These are a few suggestions to help you enjoy this year's Reading Day topic of Trees in Tolkien's stories. There are a variety of activities you can enjoy with friends, with family members, and in school as a group, as well as some you can do quietly on your own. But hopefully however you choose to do so, you will find it fun to talk about Tolkien's trees!
There are many kinds of trees in Tolkien's books. Woods, forests, and even tree-like beings appear in various parts of The Lord of the Rings, The Silmarillion, and any other of Tolkien's books and stories. You can read and discover how special, magical and inspirational some of them are, compared to how ominous some of the forests feel. If you already have a favourite tree, or favourite episode in which trees are important, or even a favourite way that Tolkien describes his trees, why not talk to each other about why you like these things so much.
Things to think about to get you started: what sorts of trees does Tolkien describe? Are there many, or just one or two in the story you are looking at? How does Tolkien describe them? Are they special in any way? Are they dangerous? Does everyone in the story feel the same about the trees? You could compare Sam and Saruman, or Legolas and Gimli, or even Yavanna and Ungoliant!
Some characters are associated with trees in special ways: what is Legolas's response to them? How are they important in Lothlorien? Do the hobbits feel the same as the Elves?
Why not draw or paint your version of the Party Tree in The Fellowship of the Ring, Old Man Willow, or the White Tree of Gondor? You may like to draw the Two Trees so central to The Silmarillion.
The town of Warwick had a sentimental place in Tolkien's heart. It also provided the inspiration of one of his longer poems, for the passing of the elves from Middle-earth, and also for the creation of Tirion in The Silmarillion.
In his poem, which he called 'Kortirion Among the Trees', Tolkien wrote of a town on a hill with lots of elm trees, and a river flowing at the foot of the hill. It is a town from which the elves are leaving. He stated that the inspiration for this town on a hill was actually Warwick. You can find the various full versions of the poem in The Book of Lost Tales vol 1, edited by Christopher Tolkien.
An article on the importance of Warwick as an influence in Tolkien's writing is available on the Tolkien Society website.
Elm trees are very rare in England now, but you can still find pictures of them, so you might like to find out what they looked like, what they were once used for, and why they are now so rare.
You could find a picture of Warwick and see if there are still trees on the hill.
If you have read The Lord of the Rings, see how many places you can name where trees are especially important. You will discover what happens to some of them if you read Sam's comments in Lothlorien. What happens to the trees in Isengard? Do you think Tolkien has something to say about why these things are happening?
Can you name all of the woodlands or forest that the four hobbits encounter, all together or separately in The Lord of the Rings?
Do you have a favourite place where trees grow? If you do, why not draw or paint a picture of it. Can you name the trees that grow there? Tolkien names beech trees, and willow trees, as well as holly trees, and many others. If you do not already know what they look like, you could look them up. Trees have beautiful leaves that help us to identify them, you could draw the shapes of the leaves of the trees Tolkien writes about. As the Spring arrives you will be able to identify the trees as their leaves open.
Tolkien's beech trees, willow trees, and holly trees all grow in different places in Middle-earth, can you track them down in The Lord of the Rings and say what is special about the places where these trees grow?
In The Hobbit, Tolkien writes about pine trees. They are very important in the story. Can you say why?
Some of Tolkien's trees only exist in his stories. You will not find a Mallorn today, but you could draw a picture of what you think it would look like, and you could look at pictures of trees to see if there are any that look like in any way like Mallorn. If you do this with friends you may each choose different trees – and you could talk about your choices.
These covers of the Tolkien Society's journal 'Mallorn' show two very different visions of the trees of Lothlorien from two different artists, on the left, Pauline Baynes and on the right, Jef Murray.
Do you have a favourite tree, or a favourite kind of tree in Tolkien's stories? Are they the same kinds of tree? Why not explain to each other why you like them?
If you have read The Hobbit, do you like the story of the trees in Mirkwood? Is there anything scary about them?
If you have read The Silmarillion, you could read though all the references to Tirion and see how it has changed, and whether there are still any trees in it. It is interesting to see how Tolkien's ideas develop. You could talk about the differences.
If you have read The Lord of the Rings, you could
Sam doesn't like the mill in Hobbiton when it has a smoking chimney. What could have powered the Hobbiton Mill? And can mills be used for anything except grinding grain?
Saruman has furnaces and forges in Isengard, can you say what powers these furnaces and forges? If you can go to your local library you might try to find out what a furnace does and what it produces, if you don't already know.
Where do you think Saruman gets his fuel? You might like to investigate how charcoal is made, and what it is good for. We still use charcoal today, can you say what for?
Although Saruman's forges are a bad thing, the elvish smiths who reforge Aragorn's sword, and the dwarf smiths who make other swords use forges too. What is different about them? You might need to talk about this. You could then look up sword-making and find out the connection between this and trees.
If you have read The Silmarillion, you might try to find the black sword, and find out who made it. This is a bit tricky so look up Eöl in the Index.
Ents have a special relationship with trees – can you say what it is? You might like to paint or draw your idea of an Ent or an Entwife. Don't forget to give them a name.
Tolkien names many more trees when Treebeard describes the Ents of Fangorn forest. Can you find out more about the rowan tree? Can you find out about rowan jelly?
You might like to discuss the actions of Treebeard and his Huorns at Helms' Deep and at Isengard. How do you feel about what they do? Does anything they do seem like a bad choice? Lots to discuss here!
If you can find out the meaning of the word 'ent' (it comes from the Anglo-Saxon language) you will find out why Tolkien made them so large.
There is a study pack written for the Tolkien Society that will introduce you to more of the Anglo-Saxon that Tolkien uses. The Anglo-Saxon pack is available here.
If you have been talking about the things you have been reading and doing, has everyone liked the same things? Whatever your reply, you must say why!
Remember, these are only a few suggestions for activity and reading. Tolkien's books are full of beautiful and extraordinary trees, so Happy Reading!