Of Entwives, Scorched Earth, and The Darkness

While it seems as if we’ve been waiting for the Fellowship to end their journey down the Anduin for millennia, in actuality, they haven’t even been out for a week. At this point in the journey, they had traveled 250 miles, passing by some fairly desolate land. But it had not always been so bleak.

When they started from Lothlórien, they were among tall grey trees, but as the first few days wore on, “the trees thinned and then failed altogether.” On their left, the eastern banks of the river, the land sloped from high toward the water. The slopes were brown and lifeless, “as if fire had passed over them.” There were no trees, no plants, no grasses – not even rocks.

“They had come to the Brown Lands,” we’re told. To Aragorn, they didn’t seem to be natural. This wasn’t how they originally were made. He considered that it had to have been disease or war or some “evil deed of the enemy” that turned them into what they saw before them.

Tolkien explained in an unfinished index that the name, Brown Lands, was derived from the word Berennyn, which was a translation of the Sindarin word baran, which meant “brown, yellow-brown.”

That Aragorn did not know their story is telling in and of itself. He was a Ranger and if how the Brown Lands became brown was lost to the Dúnedain, and even apparently to the Elves, the truth must be ancient.

And ancient it was! Later in the narrative, we’ll learn from Treebeard some of what happened. The way that he tells the story, the Entwives were more concerned with their gardens than with the Ents themselves, and they ordered their trees to grow as they wished. These became the gardens in which the Entwives lived, on the western side of the Anduin, and the Ents would visit every now and then.

Treebeard explained that “when the Darkness came in the North, the Entwives crossed the Grate River, and made new gardens.” It’s been suggested that “the Darkness” was Sauron and the War of the Last Alliance, which took place at the end of the Second Age – over 3,000 years before our story began. However, in that war, Sauron didn’t come down from the North, but came from the south and east.

But I’d wager this was a much earlier war and a much earlier Darkness – when Morgoth attacked from Angband. Treebeard also made reference to being one of three remaining Ents “that walked in the woods before the Darkness.” If both Darknesses were the same (and they were), then it would be a bit shortsighted to think that he’s talking about the Third Age. In the First Age, when Morgoth attacked, he ended up ruling most of Middle-earth, so even if his forces didn’t specifically get to the gardens of the Entwives, they would have been under his command.

But what happened to turn these lush gardens into the ugly and barren Brown Lands? The Entwives crossed to the eastern side of the Anduin in the First Age, and were basically forgotten by the Ents until the very end of the Second Age, during the War of the Last Alliance. Before that time, according to Tolkien, the Entwives had taught the Northmen (the Éothéod, ancestors of the Rohirrim) and Hobbits, who lived around the Anduin in the Second Age, a bit about agriculture. The Ents decided it would be nice to see the Entwives again, and crossed the river to find them, but found only the Brown Lands devoid of everything, including the Entwives.

While Treebeard focused upon the search for the Entwives, Tolkien, in a 1954 letter explained a bit of their fate. The gardens were destroyed by Sauron’s scorched earth policy “and burned their land against the advance of the Allies down the Anduin” during the War of the Last Alliance.

While this explained the Brown Lands, where they had been lush gardens, it might also explain the land on the western banks of the Anduin, on the Fellowship’s right. This was The Wold – a Middle English word meaning a forested area. However, this land, like the Brown Lands on the opposite shore, wasn’t forested. It was “flat, and in many places green with wide plains of grass.” There were reeds in abundance and hills beyond them.

Unlike the Brown Lands, the Wold seemed to have recovered some, though it was still treeless. The name indicates that at some point, probably before the War of the Last Alliance, it had been a forest. And since that time, it had a much more human history – one of campaigns and war.

At the time of the Fellowship, it was part of Rohan, but 3,000 years before, at the end of the Second Age, it became part of northern Gondor. At that point (and probably before), it was claimed by the Dunlendings, a tribal group of Men who more or less kept to themselves. After about 2500 years, they were driven out of the area (though they didn’t seem to live on the Wold proper) by the Rohirrim.

In Unfinished Tales, we learn that around the same time, some of the Easternlings, commanded by the Enemy at Dol Guldur, attacked into Gondor with bands of Orcs. They came in over the Wold and and were driven back by Eorl. The largest of these battles happened on the Field of Celebrant, just to the north. The warring would continue for years until Eorl was killed fighting on the Wold.

In the months before Frodo left the Shire, the Nazgûl crossed the Wold twice. First was in early July, as they moved west from Dol Guldur, crossing the Anduin. The second time was in mid September. After a fruitless search, they regrouped at the Wold, and were then ordered by Sauron to ride west to Isengard, thinking that Saruman had the Ring. From there, they went to the Shire.

And though there would be a bit more history to be made on the Wold, this was how it stood when the Fellowship passed by it. More than likely, Aragorn would have known most of this later history concerning the Wold. Though none of it was mentioned in Lord of the Rings, Tolkien might have hinted at such a past when he wrote that beyond the reeds and hills, Frodo could see “away on the edge of sight a dark line, where marched the southernmost ranks of the Misty Mountains.”

Camera: Imperial Satellite II 127 Film: Fuji Velvia 100F xpro

Camera: Imperial Satellite II 127
Film: Fuji Velvia 100F xpro

A Few Notes

  • Though there’s one more post before the end of the year, this is the last one that’s focusing on the narrative. It’s been an incredibly fun time and I can’t wait until 2015!
  • At least it wasn’t about Galadriel.
  • Also, what the hell kind of scorched Earth policy did Sauron detail that wouldn’t allow anything to grow for centuries?

About the Photo
It makes sense that a photo of the Brown Lands wouldn’t be very exciting. This is along the Columbia River in central Washington. The area where I’m standing is on the western side. This used to be a lush forest prior to the lava flows. Same with the eastern side. While the western side supports more trees, the eastern has almost none. While this was due to lava and glaciers (and not Sauron), it seems weirdly similar.


  • Miles today: 10
  • Miles thus far: 1164 (250 miles since leaving Lothlórien)
  • 139 miles to the Falls of Rauros
  • 609 miles to Mt. Doom

Book II, Chapter 8, Farewell to Lórien. Drifting down the Anduin, February 21, 3019 TA. (map)

Coming soon...

Coming soon…

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18 thoughts on “Of Entwives, Scorched Earth, and The Darkness

    • I know it’s a sad story, don’t get me wrong, but they Entwives seemed to leave because the Ents basically ignored them. Also, it took the Ents literally thousands of years to even realize the Entwives had gone. And only after they were gone did the Ents seem to miss them. I know time works differently for them, but come on, Treebeard! This shouldn’t be shocking in the least! 🙂

  1. Okay – here’s what Tolkien had to say about the Entwives… caution, it’s not happy:

    “I think that in fact the Entwives had disappeared for good, being destroyed with their gardens in the War of the Last Alliance (Second Age 3429-3441) when Sauron pursued a scorched earth policy and burned their land against the advance of the Allies down the Anduin. They survived only in the ‘agriculture’ transmitted to Men (and Hobbits). Some, of course, may have fled east, or even have become enslaved: tyrants even in such tales must have an economic and agricultural background to their soldiers and metal-workers. If any survived so, they would indeed be far estranged from the Ents, and any rapprochement would be difficult – unless experience of industrialised and militarised agriculture had made them a little more anarchic. I hope so. I don’t know.”
    -April, 25, 1954 (Letter No. 144, to Naomi Mitchison)

    • This is so sad! I remember the Brown Lands, and wondered at the impact to the Woods and Forest in the locale. I am probably getting the geography wrong but it seems there’s a few potential periphery disaster areas
      – Lothlorien – probably not since it’s on the right side of the devastation.
      – Greenwood? Would it be the prep work for Dol Guldur?
      – Fangorn?

      I don’t even know where I’m going with this now. But oooh, ORC Week! Looking forward to that!

      • Fangorn seems to have been spared the fire, as was Greenwood, which only went bad when Dol Guldur was occupied. I’m not even sure if Tolkien said much more about this than what I’ve already said. There’s just not much there. I’m sure a lot can be assumed if it’s looked into.

        If Sauron burned the pre-Brown Lands, it was to create a desolation over which the armies of the Last Alliance couldn’t travel without a long supply line back to Rivendell, etc. Through such a long distance (from Rivendell to Dagorlad), armies of this size would want to live off the land as much as possible. If that was rendered impossible by burning the vegetation along their proposed line of march, the armies would be weakened.

        So probably Sauron burned as much as he could in the most likely places he could until his little fire bugs were driven back by the vanguard of the Last Alliance. This apparently was only on the eastern side of the Anduin and only as far north as (almost) Greenwood. It’s just speculation, but it makes some sense.

        • Oh for sure. Military action always need planning and control, especially when you want to keep the enemies on their toes. Greenwood is a tad too far north to include in the plan. I’m wondering if Greenwood might have collateral damage though.

          • I think to look into that, you’d want to check out the history of Dol Guldur. Maybe there were some in roads planned out or something. I mean, it’s right there! It seems likely anyway.

  2. I Wonder about merry’s comments about walking trees near buckland too. Are these just rumors? Or ents? Or huorns?
    Or possibly entwives? Tolkien apparently doubted they survived… But he wasn’t very definitive here.

    • I’m trying hard to remember Merry saying that. Wasn’t that just about the Old Forest? If so, those were definitely Huorns. But Sam’s cousin mentioned something about giant “Tree-Men” around the Shire, but those were probably giant men who lived among the trees.

        • The old forest and Fangorn were once one and the same – Old Man Willow is believed to be a Huorn. The Entwives prefered to keep gardens and moved across the Anduin but those lands were then laid waste in the wars against Sauron. After the hobbits tell Treebeard about the Shire he remarks that the Entwives would have liked the Shire and asks the hobbits to keep an eye out for Entwives.
          The word “ent” itself comes from the Old English “enta” and Norse “jotunn”. You’ll find “enta” in Beowulf amongst others I think as a description for Grendel and it means “giant”. The ents are essentially giants. Sam’s cousin who believes he saw a giant in the North Farthing is never explained. I’d say it was left ambiguous on purpose for the reader to decide.

          • Thanks! Fangorn and the Old Forest were both parts of a huge forest that existed prior to the Numenoreans and then Sauron destroying it in the Second Age. I don’t think that’s mention in LotR, and though Treebeard was interested in the Old Forest and Bombadil, he didn’t seem to really understand what the Hobbits were talking about. It was mentioned in an essay from (probably) the late 60s, and printed in Unfinished Tales (“The Port of Lond Daer”).

            It tells the sad history of this great forest, casting most of the blame on the Numenoreans – “The devastation wrought by the Numenoreans was incalculable.”

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