Wednesday, July 23, 2003
Treebeard in the Lord of The Rings: The Two Towers

Tolkien’s Green Time

Environmental Themes in The Lord of the Rings

Andrew Light enters Tolkien’s universe and shows how it ain’t easy being green—though we’ve got to try—in this prepublication chapter from the forthcoming The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy. A Metaphilm exclusive.



Pretty good article—I especially liked the discussion about reading within vs. beyond intent at the beginning.  In this paragraph,

“Humans, in contrast, are interlopers in Middle-earth, as too many environmentalists see them today in our world, living in all of these environments as well but not intimately connected with them in the same way as the elves, dwarves, or hobbits seem to be. We know, too, that after the end of the Third Age, which concludes with the War of the Ring, the Fourth Age will see humans as the dominant people in Middle-earth, much as they are now the dominant species on our own planet. “

it was funny to see you refer to humans as “they” and not “our”—I guess you place yourself outside that class? :)  That final “our” before “planet” could just as easily have been spoken by a dwarf or elf, you know.

At the end, you seem to associate “longer” (in the sense of more enduring) and larger (in the sense of physically bigger) with “more important.”  I don’t really see the basis for this value judgment, and if we really want to work toward a universal perspective, this is probably the most human of them all (seeing that the individual human lifespan is so brief, and the individual human body so small, it is natural we would think the longer lasting and larger are therefore more important to us).

Given what a single celled amoeba—given its size and lifespan in relationship to the human body—can do to the human body if it reaches the brain or other organs, I don’t think this type of thinking very accurately reflects the nature of the universe we live in.

I also don’t see how humanity can be seen as anything but irrelevant if you gauge importance by duration, then assert your belief that the universe will continue for billions of years (however they would be measured) after the sun has gone extinct.  This all adds up to a very fatalistic point of view.  If humanity is ultimately irrelevant, what difference does it make what we do with this planet or our lives?  We’re simply hastening the inevitable at worst.  Why is humanity destroying the planet in 500 years inherently worse than the sun destroying the planet in 500 million, if the sustenance of the human race itself is not an absolute value?

Anyway, thanks for writing.  Interesting use of Tolkein’s fiction.




Posted by Jim Rovira on 24 Jul 03 at 12:18 PM

Just a couple addenda:

You could argue that the sustenance of non-human species is very important, but again, humanity is just hastening the inevitable, according to your assertions. The only hope for non-human species is for human beings to leave the planet and take them with them, or for alien life forms to export terran life to other planets.  Apart from those possibilities, we’re again simply talking about the hastening of the inevitable.

I don’t see how a “universal time” is possible—one that could talk intelligibly about the universe existing for billions of years after the extinction of the sun—given that each system operates on its own independent clock. 


Posted by Jim Rovira on 24 Jul 03 at 12:19 PM

“Green time” seems like a stretch. I think the actual issue is that of the perspective of beings that have such long lifetimes (or no set lifetimes). Just like the Valar have a certain attitude in their dealings with the elves (who are quite a young species in comparison) the ents and Tom have a feeling of futility when thinking of species with such short lifetimes.

Imagine if fruitflies could talk or something: would we care after the initial novelty what the fruitflies talk about? an individual fruitfly lives for just 2 days. Instead you just keep track of the species as a whole.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 12 Dec 03 at 03:15 AM
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