidates are probably the Nandor, the Green-Elves. They were reported to have gained deeper knowledge of trees than any other of their kind (S). Their activity may not even have been restricted to trees: perhaps those Elves "who always wished to talk to everything" were also responsible for the "awakening" of various beasts which became capable of rational speech.
The Ents, however, were distinct from these: together with Elves, Dwarves, and Men, they were afterwards reckoned as species of rational creatures. An old poem which Treebeard had learned in his youth – by whom he does not tell: the Nandor most likely - lists the Free Peoples, maybe in their apparent order of appearance:
"Learn now the lore of Living Creatures!
First name the four, the Free Peoples:
Eldest of all, the elf-children;
Dwarf the delver, dark are his houses;
Ent the earthborn, old as mountains;
Man the mortal, master of horses." (TT)
This would further limit their awakening to the period before Man’s awakening in the East.
Their place of origin, however, was not in far Rhun but seems to have been West of Anduin. This was the region where the Entwives first "made gardens to live in" (TT). We may perhaps expect the awakening to have occurred in the precise region which later was called Fangorn Forest – which in that time, however, "was all one wood ... to the Mountains of Lune." (TT)
The First Age
"The first Ents that walked in the woods before the Darkness" (TT) were "not quite the same" as those of the Third Age: "less wise, less strong, shyer and more uncommunicable (their own language simpler, but their knowledge of other tongues very small)" (L248). Slowly they started to grow and multiply, and to become more aware of their world. Young generations were born: They gave birth to little Ent children, or Entings. In the First Age of the Sun, "when the Darkness came in the North, the Entwives crossed the Great River, and made new gardens, and tilled new fields." (TT) The male Ents migrated and expanded westwards from the places of their origin until they found Beleriand where some solemnly walked in Dorthonion and Nan-Tathren. The history of the Elder Days mentions them only once: An Ent-host crossed the Mountains of Lune to assist Beren who "intercepted a dwarf-army that had descended from the mountains, sacked the realm of Doriath and slain King Thingol ... It seems clear that Beren, who had no army, received the aid of the Ents - and that would not make for love between Ents and Dwarves." (L248)
The Second Age
In early SA, the doom of these ancient beings grew nearer. "After the Darkness was overthrown the land of the Entwives blossomed richly, and their fields were full of corn. Many [pre-Numenórean] men learned the crafts of the Entwives and honoured them greatly; but we [Ents] were only a legend to them, a secret in the heart of the forest." (TT) (see also "The Indigenous Population of Middle-earth")But then, after the Downfall of Numenor, the Entwives "disappeared for good, being destroyed with their gardens in the War of the Last Alliance (Second Age 3429-3441) when Sauron pursued a scorched earth policy and burned their land against the advance of the Allies down the Anduin ... They survived only in the 'agriculture' transmitted to Men (and Hobbits). Some, of course, may have fled east, or even have become enslaved: tyrants ... must have an economic and agricultural background to their soldiers and metal-workers. If any survived so, they would indeed be far estranged from the Ents, and any rapprochement would be difficult - unless experience of industrialized and militarized agriculture had made them a little more anarchic. I hope so. I don't know." (L144)
Treebeard was despaired after crossing the Anduin and finding the gardens of the Entwives "wasted: Men call them the Brown Lands now. ... it was all burnt and uprooted, for war had passed over it. But the Entwives were not there." (TT) Their loss roused the Ents more than any event after till their march against Isengard; but what their response was we do not know. Perhaps they took revenge and had a part in deciding "the wars of Sauron and the Men of the Sea" (TT) as Treebeard remembered the War of the Last Alliance. It was then reported that members of almost any species of Arda fought on both sides (RP). But whether that happened is not recorded in any account.
The Third Age
During the Third Age the now solitary Ents started to dwindle and become "tree-ish" (TT). In late TA, there was only a small number left.
After the overthrow of Sauron, King Elessar granted them "room to spare west of the mountains, where once you walked long ago" (RK).
Treebeard, however, remained sceptical that Ents had a future in Arda.
The Eldest and the Firstborn
The statements about origin and age of the Ents are mysterious. Of course, no one would doubt that the Elves are indeed Iluvatar‘s "Firstborn", and they would have to be so to "cure" the Ents from dumbness. But why then are the Ents notoriously called "the most ancient people surviving in the Third Age" (LP) and "oldest of living creatures" (L131)?
This can only interpreted that way that there were Ents before there were talking Ents. The first specimen probably were but mute and "dumb" or yet "unawakened" beings, looking and behaving just like another kind of tree. But of course, they were not ordinary trees.
It cannot be doubted that Elves cannot just pass along and teach a tree at the wayside to talk and move, not to mention turning a forest into another Free People! There must have been an inherent potential of rational thought to the proto-Ents which only Iluvatar could have given to them and which was but waiting for the outside impulse to get active.
Lothlórien recorded a unique hypothesis of their origin: "Some (Galadriel) were [of the] opinion that when Yavanna discovered the mercy of Eru to Aulë in the matter of the Dwarves, she besought Eru (through Manwë) asking him to give life to things made of living things not stone, and that the Ents were either souls sent to inhabit trees, or else that slowly took the likeness of trees owing to their inborn love of trees. ... The males were devoted to Oromë, but the Wives to Yavanna." (L248)
If this was true, it would set real Ents far apart from "talking beasts", animate but soulless. No doubt, those spirits were sent before the Elves awoke but had to lie dormant till their proper time, so not to turn down the intended order in which the Children of Iluvatar would appear. This had not been allowed even to Aule’s Dwarves!
Are Ents Maiar?
Based of this statement it was often suggested that Ents were in fact Maiar. But there is much which speaks against.
First, there is the usage of words. "Soul" in the sources is usually a crude translation of Elvish fëa, a kind of spirit very much distinct from a maia (MR). Maiar are very much above: Would it have been possible for even the greatest Child of Iluvatar to cure but one Maia from dumbness? The Wise of Middle-earth indeed believed or hoped that the "Ents and their wives being rational creatures would find some 'earthly paradise' until the end of this world: beyond which the wisdom neither of Elves nor Ents could see. Though maybe they shared the hope of Aragorn that they were 'not bound for ever to the circles of the world and beyond them is more than memory.'" (L338) Galadriel seemed to have known or sensed even more: Her farewell to Treebeard "until the lands that lie under the wave are lifted up again. Then in the willow-meads of Tasarinan we may meet in the Spring" (RK) indicates her belief or conviction that Ents - like Elves and Men (and Dwarves) - might possess an immortal component. However, a Child of Iluvatar derobed from his fána or body becomes a free fëa, but certainly not an Ainu!
Second. The entish language is a further indication against them being Maiar. Real Maiar probably would not have bothered about developing any since they already possessed one: Valarin or a descendant thereof. Yet "the language they had made was unlike all others" (LP), even Elves had a hard time to learn "their tree-talk" if at all. The few examples of Entish recorded from hearing indeed do not resemble any other spoken in Middle-earth, least of all Valarin.
Third: After the initial impulse of awakening was given to the Ents, they were capable of (consciously or unconsciously) awakening more trees. "Most of the trees [in Fangorn] 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." (TT) Treebeard also remarks that "some of my trees are limb-lithe, and many can talk to me" (TT). Among those he had known "some good old willows down the Entwash". When he approaches Wellinghall, Merry and Pippin witness two unidentified trees capable of motion: they "lifted up their branches, and all their leaves quivered and rustled."
However, those secondarily awakened trees were classified as Huorns, not as new Ents. Evidently, many trees, though not any tree, had the potential to do so: trees that seemed to be half awake or "quite wide" are also to be met in the Old Forest, notably Old Man Willow, (FR) and in Mirkwood (H). Without Entings they still were doomed to extinction – and with them the Huorns, for apparently no other species had any more the power to awaken them. By the late Third Age even the youngest Ent was already over 3000 years old.
The surprising notion that the awakening of trees was not a one-time event but a permanent process is the strongest argument against the "Elves are Maiar" hypothesis. If all awakened trees harboured a Maia within that would have required a constant influx of Ainur from Valinor or outside of Aman to Middle-earth – many of which never again were awakened! An unlikely proposal. It may be assumed that Huorns rather resembled the talking beasts and thus were distinct from Ents by lacking the soul or fëa. But what should we make then out of the "spirit" (FR) that inhabited Old Man Willow?
Ents and Trolls
Unfortunately, at the end of the Third Age there was no one left to ask, unless anyone would bother to inquire Tom Bombadil perhaps. That being who - aside of their awakeners - seems to have known most about Ents was none other but Morgoth the Enemy.
His investigations finally allowed him to create or construct a physically strong, though simple-minded, being: "only counterfeits, made by the Enemy in the Great Darkness, in mockery of Ents, as orcs were of Elves." (TT) These horrid creatures were known as Trolls. "In their beginning far back in the twilight of the Elder Days, these were creatures of dull and lumpish nature and had no more language than beasts. But Sauron had made use of them, teaching them what little they could learn, and increasing their wits with wickedness." (LP) Treebeard thought little of them: He stayed convinced that "We are stronger than Trolls." (TT)
How Trolls came to be is not better known than the origin of the Ents. Clearly, their relationship to stone is very strong, they were evidently made out of it and "return to mere stone images when not in the dark." (L153). But also clearly, while Morgoth may have captured Elves and twisted them into orcs, Morgoth did not capture trees and twist them to become stones. A remarkable notion in that context may be that "Ents had mastery over stone" (L238) and therefore probably a troll was no match to them.
A confirmation that stone, like trees, may become "awakened" comes from an unexpected side: the Watchers of Cirith Ungol. They, while being immobile, certainly displayed a mental activity, though at a level not higher than those of the lowest trolls. A similar origin may therefore be assumed for the stone-trolls. They were just like further talking beasts: soulless and animate only, perhaps only the product of a failed attempt by Morgoth to strengthen the very stone against the Ents' "mastery". Trolls stayed caricatures, simple-minded, primitive, "of dull and lumpish nature". Which suggests a completely different origin from the linear but sometimes surprisingly cunning orcs.
However, "there are other sorts of Trolls beside these rather ridiculous, if brutal, Stone-trolls, for which other origins are suggested." (L153) This probably refers to the Olog-hai, a ferocious kind that was first time met in the War of the Ring (LP). But kind of origin may that have been? Was Sauron even that late still powerful enough to attract other Maiar to his service? Did he, being the Necromancer, manage to imprison fëar into stone which Morgoth never achieved, thus turning it finally resistant against the sunlight?
Or – there is left one terrifying possibility, that perhaps has the highest probability of all, but, if true, would pose one of the Dark Lord’s worst crimes in the history of Arda. Were the Olog-hai like the orcs twisted out of other creatures?
The Olog-hai appeared 3000 years after the mysterious vanishing of the Entwives.
Could an Olog be what becomes of an Entwive after millenia of twisting?
List of Abbreviations