In the third part of our Ent series, we break down the different groups within Entish culture. We start with a recap on the Ents before moving on to who the Entwives, Entings, and Huorns are. From there, the conversation wanders all the way to the borders of the Shire, where it turns out that parts of the Entish subculture appear to be alive and well ...and angry.
If you're interested in supporting the show, you can do so at buymeacoffee.com/thehalfling. Many thanks!!Support the show
Hi. Welcome to “The Halfling.” I’m your host, Jaron Pak, and this is episode 17, Ents, Entwives, and Huorns, Oh My!
My thanks again to the Tolkien Professor for coming onto the show last time. It was awesome talking about Middle-earth, adaptations, and all of the fun that we can have with the upcoming “Rings of Power” show. No matter how faithful it is to the original source material, we can still enjoy the experience knowing that, in Corey’s own words, “No book will be harmed in the making of this show.”
Now that all of the interview fun is over, though, we need to circle back and finish up our time with Treebeard and the Ents. So far, we’ve covered who the Ents are, what their culture is like, and some of the places they’ve lived throughout Middle-earth history.
The one area of the Ents that we haven’t really broken down in detail yet is the different kinds of beings that make up their particular people group. That’s right, there are different kinds of Entish beings in Middle-earth, and I don’t just mean the various trees that they look like. In this episode, we’ll cover the Ents and how they’re different from the Entwives, the Entings, and the Huorns. Let’s start with a quick recap of what it means to be an “Ent,” shall we?
Ents are, in essence, the male population of the Shepherd of the Trees. They look like all sorts of different trees — usually the ones that they are most closely affiliated with — and can have all sorts of features, even though they all share the same deep, wise, and experienced eyes. The Ents tend to live wild lives wandering through the woods and hills and drinking from mountain streams. They aren’t agricultural, but rather eat the food that the trees drop in their paths — and their Ent-draughts, of course.
In comparison, we have the Entwives. Just to clarify for those of you who have only seen Peter Jackson’s films, the Entwives have not appeared on the silver screen — not yet anyway. We’ll talk more about that in a bit. But at the time of “The Lord of the Rings,” the Entwives are ancient Middle-earth history, even for the Ents. Even though there aren’t any living specimens to talk about, though, Treebeard does give us a description of this “other half” of his people in “The Two Towers” book when he has a long talk with Pippin and Merry about the history of his tree folk.
If you didn’t guess it from their name, the Entwives make up the female portion of the Entish community. Some of these are also called Entmaidens. In fact, Treebeard tells us about his own long-lost love, the Entmaiden Fimbrethil of Wandlimb the lightfooted. This distinct different between Ents and Entwives is a defining factor of their race. In fact, in a letter in 1955, Tolkien even wrote that part of the inspiration for the Ents came from what he perceived as the normal differences between men and women in life. The author even writes that into the development of the tree-folk “crept a mere piece of experience, the difference of the ‘male’ and ‘female’ attitude to wild things, the difference between unpossessive love and gardening.” And since we’re in audio format, I’ll just point out that he puts both the words male and female in quotations. The whole inspiration for the two halves of Entish culture is a pretty deep concept. I’ll just let that one simmer for a bit.
While we don’t get much about how the Entwives look, we’re told by Fangorn that they’re similar-yet-different in appearance. When he’s asked if they look like Ents, all Treebeard can say is “Yes, hm, well no: I do not really know now.” In the discussion that follows, we hear that the Entwives at least seem to be generally like the Ents in their looks. At least, they’ve got that plant-based vibe going on. And Treebeard is quick to point out that they have the eyes of the Ents. But apart from that, it seems that there are quite a few differences. For instance, later in their existence the Entwives spend a lot of time in the sun (more on the reason for that later) and their organic hair becomes, in Treebeard’s words, “parched by the sun to the hue of ripe corn and their cheeks like red apples.”
A thorough description of the Entwive’s physical appearance is challenging to pull together — as is the case with many peoples in Tolkien’s writing — but we get a much better idea of their overall lifestyle. The Entwives are definitively not wild. In fact, in many ways, they’re the antithesis of their Entish companions. They love order and agriculture. They also like lesser trees, smaller plants and flowers, and they love to organize growing things. While they give their attention to the smaller plants of creation, though, they don’t necessarily cultivate relationships with them the same way that Ents do with their larger trees. In fact, they distinctly prefer their orderly gardens and agricultural plots to pay attention and grow as they’re told. This desire doesn’t necessarily come from a power trip or an obsession with being in charge, though. Treebeard explains that they simply desire obedience because “The Entwives desired order, and plenty, and peace (by which they meant that things should remain where they had set them).” There’s admittedly a hint of tongue-in-cheek in the way the old Ent delivers the line, but it really does seem that the Entwives had the greater good in mind throughout their gardening activities.
Before we move on from the agricultural proclivities of the Entwives, I want to stress once more thing. These guys don’t just garden like it's a hobby or something. They’re the premier gardeners of Middle-earth. Like, no one is better at growing things than the Entwives. And this makes sense as far as Tolkien explains it in their origin story, too. Yavanna specifically says during their creation story that she chooses the trees to become guardians, but she wants them to “speak on behalf of all things that have roots, and punish those that wrong them!” So, while the Ents clearly protect the forests, the Entwives, in a sense, represent the completion of their collective calling by caring for things like flowers, grasses, and, you know, the garden-sized stuff.
This love of gardens and orderly agricultural development actually even indirectly connects the Entwives to The Shire. See, when Merry and Pippin describe their orderly and prosperous homeland, Treebeard actually asks if they’ve ever seen Entwives in the area. The Hobbits say that they haven’t, which jives with the very uninteresting, down-to-earth, and overall miniature vibe of their home. Buuut, it’s established that it’s clearly an area that would attract Entwives. There’s actually a bit more to this part of the story than meets the eye, too, but we’ll circle back around on this one in a bit. For now, put a pin in the thought that the Entwives and the Shire fit like two peas in a pod.
The last group of Ents that we need to talk about here is the Entings. These are, for lack of a better word, Ent kids. When Treebeard explains the decline of the Entish population by the end of the Third Age, he attributes it to a lack of these “tree children.” In the conversation, it’s implied that the Ents and Entwives are “human enough” for lack of a better word, to fall in love, create relationships, and ultimately have children. At the same time, he also talks about trees becoming “Entish” and it isn’t clear how Ents or Entwives are involved. In fact, there’s very little out there about the Entings, except for the fact that, by the War of the Ring, there aren’t any more of these little tree tikes running around replenishing the herd, so to speak.
Now, there’s one more fascinating group of living trees that we have to talk about: the Huorns. Again, Tolkien doesn’t give us much to go on when it comes to this group. In fact, in “The Two Towers,” Merry literally states that “Treebeard won’t say much about them…” Yeah. Thanks a lot, Tolkien. No, we do at least get a mini-description of these weird semi-Ents. For lack of a better term, these are living creatures that appear to be stuck somewhere between fully sentient Ents and plain old trees. They’re described as possibly being Ents that have become almost like trees. In other words, they’ve mostly lost their willpower to move around and do their shepherding duties in a more mobile and talkative manner.
This is very possible and reinforces something Treebeard tells the Hobbits when he explains that “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.” The interesting thing here is that Merry’s opinion is that the Huorns are Ents slowing down and becoming like trees. In contrast, Treebeard explains that trees are consistently becoming “Entish.” As far as I can tell from my research, Tolkien never settles on an official version. Either that, or both are happening at the same time, and all of the half-tree, half-Ents are left in this mysterious middle category known as Huorns.
But just because the Huorns aren’t fully Ents doesn’t mean they’re immobile. They can move really quickly when they’re angry and they can wrap themselves in shadow and are explained as having a dormant power within them that’s ready to pour out at any moment. They also have voices and can communicate with the fully Entish Ents. Just because they’re like Ents, though, doesn’t mean other two-legged creatures can expect them to act civilly. In fact, by the time of “The Lord of the Rings,” the Huorn population has become very unstable. They’re wild and dangerous and can be unpredictable if there aren’t any Ents around to keep them under control.
Unlike the Entwives, the Huorns have made it into a cinematic adaptation. They make up that tree-looking forest that shows up at the end of the Battle of Helm’s Deep and catches the last survivors of Saruman’s attack. They also back up the Entish assault on Isengard and ensure that no one escapes from that fortress alive, either.
There’s one other place where the Huorns pop up, as well, and it’s actually before Merry and Pippin meet their arboreal friend in Fangorn Forest. In fact, for this one, you need to back all the way up to the earliest chapters of “The Fellowship of the Ring.” I also have to point out that if you’ve only seen the movies, you probably don’t know what I’m talking about, this time. That’s okay, though, because I’m about to give you the quick recap. The Huorn-esque event — Huorn-ish event? Huorn-y event? Eh. Not sure what word to use for that one. Anyway, the event takes place just after Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin leave the Shire. Now, in the movies, they make straight for Bree and show up there on a rainy night. But fans of the books know well that they start the journey by taking a shortcut through an area right next to the Shire called the Old Forest, which is described as an ancient, surviving piece of the vast and fogotten woods of the past. The goal here is to throw the Black Riders off of their scent, and it works. Nice job, guys. You didn’t get sliced and diced by the Ringwraiths. But even though that grizzly alternative is worse, their shortcut ends up coming with all sorts of deadly perils of its own. This includes an encounter with a ghostly barrow white aaaand it also ends up landing them in a sticky mess — pun intended — with some grumpy Huorns.
See, as they head through the forest, the four Hobbits realize that the trees are more than just passive plants. They feel watched — and not in a good way, either. Merry, who is familiar with the forest and the only one of the Hobbits who’s been there before, explains that the trees can actually move. In fact, they even attacked the Shire once. Yep. Here are his words, “...the Forest is queer. Everything in it is very much alive, more aware of what is going on, so to speak, than things are in the Shire. And the trees do not like strangers. They watch you.” He goes on to explain that the trees generally just watch you during the day or do small things, like try to trip you up or grab at you with a root. At night, though? Well, that’s when things get serious. Here’s what Merry says happened the one or two times he visited the wood after the sun went down, “I thought all the trees were whispering to each other, passing news and plots along in an unintelligible language; and the branches swayed and groped without any wind. They do say the trees do actually move, and can surround strangers and hem them in. In fact long ago they attacked the Hedge: they came and planted themselves right by it, and leaned over it.” The “Hedge” that Merry is talking about is a massive living wall that the Hobbits planted along the border of the unfriendly forest. It’s many miles long, and when the trees attack it, the Hobbits come with axes and cut hundreds of the assailants down. They drag them back into the forest and burn them. So, like, there’s literally a mini war between the Hobbits and the trees, and after that the forest becomes more hostile.
Anyway, this is all history by the time Frodo and his friends try to pass through, and in spite of their efforts, their path forces them into the heart of the forest. There, they meet Old Man Willow. This giant tree lives by the banks of the Withywindle River, where it’s spent countless years growing in power …and malice. Scarred by centuries of conflict with two-legged creatures, Old Man Willow is the most dangerous tree in the whole bitter forest. Tolkien described him this way, “But none were more dangerous than the Great Willow: his heart was rotten, but his strength was green; and he was cunning, and a master of winds, and his song and thought ran through the woods on both sides of he river. His grey thirsty spirit drew power out of the earth and spread like fine root threads in the ground, and invisible twig-fingers in the air, till it had under its dominion nearly all the trees of the Forest from the Hedge to the Downs.”
So yeah, this tree is a really bad guy. When Frodo and his friends arrive on the spot, Old Man Willow gently lulls them to sleep. Then he pounces …metaphorically, at least. He knocks Frodo into the river and tries to drown him. He also grabs Merry and Pippin, holding them in his trunk. In fact, this part might even sound familiar for movie-only fans who have seen the extended version of “The Two Towers.” That’s because a similar event happens to Merry and Pippin in Fangorn in a deleted scene where a tree nabs them and sucks them into a net of roots. In that version, Treebeard arrives just in time, scolding the tree and ordering it to let them go. In the original version of the encounter, though, the Hobbits are saved by someone else. Someone bright, merry, and way too comfortable with singing and dancing. That’s right. I’m talking about the enigmatic Tom Bombadil. We’re here to talk about Ents, so I’m going to resist the temptation to spin off into a discussion on Bombadil, but let’s just say, the lovably ridiculous old fellow cheerily frees the Hobbits and sings Old Man Willow back into his place, and the story goes on from there, leaving the bitter tree behind.
But the big point that I want to make right here, right now is — what on earth? Moving trees way up near the Shire? That’s like 500 miles away from Treebeard’s home. But we’re not talking about fully sentient, moving Ents. These are pretty clearly Huorns, if you ask me — although Tolkien doesn’t specifically state that, as far as I can tell. If that’s the case, then the remnants of the ancient Entish culture aren’t just restricted to the borders of Fangorn. They still percolate throughout the forests of Middle-earth. Makes me wonder where else Tolkien thought they could be found.
The one other little Shire-based Entish factoid that goes along with this is a conversation even earlier in “The Fellowship of the Ring,” just before Gandalf returns and tells Frodo, you know, that he’s got the One Ring and he’s got to leave his comfy life behind and all that fun stuff. Just before that encounter, Tolkien pens a scene in The Green Dragon inn in Bywater, near Bag End, where Sam Gamgee and several others are talking about the strange events going on all around the quiet Shire. In the conversation, Sam brings up some odd tree-ish behavior, saying, “But what about these Tree-men, these giants, as you might call them? They do say that one bigger than a tree was seen up away beyond the North Moors not long back.” After that, he insists that his less than dependable cousin Halfast saw a tree that was literally walking. Whether it’s a particularly limber Huorn, an Ent, or an Entwife is never clarified. Either way, though, there’s little doubt that Huorns, at the least, still live in other areas of Middle-earth besides Fangorn Forest during “The Lord of the Rings.”
Okay, so let’s recap. Treebeard and the Ents live in Fangorn, where they shepherd the wild woods. The Entwives historically live in agricultural settings where they tend to smaller grasses, flowers, and other shrub-sized plants. Earlier in their history, the Entish population is maintained by the birth of “Entings,” which appear to require both an Ent and an Entwife to create — although Treebeard also describes the process of trees becoming “Entish,” too. So the specific procreation process isn’t really defined. And then we have the Huorns. These creatures are somewhere between trees and Ents and they either follow their Entish leaders when they have them …ooor they exist on their own and are really dangerous.
Now, I know we haven’t gone into detail about what the Ents’ collective story actually is yet, but I wanted to save that for last, because I think there’s just too much interesting stuff about their actual life and culture to just skip over. It doesn’t do them justice to tell their story with a one-dimensional image of the on-screen version of Treebeard going through our heads. Now, though, we’ve set the stage. We know how the Ents live, where they lived, how Tolkien created them, and now we even understand the different kinds of creatures within the Entish subculture. Next time, we’re going to take all of this information and go through the Entish story, starting after their creation and going right down to the last pieces of information we ever hear about their role in the post-Lord of the Rings world.
As always, if you’re willing to leave a rating and review, I’d appreciate it.
That’s it for now. Until next time, friends.