Yesterday, the second day of our Tolkien month, we introduced Christopher Lee as Treebeard. So it seems fitting to dedicate today's posting to the wooden one himself. This is a piece I originally published elsewhere November 23 last year. And though I've come to Rohan since then, and though autumn is only a distant memory by now, it is still more or less fitting:
It's autumn. Late autumn, actually. And, as it’s autumn, I have gotten the urge to return to Middle Earth. I picked up where I left off – as Merry and Pippin enters Fangorn forest.
I read Tolkien like that: Read a few chapters, then stay away for a long time, sometimes a year, then pick up again from wherever I left. I know the story, after all.
And Tolkien himself left the company outside the gates of Moria for more than a year. Now, that’s a bleak place to spend twelve months or more. (There was a war coming in Europe.)
Though Merry and Pippin doesn’t know, entering Fangorn is the start of great things – for them personally and for Middle Earth. It rouses the ents, as Treebeard realizes he can no longer stay out of worldly things. Which spells the end for Saruman’s dreams of power. Which again means that Gondor is not threatened from two sides at once – and that the forces of Rohan are free to ride to Gondor’s support.
All this because of two hobbits that only want to get away from their orc(ish) captors.
We can none of us know the whole story of our times. We are all part of the great narrative that is history, but we have no way of knowing what – if any – influence we will have on it. An ethics that focuses on consequences only is pointless. Because we have no way of knowing the consequences. And sometimes our actions are of importance for entirely unintended reasons. For good – or for bad.
Merry and Pippins actions are of pivotal importance for the victory over Sauron, but they cannot know that as they enter Fangorn – or as they meet Treebeard.
Neither can we know the ultimate consequences of any single action.
All of this just to state my annoyance at Peter Jackson's movie. There are three things in the movie that still annoy me. One is the compressing of time at the beginning, where 17 years turns into a few months. Which means that a lot of things go slightly unfocused in the story.
Like Saruman, who uses those 17 years to go from bad to worse. Or the ring wraiths, which must already be at the gates of The Shire as Bilbo gives Frodo the ring (by way of Gandalf). Or Gandalf himself, who should have spent some of those years to uncover the secret of the ring – and now has to do it in mere months.
It simply doesn’t add up. And all that Jackson had to do was put up a poster that said “17 years later”. He could even have kept Frodo looking like a German disco kid, as he doesn’t age much in those 17 years – thanks to the power of the ring.
The two other tings that really rile me about the movie, is the treatment of two of its heroes: Faramir and Treebeard.
Faramir, who in the book is a noble man – one of the few that instantly sees the dangers of using the ring – in the movie becomes a silly, scared kid. And all because they needed a cliffhanger to end the second movie.
It is an ending alien to the book – that also gives us the unbearably stupid scene were Frodo actually waves the ring in front of one of the ring wraiths. So much for a secret mission.
And poor Treebeard. He is the tree herd. OK, we have to repeat that: He is the tree herd of Fangorn. He knows what goes on in his own forest.
Instead of deciding to go to war at the entthing, they decide to stay away. And Treebeard only changes his mind after Pippin (all of this is done simply to make it seem like Pippin is getting smarter) lures him to follow them towards Isengard. Only when he comes to the edge of Fangorn does he see the destruction which has been done to his forest.
He roars with anger, and seconds later a whole gang of ents (that have no reason whatsoever to be there) come out from Fangorn and they march towards Isengard.
His anger tells us one thing: That he didn’t know of the destruction until this moment.
Once again: He is the tree herd. And he doesn’t know that thousands of trees have been cut down to fuel Saruman’s war machine? That is utter nonsense.
I can forgive the compression of time at the beginning. I dislike it, but I realize that it was important for creating the urgency that drives Jacksons’s version of the story. I can almost forgive what is done to Faramir. It is a disgrace, but I understand the need for a cliffhanger at the end of the second movie – even if it is a stupid one.
But I really can’t forgive what is done to Treebeard. Ents have been in Middle Earth almost since the world began. They are a proud race and a truly original one – together with hobbits one of Tolkien’s great feats of true sub creation.
To imply that Treebeard doesn’t know what is happening in his own forest – he has, after all, known some of the cut down trees since they were acorns – isn’t merely to change the plot a bit. It is to fundamentally change one of the races in Tolkien’s world.
It’s an insult to Treebeard, an insult to ents and an insult to Tolkien. It is, in truth, quite unforgiveable, Mr. Jackson.