Ents, Elves, and Eriador
The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien
Published by: The University Press of Kentucky
Many readers drawn into the heroic tales of J. R. R. Tolkien's imaginary world of Middle-earth have given little conscious thought to the importance of the land itself in his stories or to the vital roles played by the flora and fauna of that land. As a result, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion are rarely considered to be works of environmental literature or mentioned together with such authors as John Muir, Rachel Carson, or Aldo Leopold. Tolkien's works do not express an activist agenda; instead, his environmentalism is expressed in the form of literary fiction. Nonetheless, Tolkien's vision of nature is as passionate and has had as profound an influence on his readers as that of many contemporary environmental writers. The burgeoning field of agrarianism provides new insights into Tolkien's view of the natural world and environmental responsibility. In Ents, Elves, and Eriador, Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans show how Tolkien anticipated some of the tenets of modern environmentalism in the imagined world of Middle-earth and the races with which it is peopled.
The philosophical foundations that define Tolkien's environmentalism, as well as the practical outworking of these philosophies, are found throughout his work. Agrarianism is evident in the pastoral lifestyle and sustainable agriculture of the Hobbits, as they harmoniously cultivate the land for food and goods. The Elves practice aesthetic, sustainable horticulture as they shape their forest environs into an elaborate garden. To complete Tolkien's vision, the Ents of Fangorn Forest represent what Dickerson and Evans label feraculture, which seeks to preserve wilderness in its natural form. Unlike the Entwives, who are described as cultivating food in tame gardens, the Ents risk eventual extinction for their beliefs.
These ecological philosophies reflect an aspect of Christian stewardship rooted in Tolkien's Catholic faith. Dickerson and Evans define it as "stewardship of the kind modeled by Gandalf," a stewardship that nurtures the land rather than exploiting its life-sustaining capacities to the point of exhaustion. Gandalfian stewardship is at odds with the forces of greed exemplified by Sauron and Saruman, who, with their lust for power, ruin the land they inhabit, serving as a dire warning of what comes to pass when stewardly care is corrupted or ignored.
Dickerson and Evans examine Tolkien's major works as well as his lesser-known stories and essays, comparing his writing to that of the most important naturalists of the past century. A vital contribution to environmental literature and an essential addition to Tolkien scholarship, Ents, Elves, and Eriador offers both Tolkien fans and environmentalists an understanding of Middle-earth that has profound implications for environmental stewardship in the present and the future of our own world.
"Anyone who ever thrilled to Tolkien's fighting trees, or to the earthy Tom Bombadil, or to the novel charm of the Shire will want to read this important and lovely book." -- Bill McKibben, Scholar in Residence in Environmental Studies, Middlebury College
"The writing style is engaging, and the book presents the first fully developed study of Tolkien and the environment at the same time that it offers insights into a range of Tolkien's major and minor works." -- Choice
"A fascinating ecocritical evaluation of the writings of J.R.R. Tolkien. Valuable for both Tolkien fans and those interested in ecocriticism and environmental literature. Especially useful given the popularity of the subject matter." -- Northeastern Naturalist
"This book is a major new contribution to the subject of Tolkien's work in relation to the natural world and environmentalism.... The authors have devised an ingenious and useful distinction between agriculture for food (the domain of the Hobbits), horticulture for aesthetic beauty (that of Elves), and feraculture... for wilderness preservation (Ents)." -- Tolkien Studies
"Dickerson and Evans's ecological thesis has one outstanding merit, which is that Tolkien himself would have recognized and thoroughly approved of what they have to say." -- Tom Shippey, from the Afterword
"Reading a non-fiction book about Tolkien's environmental vision may seem like a way to spoil the sheer fun of reading The Lord of the Rings and his other books. What I found as I read this book was that I wanted to reread every word of Tolkien to see for myself what the authors have given a glimpse of. This book is for everyone who loves the work of J.R..R. Tolkien, and who loves the world around them." -- Armchair Interviews
"The two authors are unabashed in their effort to use the lure of Tolkien to draw readers to the Green movement. The book constitutes an unorthodox yet largely successful combination of scholarly reading and political manifesto. Dickerson and Evans seek to rouse Tolkien fans to scour their own Shires before it is too late and Mordor triumphs." -- Seven
"A well-researched, readable, and relevant study of Tolkien's ecological principles and concerns. And, as Tom Shippey comments in the afterword, Tolkien, no doubt, would approve." -- Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
"This volume is a thorough and welcome explication of Tolkien's vision of the natural world, and of the ways in which that vision is applicable to our own lives today." -- Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature & the Environment
" Ents, Elves, and Eriador should...be praised for drawing attention to the multifaceted portrayal of the natural world in Tolkien's work." -- Folklore
"It is an enjoyable and intellectually valuable read for its detailed examination of the landscape cultures of Middle-earth and their liminal overlapping of one another." -- Studies in Medieval & Renaissnace Teaching
"Does much to show why Tolkein should be recognized as one of those who laid the foundations for and formed the environmental movement as we know it today." -- Mallorn
"Dickerson and Evans provide a valuable discussion of concepts of stewardship as figured by Gandalf, Treebeard, Sam, Galadriel, and various kings and leaders, and how such examples bridge our inner world of fantasy and what we think of as the outer world of reality." -- Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Teaching
"A fine introduction to Tolkein's environmental achievement." -- Flourish Book Review