Some months ago The Huffington Post produced a list of the 9 Best Trees in Literature in which they foolishly listed Ents. Following the news of the sad demise of one of Tolkien’s favoured trees, the pinus nigra in the Oxford Botanic Gardens, I have compiled a list of the the nine best trees in Tolkien’s works.
1. Party Tree
The Party Tree proudly stands in the middle of the Party Field to the south of Bagshot Row. The tree was clearly held in high regard by Bilbo as the pavilion erected for his 111th Birthday was big enough to encompass the whole tree. But when the four hobbits returned to the Shire at the end of their Journey, they discovered what Sharkey and his men have done to Hobbiton:
‘They’ve cut it down!’ cried Sam. ‘They’ve cut down the Party Tree!’ He pointed to where the tree had stood under which Bilbo had made his Farewell Speech. It was lying lopped and dead in the field. As if this was the last straw Sam burst into tears.
This quote from Sam is reminiscent of a passage from Humphrey Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography:
And though he liked drawing trees he liked most of all to be with trees. He would climb them, lean against them, even talk to them. It saddened him to discover that not everyone shared his feelings towards them. One incident in particular remained in his memory: ‘There was a willow hanging from over the mill-pool and I learned to climb it. It belonged to a butcher on the Stratford Road, I think. One day they cut it down. They didn’t do anything with it: the log just lay there. I never forgot that’.
2. Old Man Willow
A cantankerous tree of the Old Forest, Old Man Willow ensnared the four hobbits by making them drowsy and putting them under a spell by singing about sleep. When Frodo and Sam began to realise what was happening to them, Old Man Willow had already captured Merry and Pippin in its big roots. The hobbits were saved, of course, by Tom Bombadil who came bounding and singing to the rescue.
3. White Tree
Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree.
The original White Tree of Númenor, Nimloth, was a gift from the Elves to the Númenóreans but was later destroyed at Sauron’s behest. Descended from a seedling brought by Isildur to Middle-earth from Númenor, the White Tree of Gondor lies in the Court of the Fountain in Minas Tirith and is a potent symbol of the majesty of Gondor and the strength of the Kings: by the time Denethor II was Steward the tree had died, but Aragorn (King Elessar) – with Gandalf’s help – found a new sapling on Mount Mindolluin.
4 and 5. Laurelin and Telperion
The Two Trees of Valinor were sung into being by Yavanna as a new source of light for the world following the destruction of the Two Lamps. Laurelin shed the world in golden light whilst Telperion was silver; they shone for 7 hours each as part of a 12-hour day, with a one-hour overlap of ‘dawn’ and ‘dusk’. The trees were regarded as pure and beautiful and their light was venerated, being captured in Fëanor’s Silmarils. Jealous and vengeful, the trees were later destroyed by Melkor (Morgoth) and the giant spider Ungoliant but the last fruit of Laurelin and the last flower of Telperion were used to create the Sun and Moon.
Seeds from the great Mallorn trees of Tol Eressëa passed to the elves of Middle-earth via the Númenóreans. They grey-barked trees had leaves that turned gold in the autumn for which Lothlórien was called the “Golden Wood” – the trees grew to fantastic heights and elves stayed in ‘flets’ high up above the ground. The trees were so strong and magnificent that they built their city, Caras Galadhon, in and around the Mellyrn of Lothlórien. After the end of the War of the Ring, a new Party Tree grew in Hobbiton:
In the Party Field a beautiful young sapling leaped up: it had silver bark and long leaves and burst into golden flowers in April. It was indeed a mallorn, and it was the wonder of the neighbourhood. In after years, as it grew in grace and beauty, it was known far and wide and people would come long journeys to see it: the only mallorn west of the Mountains and east of the Sea, and one of the finest in the world.
The Tolkien Society’s journal, Mallorn, is named after the Mallorn trees.
Hírilorn was the ‘greatest of all the trees in the Forest of Neldoreth‘, being a triple-trunked beech tree of great height. In the tree was built a house to stop Lúthien fleeing to aid Beren; she, however, grew her hair to a ‘great length’ which used to create a rope to escape and to enchant her guards. Lúthien, of course, was able to help Beren in his Quest for the Silmaril, but Beren died in Lúthien’s arms at the base of Hírilorn following his final battle with the wolf Carcharoth.
Amalion is the name given to a particular tree drawn by Tolkien. Despite the fact that the name “Amalion” doesn’t appear in Tolkien’s stories, he drew the tree several times (as can be seen in J.R.R. Tolkien: Artist and Illustrator). The tree is usually used on the cover of Tolkien’s Tree and Leaf.
9. Niggle’s Tree
In the short story Leaf by Niggle, the artist Niggle creates a great tree for his own personal satisfaction. He abandons all other works – or amalgamates them into the picture – to create his grand vision. However, Niggle is frustrated by the distractions in his life which mean he is unable to complete his tree.
In a letter of 1957, Tolkien acknowledged the allegorical undertones of the story of Leaf by Niggle:
Looking at it myself now from a distance I should say that, in addition to my tree-love (it was originally called The Tree), it arose from my own pre-occupation with The Lord of the Rings, the knowledge that it would be finished in great detail or not at all, and the fear (near certainty) that it would be ‘not at all’.