|Also known as||Onodrim, Shepherds of the Trees, Tree-folk|
|Created date||First Age|
|Base of operations||Fangorn Forest|
Ents are a race of beings in J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy world Middle-earth who closely resemble trees. They are similar to the talking trees in folklore around the world. Their name is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for giant.
The Ents appear in The Lord of the Rings as ancient shepherds of the forest and allies of the free peoples of Middle-earth during the War of the Ring. The Ent who figures most prominently in the book is Treebeard, who (credibly) claims to be the oldest creature in Middle-earth. At the time The Lord of the Rings takes place, there are no young Ents (Entings) because the Entwives (female Ents) were lost. The Ents are akin to Huorns, whom Treebeard describes as a transitional form of trees which become animated or, conversely, as Ents who grow more "treelike" over time.
Inspired by Tolkien and similar traditions, animated or anthropomorphic tree creatures appear in a variety of media and works of fantasy.
The word "Ent" was taken from the Anglo-Saxon (Old English) word ent, meaning "giant". Tolkien borrowed the word from the Anglo-Saxon phrases orþanc enta geweorc ("work of cunning giants") and eald enta geweorc ("old work of giants", which describes Roman ruins). In its Anglo-Saxon sense, the word "Ent" probably denotes the most ubiquitous of all creatures in fantasy and folklore (behind perhaps only dragons), for the word can refer to a variety of large, roughly humanoid creatures, such as giants, trolls, or even the monster Grendel from the poem Beowulf.
[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.
Ents are an old race that appeared in Middle-earth when the Dwarves did. They were apparently created by Eru Ilúvatar at the behest of Yavanna: when she learned of Aulë's children, the Dwarves, she foresaw that they would fell trees, and desired creatures to serve as Shepherds of the Trees to protect the forests from Dwarves and other perils. Although the Ents were sentient beings from the time of their awakening, they did not know how to speak until the Elves taught them. Treebeard said that the Elves "cured us of dumbness", that it was a great gift that could not be forgotten. ("They always wished to talk to everything, the old Elves did.") In the Third Age of Middle-earth, the forest of Fangorn was the only place known still to be inhabited by Ents, although the Ent-like Huorns may have survived elsewhere, as in the Old Forest.
Ents exhibit wide variation in personal traits (height, heft, colouring, even the number of digits), as they came to resemble somewhat the specific types of trees that they shepherded. Quickbeam, for example, guarded rowan trees and bore some resemblance to rowans: tall and slender, smooth-skinned, with ruddy lips and grey-green hair. Some ents, such as Treebeard, were like
beech-trees or oaks. But there were other kinds. Some recalled the chestnut: brown-skinned Ents with large splayfingered hands, and short thick legs. Some recalled the ash: tall straight grey Ents with many-fingered hands and long legs; some the fir (the tallest Ents), and others the birch, ... and the linden.
Ents share some of the strengths and weaknesses of trees as well. Their skin is extraordinarily tough, and very much like wood; they can erode stone extremely rapidly, in the manner of tree roots, but they are vulnerable to fire and chopping blows from axes. Ents are also an extremely patient and cautious race, with a sense of time more suited to trees than short-lived mortals. For example, in the Entmoot regarding the attack on Isengard, their three-day deliberation was considered by some to be "hasty".
Ents are tall and very strong, capable of tearing apart rock and stone (though they use their full strength only when they are "roused"). Tolkien describes them as tossing great slabs of stone about, and ripping down the walls of Isengard "like bread-crust".Treebeard boasted of their strength to Merry and Pippin; he said that Ents were much more powerful than Trolls, which Morgoth made in the First Age in mockery of Ents.
The book further lays out the power of Ents; their bark-like skin and flesh make them difficult to harm even with axes, and a single punch from an Ent can kill; although they do hurl stones, they otherwise do not use weapons.
Almost nothing is known of the early history of the Ents. After the Dwarves were put to sleep by Eru to await the coming of the Elves, Aulë told his wife Yavanna, "the lover of all things that grow in the earth," of the Dwarves. She replied, "They will delve in the earth, and the things that grow and live upon the earth they will not heed. Many a tree shall feel the bite of their iron without pity." She went to Manwë and appealed to him to protect the trees, and they realized that Ents, too, were part of the Song of Creation. Yavanna then warned Aulë, "Now let thy children beware! For there shall walk a power in the forests whose wrath they will arouse at their peril." The Ents are called "the Shepherds of the Trees". Treebeard tells of a time when much of Eriador was forested and part of his domain, but these immense forests dwindled over time. Treebeard's statement is corroborated by Elrond: "Time was when a squirrel could go from tree to tree from what is now the Shire to Dunland west of Isengard." Of this vast forest, according to Treebeard, Fangorn forest was "just the East End".
There is only a single reference in The Silmarillion to the Onodrim in Beleriand. When Beren Erchamion and a force of Green Elves waylay the force of Dwarves returning from the sack of Doriath, the Dwarves are routed and scatter into the wood--where the Shepherds of the Trees ensure that none escape.
Treebeard says that the Entwives began to move farther away from the Ents because they liked to plant and control things, while the Ents preferred forests and liked to let things take their natural course. The Entwives moved away to the region that would later become the Brown Lands across the Great River Anduin, although the male Ents still visited them. The Entwives, unlike the Ents, interacted with the race of Men and taught them much about the art of agriculture.
The male Ents resemble wild forest trees that they guard (oaks, rowans, etc.), but the Entwives guarded agricultural plants, and Tolkien seems to imply that they resembled the various agricultural plants they guarded. Treebeard remarks that their hair was the hue of ripe corn (grain).
The Entwives lived in peace until their gardens were destroyed by Sauron, whereupon the Entwives themselves disappeared. The Ents looked for them but never found them. It was sung by the Elves (as the Ents were content simply to "chant their beautiful names") that one day the Ents and Entwives would find each other. Indeed, in The Return of the King, Treebeard implored the Hobbits not to forget to send word to him if they "hear any news" of the Entwives "in your land".
In The Fellowship of the Ring, Samwise Gamgee mentions his cousin Hal claims to have seen a treelike giant, which resembled an elm not only in size but also in actual appearance, in the north of the Shire. During the Fangorn episode, Merry and Pippin told Treebeard about the Shire. Treebeard said that the Entwives would have liked that land. This, combined with the giant-sighting by Sam's cousin Hal mentioned above, has led to some speculation by readers that the Entwives may have lived near the Shire. Tolkien himself spent much time considering what actually happened to the Entwives (at one point saying that even he did not know), but eventually he stated in Letters #144: "I think that in fact the Entwives have disappeared for good, being destroyed with their gardens in the War of the Last Alliance...some may have fled east, or even have become enslaved..."
At the end of the story after Aragorn is crowned king, he promised Treebeard that the Ents could prosper again and spread to new lands with the threat of Mordor gone, and renew their search for the Entwives. However, Treebeard lamented that forests may spread but the Ents would not, and he predicted that the few remaining Ents would remain in Fangorn forest until they slowly dwindled in number or became "treeish", saying: "Sheep get like shepherds, and shepherds get like sheep. [...] But it is quicker and closer, with trees and Ents."
Although never seen and only briefly mentioned, Entings are young Ents. There are almost no descriptions of Entings, but it can be presumed from descriptions of Quickbeam (a young and hasty Ent) and Treebeard's comments about younger Ents as being more "bendy" than older ones, that they are much like saplings and perhaps even seedlings at their youngest. It is not at all made clear if they are born similar to the trees they shepherd, or they become that way, or even how they are born at all.
According to Treebeard there are no Entings upon Middle-earth at the time of the Third Age, and there have not been any for quite some time. And there will never be any more Entings afterwards either "as there are no Entwives".
While Ents are extremely long-lived, they are not immortal in the same sense as the Elves: they age with the passage of time, albeit very slowly. (At the Entmoot, the hobbits notice, from their appearance, that the Ents vary in age. Also, when invited to sit down, Treebeard tells Merry and Pippin that he is not very 'bendable', while a much younger Ent, Quickbeam, could 'bend and sway like a slender tree in the wind'.) While they do not die of old age, older Ents often become 'treeish', settling down in one place and growing roots and leaves. Eventually, they may cease to be conscious and become trees entirely.
In The Two Towers, the second volume of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the Ents - usually a very patient, deliberate people - become roused with their long simmering anger at Saruman, whose armies are cutting down large numbers of their trees. They convene an Entmoot, a meeting of the Ents of Fangorn forest at Derndingle.
After lengthy deliberation (three days; though from the perspective of the Ents this was almost no time at all), they march on Saruman's fortress at Isengard - 'the last march of the Ents'. Led by Treebeard, the oldest Ent, and accompanied by the hobbits Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took, the Ents numbered about 50, plus an army of Huorns. They destroy Isengard in an all-out assault, ripping down the wall around it, eventually becoming so enraged that the power of their voices alone causes great destruction ("If the Great Sea had risen in wrath and fallen on the hills with storm, it could have worked no greater ruin") and trap Saruman in the tower of Orthanc. Tolkien later noted that the Ents were partly founded in his disappointment "with the shabby use made in Shakespeare of the coming of 'Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill'" in Macbeth.
In the narrative of The Lord of the Rings, six Ents are identified by name. The main Ent character, and the first encountered by the readers and the hobbits, is Fangorn (Treebeard). The other ents are Beechbone, Bregalad, Fimbrethil, Finglas, and Fladrif. The Ents had all readily adopted Elvish Sindarin names, and Tolkien provides their English names as translations from the Sindarin.