What happened to the Entwives, and will the Ents ever find them

Diane asks: “What happened to the Entwives and did the Ents ever find them?”

There are many subjects in Professor Tolkien’s grandly imagined world which were never truly resolved. The man would have needed to live for another hundred years to properly bring to completion all the ideas which were left unfinished, and that assumes that he wouldn’t have been coming up with brand new things all the while. It is for this reason that we so often find the answers that we look for in his letters. On the topic of Entwives we turn to two letters in particular.

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 (vol. II p. 79 refers to it). 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 industrialized and militarized agriculture had made them a little more anarchic. I hope so. I don’t know.

Letter no. 144, 25 April 1954, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

As for the Entwives: I do not know. I have written nothing beyond the first few years of the Fourth Age. (Except the beginning of a tale supposed to refer to the end of the reign of Eldaron about 100 years after the death of Aragorn. Then I of course discovered that the King’s Peace would contain no tales worth recounting; and his wars would have little interest after the overthrow of Sauron; but that almost certainly a restlessness would appear about then, owing to the (it seems) inevitable boredom of Men with the good: there would be secret societies practising dark cults, and ‘orc-cults’ among adolescents.) But I think in Vol. II pp. 80-81 it is plain that there would be for Ents no re-union in ‘history’ — but Ents and their wives being rational creatures would find some ‘earthly paradise’ until the end of this world: beyond which the wisdom neither of Elves nor Ents could see. Though maybe they shared the hope of Aragorn that they were ‘not bound for ever to the circles of the world and beyond them is more than memory.’….

Letter no. 338, 6 June 1972, The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien

It is characteristic of Tolkien’s writing in his letters that his worlds seem to live on their own, apart from and outside of his mind.

In the first letter Tolkien starts out by stating that he does not think that they yet live, but goes on to speculate on how they might have survived, and how that might have changed them. A couple of things stand out in this text for me. One is his characterization of Sauron as having a policy. I appreciate the added depth that this brings to the character—not simply a destructive force, but an intelligent being who prosecutes war on a rational basis, even if it is an unjust war. The second is how Tolkien seems to say, at the end of the passage, that he hopes that the Entwives could become “more anarchic” and therefore reunite with the Ents. I think this says some interesting things about his opinions of the Ents and Entwives.

In the second letter there is a fascinating ambiguity that has to do with the fate of the thinking creatures of Arda. We know that the Elves go to the Halls of Mandos and that the fate of Men lies outside of the ken of the Valar. What this letter seems to say is that the Ents and Entwives are a people bound to the world and who will remain within it until the end of time, never meeting again, but that they may not have believed that this was their fate. There are some interesting possibilities built into those thoughts.

† ‘“… all the gardens of the Entwives are wasted: Men call them the Brown Lands now.”’
‡ The song of the Ent and Entwife in the chapter ‘Treebeard’.

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