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Old 01-02-2008, 12:48 PM   #1
Eönwë
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Leaf Tolkien the naturalist

Was Tolkien a naturalist?

I know this has been mentioned in various threads (I can't find any right now, but there are alot), but I want to pull them all together here.

SO what do you think?
Was he against ctting down the trees and industrialisation (like in the Scouring Of The Shire and the Ents's attack on Isengard, and various other ideas)
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Old 01-02-2008, 01:01 PM   #2
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Just to clarify do you mean naturalist (as in one who studies fauna and/or fauna) or as your examples suggest rather environmentalist - though I suspect the term was not used much until the end of Tolkien's life.

While I am sure naturalists tend to be environmentalist, not all environmentalists could call themselves naturalists.
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Old 01-02-2008, 03:29 PM   #3
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He was very much a proto-Greenie. I believe he even got rid of his car because he disliked the damage they were doing. There's reams and reams about this topic out there, but I'm afraid it's not one of the big themes that gets picked up on about Tolkien these days, strangely

Maybe Al Gore could make use of Tolkien in selling his film to the young 'uns?

Interestingly, when the BBC did the Big Read to find the UK's favourite book, each was championed by a famous person. Lord of the Rings, which won, was championed by Ray Mears, well known in the UK for being a keen outdoorsman and environmentalist, and one of the things he loved most about Tolkien was his love for the unspoiled natural world.
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Old 01-02-2008, 07:23 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mith
Just to clarify do you mean naturalist (as in one who studies fauna and/or fauna) or as your examples suggest rather environmentalist - though I suspect the term was not used much until the end of Tolkien's life.
In the academic circles 'naturalism' is something that is adopted by people like Dawkins and Dennet. That means taking a stance that: a) there is only the natural world (and thence nothing "supernatural" like gods, fairies, telepathy, fate...) and b) the natural sciences are the best guide for humans to understand how this world works.

So the word 'environmentalist' would suit your examples better.

It's easy to see Tolkien as a "proto-greenie" as Lal names him but then again that goes to much of the old time conservatism & radical luddites in general.

One should be careful with labels that have arised after the time the persons to whom those labels are applied to have thenselves lived.

Like:

Plato is the father of totalitarianism.

Democritos formed the theory of atoms.

Michelangelo was an artist expressing his emotions.

The "founding fathers" were for the NRA principles.

Nietzsche was a nazi.

Samuel Beckett was a post-modernist.

Tolkien was an environmentalist.

Looking from one angle these statements make sense but with some understanding of both history of ideas and the persons involved one sees the connection is more than less awkward and fabricated to suit some agendas of today / yesterday.

But yes. Tolkien didn't like felling down trees or putting up factories. But his "feelings" probably weren't aroused by any general environmental concerns that would apply to global circumstances. On the contrary it looks like the romanticism of one's own neighbourhood. "When I (my parents) was a child there was this great birch and a meadow but now there's a road with cars in it..."

That's not environmentalism but more like a wish to see the world unchanged.

Nothing bad in that reaction in itself but worth noticing.

PS. I am a card-carrying environmentalist myself: with two children what else could I be?
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Old 01-02-2008, 08:53 PM   #5
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And Tolkien's idyllic Shire was a place of green fields and well-tilled earth: in other words a man-made landscape, even if organic. Bucolic rural England is (or was) the product of millenia of human habitation, clearing, ditching, draining, hedging, introducing species (the oh-so-English Peter Rabbit is a descendant of immigrants).

What Tolkien really objected to was industrialization, not anthropogenic change in general.
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Old 01-02-2008, 09:03 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by William Cloud Hickli View Post
And Tolkien's idyllic Shire was a place of green fields and well-tilled earth: in other words a man-made landscape, even if organic. Bucolic rural England is (or was) the product of millenia of human habitation, clearing, ditching, draining, hedging, introducing species (the oh-so-English Peter Rabbit is a descendant of immigrants).
So true!

And what's even more fun is that after the mode of the 18th century Versailles' geometric gardens being the top of the pops there emerged this romantic idea in the GB for a wild or natural "garden" which would look like an original forest... well bettered a little bit to please the human eye of course.
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Old 01-03-2008, 07:18 AM   #7
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Well in less elevated circles naturalist is used here for the likes of David Bellamy and Attenborough (David again not Dickie)... where as a naturist is something quite different again....
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Old 01-03-2008, 08:24 AM   #8
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where as a naturist is something quite different again....
Well, there is the bit after the Barrow where Frodo & Co go au naturel, and a bit in the Lost Road.......

'Naturalist' in the Attenborough sense is simply the 18th-19 century word for the polymath scientist of nature, before the subdivision into botanist, zoologist, biologist, even geologist and paleontologist. Darwin was a 'naturalist.' As was Dr Doolittle.
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Old 01-03-2008, 08:44 AM   #9
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Well, for one thing he definitely associates this early industrial revolution in M-e with negative things. An inudstrial Shire was terrible, same goes for the works of Saruman.

Definitely such a development was not to his liking.

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It is not unlikely that they invented some of the machines that have since troubled the world, especially the ingenious devices for killing large numbers of people at once, for wheels and engines and explosions always delighted them, and also not working with their own hands more than they could help; but in those days and those wild parts they had not advanced (as it is called) so far. ~ TH
I always knew it that Daimler and Benz were goblins!

No, but seriously now, this does seem to be quite a greenie. Then again, M-e isn't our world.
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Old 08-30-2008, 03:38 AM   #10
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I agree with Nogrod's statement, Tolkien was more of a "make things stay the way they were when I was a kid" kind of person verses an environmentalist. It's not really bad thing, it's better than nothing.

And, on line with what William Cloud Hicklin said, Tolkien seems to be much more appreciative of well-tilled earth than wetlands and wilderness. Notice how the wetlands mentioned are made out to be bad places, the Dead Marshes, the Midgewater Marshes, and how wild areas are seen to be dark and dangerous. It's a very natural way to think, but these days that thinking seems a bit back wards.

I'd also like to know why you think so many fantasy books take place in some pre-industrial/medieval era. That has always puzzled me.
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Old 08-30-2008, 05:27 PM   #11
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I think he has used idea's from religions that are older than the Three we all are so aware of. One hint is the fourteen gods and goddesses.

What has hurt everyone of us to an extent, is the transition from agrarian to industrial based culture. We simply have to make it work for us. We are thinking all the time and I've heard that we even confuse a thought with an emotion. I personally find it difficult to accept that last assertion. Or rather, understand how that can be. We need industrialization now, to support our massive global population. I certainly don't accept the solution of killing people in massive numbers. I'd rather attempt to come up with a solution to an impossible situation. Perhaps that is exactly our tasse du the. Surmounting impossible obstacles.
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Old 08-30-2008, 08:23 PM   #12
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Originally posted by Mithalwen:

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where as a naturist is something quite different again....
Where I come from, a "Naturalist" means a "nudist." Like old Ben Franklin, only more sixties and hippie!

At any rate, Tolkien was an environmentalist. Even if you set the Ents aside, the fact that Sam was a gardener, (and, according to some letter or other, he was the real "hero" of Lord of the Rings,) should be enough to convince you. The care and attention he took to revive the Shire after the "Scouring" should be enough by itself to convince anyone. If that's not enough, Tolkien's detailed description of the flora of Middle-Earth, like Elenor, and Niphrodel and Athelas not to mention all the others, should be enough.

Clearly, he loved trees and nature. His contemporaries, Peake, Eddison and (just a little later) C. S. Lewis did not include such detail as Tolkien did. Even in other genres, H. G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, F. Scott Fitzgerald or even Faulkner never approached such attention. Perhaps Hemmingway, though that could be another thread by itself. The point is that Tolkien would never have bothered with such attention if it was not important to him.

Indeed, The Old Forest, Old Man Willow, Tom Bombadil, Fangorn and Treebeard might never have occured to him if he wasn't exceptionally attracted to nature and forests and little rivers. Even among the most exceptional Fantasy writers, not to mention the most "common" of them, like Terry Brooks, he was an exception, a stand-out. The more so because he was writing when the world of men thought that the earth, Nature, was "supposed" to be at their disposal, that it was there for them to use, and nothing more. It wasn't until the sixties (or maybe the late fifties!) that people started to notice the environment as something valuable in itself, and not just a commodity to be exploited.

As much as Tolkien seemed to resent the "hippie" movement's obsession with his work, it did get them thinking about the environment. I credit Tolkien as much as I do Jacque Cousteau and Marlin Perkins with a final attention to what was, at that time, a dying environment. Maybe even more-so. Tolkien, after all, reached everyone who read his work, not just the college-drop-out-commune freaks (some of whom are still practicing their chosen lifestyle.) Tolkien's attention to all the little details of Middle-Earth, including the flora and fauna, can only have started people thinking about it.

Was he a naturalist? Vatican forbid!!! Was he an environmentalist? Absolutly!
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Old 08-30-2008, 10:29 PM   #13
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Yes, Tolkien was an environmentalist before that term gained popularity; however, I think a better definor would be that he was a conservationist in the truest sense of the word...

conservationist: a person who advocates conservation especially of natural resources.

which is to say...

conservation: a careful preservation and protection of something; especially : planned management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

One could even say he was a conservative conservationist. It also mirrors Tolkien's Elves. Look, the man despised cars, hated factories and their pollution, and didn't even like central heating (of course, this brings up the fossil fuel he burned in his fireplaces, but I don't believe many folks at the time had the awareness that fireplaces correlate to pollution in the same manner factories do).
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Old 09-01-2008, 04:04 AM   #14
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Had Tolkien been a naturalist he would not have made the error, in The Hobbit, of having Thorin instruct Bilbo to hoot like a barn owl and a screech-owl as a signal.

Screech-owl is an alternative name for a barn owl and it doesn't hoot; it screeches.
It's the tawny owl that hoots.
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Old 09-02-2008, 10:38 AM   #15
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Maybe that was why Bilbo was confused and it was Thorin not Tolkien who was the poor ornithologist?
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