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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Six: Treebeard's Lament


"The Savage Sound of the Electric Saw"

On June 29, 1972, the Daily Telegraph ran an editorial criticizing the policies of Great Britain's Forestry Commission: "Sheepwalks where you could once ramble for miles are transformed into a kind of Tolkien gloom, where no bird sings . . . " By "Tolkien gloom," the Telegraph apparently meant the sinister aspect of the forests in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, though perhaps the editors were alluding to the desolation wrought by Saruman and Sauron. In his response, published five days later, Tolkien addresses both possibilities (Letter No. 339).

30 June 1972
Merton College, Oxford

Dear Sir,

With reference to the Daily Telegraph of June 29th, page 18, I feel that it is unfair to use my name as an adjective qualifying 'gloom', especially in a context dealing with trees. In all my works I take the part of trees as against all their enemies. Lothlórien is beautiful because there the trees were loved; elsewhere forests are represented as awakening to consciousness of themselves. The Old Forest was hostile to two-legged creatures because of the memory of many injuries.

Fangorn Forest was old and beautiful, but at the time of the story tense with hostility because it was threatened by a machine-loving enemy. Mirkwood had fallen under the domination of a Power that hated all living things but was restored to beauty and became Greenwood the Great before the end of the story.

It would be unfair to compare the Forestry Commission with Sauron because as you observe it is capable of repentence; but nothing it has done that is stupid compares with the destruction, torture and murder of trees perpetuated by private individuals amd minor official bodies. The savage sound of the electric saw is never silent wherever trees are still found growing.

Yours faithfully,
J.R.R. Tolkien

* * *

(from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, edited by Humphrey Carpenter, Houghton Mifflin, 1981, pages 419-420)

Unit Six Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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