Sunday, January 24, 2016

Deep Roots are not Reached by the Frost

nature, forest, treesPreservation and Memory in Tolkien

"All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost,
The old who is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring,
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king."
-J.R.R. Tolkien The Fellowship of the Ring

Trees are very symbolic in Tolkien.  Think of all the different references to trees--Treebeard and the Ents, the Old Forest, the Tree of Numenor, The Two Trees of Valinor, the Tree of Gondor, the Party Tree--the list goes on.  I would suggest that each of these trees have their own significance and thematic purpose.

The first trees we are acquainted with are the Two Trees of Valinor.  These trees are extremely important to history both in their connection to the Silmarils--which decide the fate of much of the First Age--but also because they mark the start of an era.  The Time of the Trees is the longest period of happiness and bliss in Valinor.  Later on in The Lord of the Rings, the Trees will be referenced to recall that past time.  So the Two Trees of Valinor are intimately combined with history.

Descended from one of the Trees of Valinor, Telperion, is the White Tree Nimloth which is kept on Tol Eressea by the elves.  Descended from Nimloth is the White Tree of Numenor.  This is the tree that Sauron wanted most adamantly to destroy once he came to Numenor.  Despite all his efforts--even his burning of the tree--it survived on in the seedling Isildur took.

From that seedling grew the White Tree of Gondor.  The Tree died when the Stewards took control of Gondor but was replanted by Aragorn when he became the king.

So what can we conclude from all of this?

I think that the Trees in Tolkien represent--among other things--history and memory.  These Trees have lasted all throughout history, their line never permanently failing.  The Trees have seen many historical events and they are a reminder to everyone to remember history and their past.

When Gandalf says of Aragorn that "deep roots are not reached by the frost" he means that Aragorn's line is long and goes back far...this evil will not be able to reach it.

When Aragorn goes back to Gondor and replants the seedling, he recalls the history of all of the White Trees that came before it.  He remembers this history (or the roots of the tree) but gets ready to continue forward (and grow upward, like an actual tree) as the new king.

A lot of the elves in Middle-earth are unable to let go of history.  They are mildly obsessed with preserving how things were in the Elder Days.  In fact, the three elven Rings' main purpose is preservation.  That is why the bearers of those Rings have the most beautiful elvish realms--Rivendell and Lothlorien (we find out later that Gandalf has the other Ring).  The elves are "fighting the long defeat".  They know that they will have to go into the West, that they can't live in Middle-earth forever, but they try unsuccessfully to preserve it forever.

What the elves don't understand is that you must remember history and remember the past, but go on, go forward and let things change.  The elves' attempts to resist change are futile and they all eventually pass into the West.

The planting of the Tree in Gondor reminds Aragorn and all the citizens to look to the West and remember where they came from and what made them the people they are, but to also look to the future and embrace change.

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