The Old Forest is more often than not considered a wholly villainous woodland, and yet in a letter to the Daily Telegraph (1972), J. R. R. Tolkien claimed that he ‘take[s] the part of trees’ in all his works. Verlyn Flieger takes issue with this claim in her essay ‘Taking the Part of Trees’, as it seems to suggest that Tolkien’s Hobbits in the Old Forest were no better than the Orcs in Fangorn. Here it is argued that Flieger’s interpretation forgets that Tolkien intended The Lord of the Rings to appear as the Hobbits’ writings and recollections, and shows how important perspective is to the understanding of the Old Forest and of Tolkien's '[taking] the part of trees'.

This essay starts by decomposing the descriptions of trees in the Shire and in the Old Forest in The Lord of the Rings to reveal the Hobbits’ preconceptions of how trees, woodlands, and forests should appear and behave, then goes on to compare the Old Forest with Faërie in Tolkien’s Smith of Wootton Major to demonstrate that the Old Forest appears and acts with hostility because it is a fractured Faërie that is permitted to react against outsiders. Finally the essay reconstructs a linear history of the Old Forest through posthumously published materials such as Unfinished Tales of Númenor & Middle-earth to discover the causes of the Old Forest’s villainy, before arriving at the notion that Tolkien showed his support of trees by allowing them agency and a significant backstory.


This article first appeared as a final dissertation piece from the English and Related Literature department at the University of York.



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