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Ents, Elves, and Eriador: The Environmental Vision of J.R.R. Tolkien

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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" —

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813129860
  • Publisher: University Press of Kentucky
  • Publication date: 3/31/2011
  • Series: Culture of the Land Series
  • Pages: 344
  • Sales rank: 500,890
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew Dickerson, professor and member of the environmental studies program at Middlebury College, is the author or coauthor of several books, including Following Gandalf: Epic Battles and Moral Victory in the Lord of the Rings and From Homer to Harry Potter: A Handbook on Myth and Fantasy. Jonathan Evans, associate professor of English and director of the medieval studies program at the University of Georgia, is a member of the Environmental Ethics Certificate Program faculty. His essays on J. R. R. Tolkien have been published in J. R. R. Tolkien and His Literary Resonances, Tolkien the Medievalist, and The J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 5, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Environmental vision through myth

    Often noted as one of the most popular writers of the 20th century, Tolkien is well known for his textured, epic sagas infused with a transcendent mythic quality sorely missed in modern literature. But he is not often recognized for a thing which is exceedingly obvious to anyone who has read The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, or The Silmarillion: his all-pervading love of green and growing things. Tolkien was an environmentalist before there was an environmentalism movement. In the body of his writing, Dickerson and Evans here shows us, Tolkien established a threefold vision for responsible environmental stewardship: the agrarian community of the Shire, the aesthetic, conservationist horticulture of the Elves, and the preservationist "feraculture" of the Ents. Further, the authors demonstrate, through an exploration of Tolkien's own creation myth, how nature is valuable in and of itself and not for any utilitarian purpose; and how care and appreciation for the natural world is best supported and engendered by a transcendent and religious worldview such as Tolkien's own Christianity. Observantly exploring hidden corners of his writing, and citing the most current names in environmental literature such as Wendell Berry, Norman Wirzba, Aldo Leopold, John Elder, and others, Matthew Dickerson and Jonathan Evans demonstrate how Tolkien's legendarium can serve as an imaginative vision to inspire environmental feeling and action today.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 9, 2011

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