Trees, Chainsaws, and Visions of Paradise

Tom Shippey - 2012
Theoretical ArticlesTheoretical Articles: A comprehensive knowledge of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien is needed to fully understand articles in this category, the subjects treated being studied in minute detail by their authors.
This is an edited version of a talk first given at Arizona State University on November 2nd, 2002, and available on Internet at www.vimeo.com/2843553.

Une traduction française de cet article a été publiée dans Tolkien 1892-2012, le numéro hors-série de L'Arc et le Heaume.

Tolkien 1892-2012

A french translation of this essay was published in Tolkien 1892-2012, a special issue of Tolkiendil's magazine, L'Arc et le Heaume.

I mean to talk today about three things, which are: Tolkien’s own personal beliefs, the way that these are expressed in his fiction, and the way that these relate to a continuing tradition of English literature, and I’ll begin with the first.

Tolkien as a “tree-hugger”

T}olkien’s personal beliefs: I think his credentials as a lifelong tree-hugger are perfectly clear. They emerge, for instance, from his own account of how he came to write the short story “Leaf by Niggle.” The whole thing came to him, he says, in a dream: >I awoke with it already in mind. One of its sources was a great-limbed poplar tree that I could see even lying in bed. It was suddenly lopped and mutilated by its owner, I do not know why. It is cut down now, a less barbarous punishment for any crimes it may have been accused of, such as being large and alive. I do not think it had any friends, or any mourners, except myself and a pair of owls. - //Tree and Leaf//, « Preface to the 1988 edition », p. vi. {{Let>You can see that Tolkien, as a good tree-hugger, thinks of trees as people, “lopped and mutilated,” accused untruthfully of crimes, leaving mourners behind them. But Tolkien had been doing that since boyhood, and Humphrey Carpenter gives another and much earlier example in his Biography, where he says of Tolkien that:

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 remined in his memory: “There was a willow hanging over the mill-pond 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.”

However, an even better example of Tolkien’s fierce and protective love of trees was told to me by a colleague, now at Harvard University. He said that many years ago, when he was a student backpacking his way round Europe, he found himself in Oxford, and went to sit on a bench in the University Parks. By and by an old guy came up and sat down next to him, and after a bit the old guy, who was very well-dressed, started to talk about trees. Trees, how beautiful they were. Trees, some especially beautiful specimens. Trees, some examples he was personally fond of. Trees, the awful things that people did to them for no good reason! What awful people they were, who did those awful things to trees!! What we ought to do to these awful people who did awful things to trees!!!

But at this point my colleague began to get rather nervous, edged away, retrieved his backpack and set off hastily, reflecting that they hadn’t yet got all the weirdoes locked up by any means. The next day, however, he picked up a paper and discovered that the well-dressed old guy was the distinguished Professor Tolkien, who had been collecting an honorary doctorate: in this anecdote (its truth perhaps enhanced by memory) figuring less as tree-hugger than as tree-avenger.

Two views of trees in Tolkien’s fiction

Such feelings, well-evidenced in Tolkien’s real life, appear also very clearly in his fiction. In The Lord of the Rings, the felling of the Party Tree is the only thing in all his adventures that makes Sam Gamgee burst into tears. He had of course already seen something like it in the Mirror of Galadriel, where one of his visions is of “that Ted Sandyman a-cutting down trees that he shouldn’t. They didn’t ought to be felled.” It rather backs up my colleague’s Oxford story that Sam continues, “I wish I could get at Ted, and I’d fell him!” But although that vision upsets Sam, it is not as bad as finding the Party Tree cut down; and the most important act of replacement which Sam carries out is to plant the silver nut given him by Galadriel in the Party Field, when it turns into a mallorn, which “grew in grace and beauty” and became “the only mallorn west of the Mountains and east of the Sea, and one of the finest in the world.” Such accounts confirm my feeling that while Tolkien perhaps didn’t exactly hug trees – for this would be an un-English display of emotion – he did certainly feel powerfully for them, treat them as living creatures (which if course they are), and as Carpenter says, talk to them as friends.

But there is another side to Tolkien’s feelings about trees. In his fiction, we do repeatedly encounter trees whom you would not wish to meet in a dark alleyway: prominent among them, Old Man Willow. He traps Merry and Pippin, and tries to drown Frodo, something which makes even the tree-loving Sam ask, “I suppose we haven’t got an axe among our luggage, Mr Frodo?” This hostility between Old Man Willow and Frodo’s party is not just an isolated instance, because Merry tells us that long ago all the trees in the Old Forest came and made an attack on the Hedge round the Shire, and the hobbits retaliated:

the hobbits came and cut down hundreds of trees, and made a great bonfire in the Forest, and burned all the ground in a long strip east of the Hedge. After that the trees gave up the attack, but they became very unfriendly.

Another example of the bad side of trees is the powerful account of Mirkwood in The Hobbit. There’s a long description of the way the dwarves and Bilbo stumble along in it, in the dark, never seeing sunlight, oppressed by a feeling of airlessness:

It was not long before they grew to hate the forest… But they had to go on, long after they were sick for a sight of the sun and of the sky, and longed for the feel of wind on their faces. There was no movement of air down under the forest-roof, and it was everlastingly still and dark and stuffy.

Even Fangorn the Ent can seem a little ambivalent about trees and forests. Fangorn himself is a tree-lover (and tree-talker) par excellence, who also has very Tolkienian feelings about the awful things that people do to trees, and what ought to be done to such awful people. When he thinks of what Saruman’s orcs have done he sounds very like Tolkien remembering his friend the willow-tree at Sarehole.

“Down on the borders they are felling trees – good trees. Some of the trees they just cut down and leave to rot – or-mischief that… Many of those trees were my friends, creatures I had known from nut and acorn; many had voices of their own that are lost for ever now. And there are wastes of stump and bramble where once there were singing groves.”

Yes: but on the other hand, Fangorn also concedes that as with people, not all trees are friendly. When trees start to wake up and turn Entish:

“you find that some have bad hearts. Nothing to do with their wood: I do not mean that … there are some trees in the valleys under the mountains, sound as a bell, and bad right through. That sort of thing seems to spread. There used to be some very dangerous parts in this country … we do what we can. We keep off strangers and the foolhardy; and we train and we teach, we walk and we weed.”

}}Fangorn is a tree-shepherd, then, but he’s also a tree-weeder, and he needs to be, for as Merry says, speaking of the Huorns, trees on the verge of becoming Ents, or perhaps on the verge of losing Entishenss: >“they still have voices, and can speak with the Ents, but they have become queer and wild. Dangerous. I should be terrified of meeting them, if there were no true Ents around to look after them.” {{Let>One can sum up by saying that Tolkien’s tree-hugging, like Fangorn’s, was not unconditional. He loved trees one at a time. But when they got together and formed gangs, so to speak, as in a wood, or a forest, then they had to be treated carefully. Forests in Tolkien are not always pleasant places. But they do have a role to play.

The forest in the English imagination

There is something highly traditional about this, strongly present in the English literary imagination, though not confined to it. It’s my belief that you can’t have a proper romance without a forest to have it in, and it’s easy to make a list of famous and romantic forests: the forest of Broceliande for the French Arthurian romances, Sherwood Forest for Robin Hood, the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, and in later English fiction the Wild Wood where Badger and the stoats and weasels live in The Wind in the Willows, the Forest Sauvage in T.H. White’s Once and Future King, the Forest of Tantrevalles in Jack Vance’s incomparable “Lyonesse” trilogy, or Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood. But we need to consider not only the existence of the wood, but also its function.

Here a revealing example comes from Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene, a work which Tolkien certainly did not like, but which he probably read (as he did many others) with a sense of opportunities having been missed. The very first incident in the Faerie Queene is Redcross Knight’s encounter with the dragon, which he meets in the Wood of Error. As its name suggests, it is an allegorical wood, but the allegory tells us something about what woods naturally allegorise. They are places it is easy to get lost in. You can get in easily enough, but can you find your way out? A problem for Spenser’s knight and lady:

When weening to return, whence they did stray,
They cannot find that path, which first was shown,
But wander to and fro in ways unknown,
Furthest from end then, when they nearest ween,
That makes them doubt their wits be not their own,
So many paths, so many turnings seen,
That which of them to take, in diverse doubt they been.

And then there is Spenser’s more famous contemporary Shakesepare, another poet whom Tolkien regarded with disapproving interest. I think that Tolkien’s opinion of Shakespeare was that he could have been good! But he took the wrong turning in life when he left the West Midlands and went off to London, to write plays and go commercial. One of the strange things about Shakespeare is that, in a way, he only wrote two plays himself. All the others have borrowed or adapted plots. The two original to him are Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest, and those, of course, are the fairy plays. Now Shakespeare should have stuck to that, and not gone off wasting his time on rejigged plots like Hamlet and King Lear (or Macbeth, to Tolkien the most apparent case of a good idea gone wrong)! For the enchanted wood in Midsummer Night’s Dream, one has to say, is a very good one, with in it Bully Bottom and his rude mechanicals putting on their Shire-version of a play, confused and led astray by Puck and the intrigues of the fairy king and queen. Meanwhile the human lovers criss-cross the wood and the plot, complicating matters just like the different White Wizards in Fangorn Forest. It is a different example of a Wood of Error, or perhaps we should say, using a Tolkien word, Wood of Bewilderment.

A third famous case is the wood of the dangerous enchanter in Milton’s masque Comus. The Lady enters this, not knowing its perils, and soon appeals for guidance:

“O where else
Shall I inform my unacquainted feet
In the blind mazes of this tangled wood?”

Meanwhile her brothers, who are searching for her, say they wish they could see any kind of a light, any hint of something outside the wood:

“‘Twould be some solace yet, some little cheering
In this close dungeon of innumerous boughs.”

Note the noun phrases: “the blind mazes of this tangled wood,” “this close dungeon of innumerous boughs.” The wood is a tangle and a maze, where you feel blind and closed-in. The literary functions of the wood are, then, first of all to get lost in, and second, to find your way out of. This makes sense literally, for the main thing about a wood is that you can’t see very far. In particular you can’t see the sky, and so you readily lose your bearings, as indeed happens to the hobbits as they make their way through the Old Forest: “After an hour or two they had lost all clear sense of direction.” But losing your bearings very easily has allegorical meaning: error, moral as well as physical blindness, a sense of despair.

Hobbit-poetry

The hobbits accordingly try to keep their spirits up by singing; but I now need to consider the nature of hobbit-poetry. One thing about it is that it’s like paths in the Old Forest, it shifts all the time (because it’s both oral and anonymous). So, an early example is Bilbo’s song, which he sings as he leaves Bag End:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

There are several things you can say about this, as about hobbit-poetry generally. It’s heavily monosyllabic, and there are no hard words at all. In an age when poetry (according to T.S. Eliot) must above all be difficult, hobbit-poetry has accordingly taken a lot of scornful criticism from the cognoscenti, but there are other factors which deserve to be considered.

For one thing, its syntax is quite complex (something literary critics habitually know nothing about, having turned their backs on all forms of serious language study). More important, it manages to be directly personal in its context, while (like woods) having at the same time strong suggestions of impersonal allegory: and these grow ever stronger. In this case, Bilbo is very clearly applying the poem to himself. He’s leaving Bag End and going off on a journey whose ending he cannot guess. But the poem is repeated by a different person, and then by the same person in a different context, with words each time changed to fit. Frodo repeats the stanza after he in his turn has left Bag End, but he changes “eager feet” to “weary feet” – suitably to his own feelings, for he has not left Bag End voluntarily. Pippin says to him, “That sounds like a bit of old Bilbo’s rhyming … Or is it one of your imitations?”, and Frodo replies that he doesn’t know. Hobbit-poems are adaptable to personal circumstances, but just because they’re adaptable, they’re not exclusively personal. The poem comes up once more, near the end, when the returning hobbits meet Bilbo, now every old, at Rivendell, and Bilbo gives the first three lines as before, but then continues:

Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey now begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

As he says it, he falls asleep, and the others look at each other. They know he won’t write their story now. By this time it has become clear that the Road is an image of life, and the sleep Bilbo looks forward to is the sleep of death. In fact, while remaining personal, the poem has become evidently allegorical, expressing a universal image of life as a journey.

This is very characteristic of hobbit-poetry. Consider also Frodo’s song in the Old Forest:

O! Wanderers in the shadowed land,
Despair not! for though dark they stand,
all woods there be must end at last
and see the open sun go past,
the setting sun, the rising sun,
the day’s end, or the day begun,
for east or west all woods must fail.

As he sings this, a large branch falls into the path behind them, and Merry says that it is a bad idea to sing such songs with the trees listening: they don’t like to hear about woods failing. Wait to sing it till they’re out of the wood! So, as usual, the poem is a perfect fit to its circumstances, but at the same time suggests a much more general sentiment. The “shadowed land” could be the Old Forest. But the idea that “all woods must fail” says something else, namely that one day all wanderers, us included, will find their way out of whichever Wood of Error we’re in, and be in the clear.

Another similar example comes from Sam in “The Tower of Cirith Ungol,” when he is singing to try to locate Frodo:

Though here at journey’s end I lie
in darkness buried deep,
beyond all towers strong and high,
beyond all mountains steep,
above all shadows rides the Sun
and Stars for ever dwell:
I will not say the Day is done
nor bid the stars farewell.

This, as usual, is very simple, but also very Shakespearean. It’s Shakespeare’s Cleopatra who says, before she commits suicide, “our bright day is done / and we are for the dark.” But this was surely not Shakespeare’s invention: the opposition of “day” and “dark” is characteristic of traditional English alliterative poetry, and “day is done” is a proverbial phrase. The phrasing is, as hobbits say, “as old as the hills,” no one poet’s possession. Meanwhile, and once more as usual, while Sam’s poem makes perfect sense in context, it also strongly expresses a wider truth, just like Frodo’s song in the Old Forest: there is a world outside the “shadowed land,” and one not negated by being “in darkness buried deep” – which is why none of us should say “the Day is done.” Our individual “day” may be, like Cleopatra’s. But there is a world elsewhere.

In this recurrent myth – and myth is what I would call it – the world is the wood, the shadowland, where one so easily gets lost. The Road through it, with its many choices and turnings, is life itself. But once we have made our way along the Road and through the wood, we will come out into another world, where doubt and despair will vanish: and of that other world the sun and the stars, outside the wood and too often invisible from it, are guarantees – if we can remember them, lost in the wood as we are, or to use Milton’s Brother’s phrase, “in this close tangle of innumerous boughs.”

The ambiguous myth

We should note also that not only the hobbits, but also the elves subscribe to this myth. See for instance the song in Quenya, addressed to Elbereth, which drives off the Black Rider while the hobbits are still in the Shire, and which at this point we are given only in English translation:

O Light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees…
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land amid the trees
Thy starlight on the western seas.

Just like hobbit-poetry, elvish poetry is liable to be continually adapted and even translated, for there is also a Sindarin song to Elbereth sung in Rivendell, “A Elbereth Gilthoniel.” (If I may make a side-comment here, I do wonder about the feelings of Sir Stanley Unwin, who asked for a sequel to The Hobbit in 1937, and in 1954 was faced by a 1000-page epic, with a hundred pages of appendices, studded with poems in languages no-one but the author knew, and which the author, as in this case, had not bothered to translate. It’s amazing that The Lords of the Rings ever got published at all.)

Be that as it may, Tolkien eventually got round to translating his Sindarin poem in the song-cycle The Road Goes Ever On, but even then only the word-for-word intwerklinear translation was complete – Tolkien was not a reliable proof-reader. Just the same, we can make out that the Sindarin poem contains the same image as the Quenya one – the elves looking up at the stars, and looking up from the wood: “Na-chaered palan-diriel / o galadhremmin ennorath” translates as, “To lands remote I have looked afar / from tree-tangled middle-earth” – a phrase very similar, if in a totally different language, to the Brother’s phrase from Comus.

The wood of mortal life in Middle-earth, then, is a tangle. The elves want to get out of the tangle to the True West, to the Undying Lands. But actually they don’t. Because while they want to get out of the wood, they don’t want to leave the trees! As Haldir says, leading the Fellowship into Lothlórien, and fearing that the elves will have to flee from Middle-earth:

“It would be a poor life in a land where no mallorn grew. But if there are mallorn-trees beyond the great Sea, none have reported it.”

And the hobbits agree with them in this ambiguity. They too have a myth about leaving the shadowed land, getting out of the Wood, but they too feel the pain of leaving the trees, especially the little friendly hedgerow trees of the English countryside, crab-apple, hawthorn, hazel, blackthorn. See the other hobbit song sung by Frodo and his friends:

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though we pass them by today
Tomorrow we may come this way
And take the secret roads that run
Towards the Moon or to the Sun.
Apple, thorn, and nut and sloe,
Let them go! Let them go!
Sand and stone and pool and dell,
Fare you well! Fare you well!

This too is sung again with changed wording much later in The Lord of the Rings, and this time Frodo sings not that he “may take the secret roads,” but he “shall take the hidden paths,” which indeed he does. He is answered by elves singing yet another variant of their Elbereth song.

The hobbits and the elves share a myth, and a dilemma. Leaving the world, whether by death or by retreat to the Undying Lands, is seen as a release from the tangled Wood of Doubt and Error, which is Life; but it also means parting from natural beauty, and especially the beauty of the trees. Is there any way out of this? Is there any compromise on offer?

The Earthly Paradise

One compromise of course would be to say there are mallorn-trees west of the Sea, in the Undying Lands, and there are trees in Heaven too, and this is exactly what happens in Tolkien’s quasi-autobiographical short story “Leaf by Niggle.” I dare say that was Tolkien’s own personal belief, or hope. But another, and a more traditional one would be to say there is an Undying Land in Middle-earth: and of course, in old tradition, there is, it’s Paradise. Paradise does not equal Heaven. Paradise is the Garden of Eden. It’s shut, as we all know, in consequnce of the sin of Adam and Eve, but in some medieval opinions it hadn’t been moved. Paradise was described in the Travels of Sir John Mandeville, written, in French, c. 1356-66, by an English knight from Black Notley in Essex: may I say, one of the great books of the world, more popular than Marco Polo, used by Columbus and by Henry the Navigator. Since Sir John was an Englishman (even though he wrote in French – I hope I may not be accused of chauvinisme if I remark that several of the great works of early French literature were written by Englishmen or Englishwomen), he expresses himself clearly and directly:

Of Paradise I cannot speak properly, for I have not been there, and that I regret. But I shall tell you as much as I have heard from wise men and trustworthy authorities… The Earthly Paradise, so men say, is the highest land on earth; it is so high it touches the sphere of the moon. For it is so high that Noah’s flood could not reach it, though it covered all the rest of the earth. Paradise is encircled by a wall, but no man can say what the wall is made of… there is no way into it open because of ever-burning fire, which is the flaming sword that God set up before the entrance so that no man should enter.

Sir John goes on to list the four rivers of Paradise: Ganges, Nile, Tigris, Euphrates, remarking, “In that river are many precious stones… and much gold in the gravel.” But he also insists:

You should realise that no living man can go to Paradise… no man, as I said, can get there except through the special grace of God.

Tolkien certainly knew this work, because it’s used by the Gawain-poet (one of only two books, apart from the Bible, which this anonymous poet is known to have used, the other being the Roman de la Rose). Tolkien was fascinated by this medieval poet all his life, making his academic reputation in 1925 with an edition of one of the poet’s four surviving poems (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, co-edited with E.V. Gordon). He also translated that poem and a second one by the same author, Pearl, and the intention was for him and Gordon to edit the latter poem too, though the work was completed only by Gordon’s widow. However, while it is accepted that the poet used Mandeville for his description of the Dead Sea in a third poem, Purity, he perhaps used it elsewhere too, in Pearl.

This poem appears to describe the feelings of a man whose infant daughter has died. He is racked with grief, and falls asleep with his head on her gravemound. He then has a vision, and one of the strange things about the vision is that in it he is immediately released from his grief. Then he comes upon a river, which like Mandeville’s Euphrates has a bed of precious stones: its very gravel is “precious pearls of Orient.” And then, on the other side of the river, he sees his little daughter, grown up and dressed in pearls.

The question arises; where is he? I would suggest, that he is indeed in the Earthly Paradise. It can’t be the heavenly Paradise, which is where his daughter is, on the other side of the river, which he cannot cross. We all know what river that is, because we have a Shire-poetry too. The song goes, “One more river, and that’s the river of Jordan, / One more river, and that’s the river to cross.” But the river of Jordan is an allegory of the river of Death, which we all must cross to reach the Promised Land of Heaven. Surely the Dreamer has reached only the Earthly Paradise in his vision, as Mandeville says, “through the special grace of God.”

I think this episode is also echoed in Tolkien’s fiction, in the entry of the Fellowship to Lothlórien – the land on which there is no shadow or stain, where (Legolas says) “we almost forgot our grief” for Gandalf. Note the apparently unnecessarily complex way in which the Fellowship enters Lothlórien.. First they cross one river, the Nimrodel, and spend the night on the other side: the orcs cross too. Then they cross the Silverlode, this time by rope-walk, so they do not actually touch the water, and Haldir says:

“You have entered the Naith of Lórien, or the Gore, as you would say, for it is the land that lies like a spear-head between the arms of Silverlode and Anduin the Great.”

Where are they? (And whatever Haldir says, neither “Naith” nor “Gore” is at all familiar in this sense in modern English: gar is Old English for “spear,” and “gore” survives as a term in dress-making for a triangle of cloth). It seems to me that the Fellowship has reached a version of the Paradis terrestre. They are also, in a way, in England: in mythic England, for another phrase used by Haldir is “the Angle between the waters,” like the old Angle between Flensborg fjord and the river Schlei, from which the Angles, or the English, in their own tradition originally came.

The wish for the Earthly Paradise was a continuing part of Tolkien’s personal feelings, and of his mythology. It is there in his early poems, like “The Happy Mariners”, or “The Nameless Land”, the second of these carefully written in the same extremely complex metre as Pearl. It is there in late poems, like “Imram”, which follows the story of St Brendan the Navigator, sailing out into the Ocean in search of the True West. It’s there in his fiction, in the deep affection for natural beauty, coupled with the feeling that it may be a snare, a tangle. And he was also convinced that it was a real myth, that is to say, not just personal. Other people had had it too – most of all, the nameless poet of Pearl.

One final use I would mention of the “myth of trees and stars” comes in lines 113-6 of that poem. The river rushes down, and the jewels glitter up from its bed. I give it here in the original Middle English:

In the founce ther stonden stones stepe,
As glente thurgh glas that glowed and glight,
As stremande sternez, quen strothe-men slepe,
Staren in welkyn in wynter nyght.

Tolkien translated the above like this: “In the depths stood dazzling stones aheap / As a glitter through glass that glowed with light, / As streaming stars when on earth men sleep / Stare in the welkin in winter night.” But his translation has modified a word. What, in line 3, are strothe-men? A note in Ida Gordon’s edition of Pearl (in which she acknowledges a debt to Tolkien, who was intended to have collaborated on the edition) tells us that “stroth” once meant “marshy land (overgrown with brushwood)”; it is found sometimes in English place-names and personal names derived from them, like Strother, Stroud, Bulstrode, Langstrothdale. The note adds: “Here strothe-men is probably used in a generalized poetic sense to mean ‘men of this world’ [which is how Tolkien translated it, see above] … but strothe would probably carry with it also, pictorially, a suggestion of the dark, low earth onto which the high stars look down.”

I am morally certain that this note is by or derives from Tolkien. It is exactly his image. The elves and the hobbits look up at the stars from “the dark, low earth,” but the strothe-men who sleep unaware of the stars which look down on them – they are us. We are the brushwood-people, oblivious of the stars, tangled in the wood of error, lost in “the close dungeon of innumerous boughs” – though the elves too recognise the danger of galadhremmin ennorath, “tree-tangled Middle-earth.” Part of what makes the tangle is love, love of the tangling trees themselves.

Tolkien knew that his love of trees was not always shared. But he thought that the urge to get out of the wood and reach the stars was, if not universal, at least strongly shared, and expressed notably by the poets and writers of his own West Midlands, the five counties of Warwickshire (Shakespeare), Staffordshire (the Gawain-poet), Herefordshire (the Ancrene Wisse author), Shrophire (Layamon) and Worcestershire (Langland), whose forgotten traditions he hoped to revive. He himself wanted to see the stars, but also to stay within the wood, and his fiction powerfully expresses both desires. He knew, however, that in Middle-earth, “tree-tangled Middle-earth,” fulfilling both desires was impossible – except, “by special grace of God,” in the lost Paradis terrestre, surely now removed from “the circles of the world.”

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