Treebeard in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings

These are two quotes that show why J.R.R. Tolkien’s walking tree-herder, called “Treebeard,” comes across so much better in the book than in the movies. In the movie he is slow. Sluggish. In the book, he lumbers (no pun intended), but he’s also unpredictable. He’s alive, and real, and… fun? In a way, yes. His slowness is deliberateness. And what’s so lethargic in the movie becomes gripping in the book.

Merry and Pippin’s first encounter with him:

TreebeardThese deep eyes were now surveying them, slow and solemn, but very penetrating. They were brown, shot with a green light. Often afterwards Pippin tried to describe his first impression of them. ‘One felt as if there was an enormous well behind them, filled up with ages of memory and long, slow, steady thinking; but their surface was sparkling with the present: like sun shimmering on the outer leaves of a vast tree, or on the ripples of a very deep lake. I don’t know, but it felt as if something that grew in the ground—asleep, you might say or just feeling itself as something between root-tip and leaf-tip, between deep earth and sky—had sudden waked up, and was considering you with the same slow care that it had given to its own inside affairs for endless years.’”

They try to figure out who he is exactly, asking his name. He responds, with wit,

‘… I am not going to tell you my name, not yet at any rate.’ A queer, half-knowing, half-humorous look came with a green flicker into his eyes. ‘For one thing it would take a long while: my name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.


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