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Going Treeish

By TurnerMohan
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By the time we encounter them in 'the two towers,' the ents of Fangorn are the last of their species, and are for the most part old even by the measure of their kind. Their march on Isengard, in an earlier age, would have likely been a task for the young and strong among them. As it happens, it falls to the last of them still 'awake.' As Treebeard tells us, many of his people have 'gone sleepy' and no longer move or speak but stand inert deep in their forests, indistinguishable from the trees they shepherded to all but the most discerning eyes. This is likely the natural end of an ent's life, only really lamentable in that with them, one by one, go the last presence of the great giants that once roamed all the forests of the world, soon to dwindle forever into the scattered, confused legends of men.

It's difficult to conceive of a consistent physiology for ents since, as Pippin observes, they vary widely from one another in appearance - much more so than would be expected of members of the same species - and the variety likely stems from effects of the conditions of their environments on their physical bodies over the course of their long, long lives. I can picture them aging quite differently from one another based - for example - on the amount of rainfall in their environments, with some, like those in green Ossiriand of old, being really mossy, their bodies and hair plastered with lichen, mosses and even mushrooms, whereas ents from a dryer, higher altitude environment like the pine forests of Dorthonion would be really straight and tall, and their skin very craggy and relatively bare of smaller plant/fungal growth. My thinking on their skin (seen more clearly on the figure on the left) is that, as with many animals (including us) the skin on their torsos, particularly in high motion joint areas, moves more than the skin over their limbs, and so becomes cracked and thickened into these bark like structures, while the limbs remain smoother, as Tolkien describes for Treebeard (We are never told if those basic physical descriptions we are offered for Treebeard himself - tall head, short neck, rough, bark-like torso, smoother arms - hold true for the others or not, but it seems likely to me that ents come into the world looking not so different from each other) The one on the right has become covered in forest growth; I imagine he'd live in a wetter, temperate rainforest environment, the craggy skin on his torso (and of course his hair and beard as well) providing more opportunities for things like moss or fungi to "catch" and grow on him until he appears roughly clothed in the stuff. Branches get tangled in their hair overtime, becoming meshed into their matted locks until they finally rot (entish hair would probably end up as a plant nursery, especially in wetter environments) I also kind of like the idea that many older ents would grow to be slightly asymmetrical, the result of standing in one place for a long time on uneven ground or in uneven sunlight, their bodies responding like trees to their conditions over long periods of inertia.

Ultimately I expect ents are - in their early youth and in Yavanna's original conception of them - composed very much like humans/elves but, on a cellular level, all their bodily systems (circulatory, nervous, skin, digestive, ect) are built and function a little more like woody plants than ours do, resulting in them being quasi-photosynthetic and growing in strange, un-animal-like ways over time. Like the dwarves they are made in imitation of the "children of illuvatar" and I would even venture to say - again like dwarves who are mortal - they are "second theme" creatures, made closer in imitation of humans than of elves, but they're a lot farther afield than dwarves; Yavanna is the mother of all biological life on earth (including, it should be assumed, the physical bodies made of cells and carbon base used to house the souls of elves and men) and so, in designing a humanoid of her own, she can mix and match characteristics from the different kingdoms of life with more confidence and originality than Aule; ents therefore are humanoids more than plant-creatures (and indeed they seem to count themselves this way in their ancient "lists") but they're such a weird one that they strain the definition between plant and animal life; real-life "green men," remembered to us in those stylized medieval keystone carvings, or in figures like the Green Knight of the arthurian cycles (or the Jolly Green Giant brand mascot)

part of the Tolkien Sketchblog (cant really call it 'weekly' anymore, but hopefully that'll change soon :) )
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ElrondPeredhel's avatar
I like that idea of Ents taking different shapes and appearances depending on their location. To follow up on your (very acute) comparison with Trolls it fits with the fact that most Trolls are distinguished by their environment as well : we have Hill-trolls, Stone-trolls, Mountain-trolls, Cave-trolls and the mythical Snow-trolls (though it can be said that we aren't sure that the first four aren't the exact same thing, and we are sure that the first two are the same, it is noticeable also because they relate to mineral or geological elements - I could imagine Rwhile Ents relate to flora according to the Hobbits).
At the same time, and that's not necessary contradictory but it goes in a different direction, Ents are nomadic in nature as is said by Treebeard in is song on Beleriand and by their speed and endurance and ultimately the fact that they are called "sheperds" of the trees (even though their "sheeps" don't move much in human time...). I could imagine them to change more quickly but in a lighter way when they are younger. It should be noted that (some at least) Trolls are nomadic as well : Tom, Bill, & Bert are said to come from the other side of the mountains. It may be related to the fact that they live in caves (at least Cave-trolls and Hill-trolls/Stone-trolls) just like cavemen (from which they might have been created according to Tolkien, I already mentionned Gigantopithecus which is a cousin of orangutan but was thougt to be an hominid in Tolkien's time) and don't build (as Aragorn tells us) like Ent. In this they are both opposed to Entwives who are sedentary. It's another way of differentiating the "wild" aspects of both Ents and Trolls with the more calmer and steadier dimension of Entwives. Or in an other way the opposition between the nomads of Ulfang and the farmers of Bor (like Abel and Caïn).

As an aside your conception of Ents really reminds me of a species I created in Spore (a video game in which you were handling the evolution of a species from a cellular organism to space conquest : great concept but the result was meh). I designed a kind of trollish creature (just like a big humanoïd with elephant legs) with a green skin, a kind of horsish head with antlers and branches, and a blobbish and green body with stripes/camouflage. The concept was that its body was like some kind of moss or some kind of fungus. I didn't know at the time but H. P. Lovecraft came up with a similar idea of a species living on the newly discovered Pluto of which the body was on a different plane of existence (and thus not easilly distinguishable on photos) but was kind of similar to fungus. Anyway my concept was that the matter in which their body was made was supposed to get covered in plants and moss just like your concept of the Ent or some crabs. I don't know if at the time I was thinking of Ents or not. And even though fungus grow on things more than things on them I like that idea of an organism just in between animals and plants like fungus are.
TurnerMohan's avatar
Again I appreciate it my friend, but if this idiot's gonna make a regular thing of it I think I'll just get better acquainted with the spam-flagging function.
humanoidhominid's avatar
And tbh I realize it's probably embarrassing for you - it's not the kind of dialogue you want in a space for showing your work. I'm talking about my response here, too. I guess it was just irritating in a way that I couldn't resist being provoked. I think you've got the right of it. Carry on, sir!
Braineater97's avatar
Always good to hear you talk, Mohan.
TurnerMohan's avatar
I'm glad, and grateful others like reading my conceptual musings, cause otherwise i'd have to resort to just spouting this stuff aloud to myself while walking down the street (which, if i'm being honest, happens a lot anyway)
Braineater97's avatar
Tell me about it. I jammer to myself constantly, and then tend to forget all the most useful stuff when I sit down to write.

Seriously though, reading your thoughts on the artwork is one of my favourite things about what you do, I go crazy when people don't seem to have put much thought into why everything in their art is like it is. Seeing someone who actually thinks about what he draws, and the background behind all of it, is a rare delight for one as jaded as me.

Keep up the good work.
ElrondPeredhel's avatar
And watch him draw !
Libra1010's avatar
 I must say that your concepts for the Tree-Herds remains very sound Master Mohan; it makes sense that like an owner who comes to resemble his dog (or vice versa!) the Ents would come to resemble the forests that they shepherd and they would, logically, be just as heavily influenced as Men by the environment in which they live (and quite probably even more so, given that they are destined to spend rather longer under those conditions than we mere mortals!).Nod 
TurnerMohan's avatar
"Sheep become like shepherds, and shepherds like sheep"
Libra1010's avatar
 Although thankfully those vines haven't learned enough from us to turn the tables yet!:D (Big Grin) 
citizengiants's avatar
Always good to read about (and see!) your researches :)
It truly brings the fictional world to life even more.
TurnerMohan's avatar
I'm glad you think so. to me Tolkien's world is a living place the tremendous depths of which can be explored about as deep as the individual reader wishes to go
humanoidhominid's avatar
Love the expounding on the ent as an organism straddling the plant and animal kingdoms - and I think your interpretation of them as something more close to an animal organism but with characteristics of plants, rather than a giant anthropoid tree, is something pretty unique amongst art of Tolkien's work. 

I know it's a line of thought you touch on a lot in the blog entries (when talking about trolls, giants, ents, and the pukel men), and maybe it's just because of the type of podcast I've been binging lately, but there's something decidedly Sasquatchly (that was a fun adjective to think of) about the figure on the right. :D
TurnerMohan's avatar
Having spent some time up in sasquatch country a while back (the moss-bearded temperate rainforests of the Pacific northwest, looking for all the world like the "Celtic forests" of the UK and Ireland but on a gigantic scale, will forever be my mental image of Ossiriand) I can say that particular beast was in fact on my mind while designing these. Being familiar as you are with my opinions on/influences in portraying the "trolls" of middle-earth and their likely relation to one another, I suppose it's not surprising to you that a giant forest dwelling possible hominid from our real-life human mythology (effectively a troll in totem pole people-mythology) would factor in my portrayal of the tree shepherds

Btw, as I'm assuming, based on your user name, that the diversity of hominids that once coexisted on earth (and their likely responsibility for the consistent notion across mythology of man as once having shared the world with a cast of trolls, dwarves, fairies, menahunes, ect) you would probably enjoy, if you don't know them already, the beautiful work of the Kennis brothers, two forensic style sculptors from Holland who I consider to be probably the best artists working today, and who's work is a ceaseless source of inspiration for my takes on the various races of Tolkien's world
humanoidhominid's avatar
I must confess I haven't heard of the Kennis brothers, but I'll be eagerly seeking out their work. I can certainly recall specific forensic reconstructions of ancient humans/hominids that have been striking to me - specifically a recreation of Otzi the "ice man" and some busts of Neanderthals, I'll be excited if any of those were done by them!

Just as an aside - the idea of small ecosystems existing within the "matrix" provided by forest debris becoming entangled in the natural hair-like (or true animal hair) growths of the Ent is a fantastic idea and truly fitting, but it was your idea that similar microcultures might be cultivated for aesthetic reasons in the hair of Telerin noblewomen that seriously tickles my fancy. I think that is a concept that really exemplifies and drives home your conception of the elves as having this an utter mastery of design in the use of natural materials, or when shaping the growth of living things.
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